As I trudged through the hotel lobby with layers of long johns, two turtlenecks, a wool sweater, ski pants, gloves, helmet and a jacket, feeling like a sweaty Abominable Snowman with cement blocks for boots, I briefly questioned why I go through all this effort just to ski down a snow-capped mountain ten thousand feet above sea level. For those of you who don’t appreciate winter sports, it might seem as though the hours of preparation for snow skiing simply aren’t worth the payoff. The sub-freezing temperatures alone are enough to scare any cowboy.
Having been born and raised in Michigan, however, ice-skating, snowmobiling and skiing are in my blood. Growing up, my brother and I and all the neighborhood kids made igloos, snowmen and had serious snowball fights for hours in single digit temperatures. During the long, cold, depressing winter months in the Winter Water Wonderland, the big thrill was to climb up the side of a nearby bridge and ski down the side of the overpass which lasted a total of fifteen seconds, if you were slow. That’s how I learned to ski.
Your first time on skiis (or a snowboard) probably feels a lot like getting on a bucking bronco. Beyond the physical challenge, it’s just plain scary. Someone can tell you all day long to lean forward and point your skiis or snowboard down the hill and not to sit back in your boots, but when you’re standing on two slippery boards headed for the bottom, your body will think that’s an insane suggestion. Even if you’ve skied for decades, as I have, and you’re feeling pretty confident about your ability, you can get distracted for a second, cross your ski tips and bam! You’re suddenly tumbling down the hill somehow still attached to your skiis and poles, flying down the slope like a drunk Tazmanian Devil.
Now, I’m not intimidated by advanced runs (a black diamond) that are so steep you cannot see the bottom until you look over the edge, but there I was on a groomed Intermediate run (a blue square) taking a nasty spill that would have been hilarious on You Tube. As I laid there with snow down my pants, up my sleeves and all over my face, I actually laughed. A young snowboarder came by and asked if I was okay. I did a quick physical scan: arms and legs worked. I could tell because I felt the pain. “Yes,” I told him. “I’m okay, thanks.” He handed me my goggles that had flown off in the fall. I got up, brushed myself off, grabbed my ego that had suddenly been misplaced and headed down the mountain for more physical and mental anguish. Like any good adrenaline junky, I cannot get enough!
We ski for that one moment when everything comes together and turns the extraordinary effort into complete bliss. The sunshine warms your back as you dance down the slopes, knees close, hips making figure-eights, breathing the cleanest air imaginable. You glide effortlessly on top of the snow, feeling exhilarated, and that is the magic moment when you realize all the trouble is worthwhile. There is an unexplainable chemistry amidst the mountain air and your spirit, like a first kiss with someone special. A physiological reaction hijacks your heart and soul. You cannot imagine doing anything else or being anywhere else.
That’s what happens in one good run.
Hours after my laughable fall, I was lost in the glistening, snow-covered mountains. I ended up at the top of a double black diamond run (extraordinarily difficult) that I doubt Tom Cruise could ski down without stopping at least once. It was the only way down the mountain, so I pointed my skis toward the bottom and prayed to make it down alive. Taking my time, I traversed from one side of the slope to the other as that same young snowboarder who stopped to help me earlier flew by. Seconds later he was tumbling down the steep mountainside. I counted six times but I’m sure it was more. After the snow dust cleared, he laid face down in the snow, not moving. Sliding down toward him, I grabbed his hat that had flown off in his tumble and handed it to him. “You okay,” I asked. He looked up and smiled. “Yeah. Did you see that? It was awesome!”
Apparently there is more than one way to have a good run.