First turn

It was a crisp, clear Saturday morning in January when my roommate dragged me to the Middlebury Snow Bowl, determined to force me into a hot new trend called “skiing.” He told me that a ski run was good for the soul, and I needed as much soul-saving as I could get. But my new Fisher Pioneers were taller than me with fully extended arms, which couldn’t bode well, and the line was painfully slow. As my crew explained how to “ride” the rope, I watched said rope go from the edge of the parking lot to the top of a hill that was… shockingly huge, and I started to feel sick. I tried to play cool, but the longer we stood in line, the more I thought I’d made a huge mistake.

When it was my turn, all I could notice was the cold, slippery rope rubbing against my side like a cold snake, tearing at my glove as it pulled me along. What I didn’t notice was  my skis crossing, and next thing I knew I was in a heap on the ground, watching the rope cruising over my shoulder. I could faintly hear everyone in line telling me to “GET UP!” but I had no idea how to maneuver my 205-CM appendages. Somehow I eventually must have grabbed back onto the rope and made it to the top, where my roommate was patiently waiting to tell me to “point ‘em straight down the hill and take the ride,” pointing to what seemed to be a vertical drop. I knew was going to die, but after my first embarrassment of the day I decided I might as well go with pride, so I closed my eyes and just let my skis go.

The rest of the day is crystal clear in my memory: my cruise down that hill barely qualified as skiing, but I instantly felt a euphoria beyond anything I knew. And the rest is history; that reluctant trip at the age of 18 led me to what became my greatest life-long obsession and soul-filling love. I’d been brought up in a world of strict control and expectations (hardly unique) that filled me with nervous self-doubt, but when I skied, for the first time in my life, I felt totally free – dependent only on myself to do or die, in the best way. Even though it requires attention and skill, there is something deeply meditative about it – my best decisions and biggest epiphanies have come to me on the slopes. I learned to do the dance of life on snow, ice, crud, and boiler plate; sometimes I’d crash and burn, but that just made me come back faster to try and get it right. I had to get the other side by depending on no one but myself. And that didn’t mean being lonely; despite many friends and communities in my life, I often still felt (as many probably do) like I hadn’t found my “fit,” but that ended with the relationships  formed on chairlifts and gondola rides, and the shared bond of knowing that transcendent feeling and chasing again, and again. Every year, “see you next season” turned into friendships that last until the final snow’s melt.

A trip down the slopes is similar to the journey through life, just condensed into an afternoon: it requires patience and endless optimism, the path isn’t always clear, and there are plenty of bumps, crashes, welts, bruises and breaks. But if you try to appreciate the details – even of the most patchy, icy run – you reach a combination of euphoria, elevated focus and electric buzz that beats time and space, making everything else disappear. And when you somehow make it to the end in one piece, you realize your spirit never lets go. It sounds absurd, but “making it” through a track is how I’ve learned to make it through life. Just don’t let go of the rope.


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