Different Modes of Exploration – Experience # 4
A quick note to regular readers . . . I’m going to do my absolute best to stick to my once per week posting on Sunday morning. This past week is a bit delayed because of a quick trip to California over the weekend. Thanks for reading along!
My legs dangle twenty-five feet off the deck, the crisp mountain air hits my face, my heart pounds. I am alone on a Monday morning skiing on my favorite mountain, (or at least sitting on a chair lift waiting to ski). Exploring these different modes of travel through writing has encouraged me to be more aware of how I’m moving, and what affect that movement has on my wandering thoughts. This is my 10th season on the slopes, yet this is my first writing about the sport.
The lift cruises me over my next run. I look down at the steep slope, the angled fall line, and the icy, hard-packed snow. Am I really going to do this?
On the previous run, my skis came out from under me and I’d taken a pretty good tumble, so I’m suddenly sensing The Fear I felt while climbing with my brother three weeks ago. But I remember the conversation he and I shared about how athletes visualize their next set of movements, both to calm their nerves and to increase their performance.
Having watched an amateur ski competition the day before, I have fresh in my mind what I’m suppose to look like going down the mountain from another person’s vantage point. So I picture that first. Then I picture what my skiing will look like from my perspective, and most importantly, what it will feel like.
With my eyes closed, I almost miss getting off the lift. The lift operator laughs at me and I head over to the top of the run. The Fear comes back a little bit: this is the hill full-time competitors use to train and it’s the site of many downhill competitions. What am I doing?
I look down at my skis (pulled from my grandparent’s friend’s shed two summers ago) made for these exact conditions, feel the breeze rush over the crest of the hill, wipe falling snow from my goggles, and think, hey, why the hell not?
I pick up an incredible amount of speed and I’m whipping down the hill at a pace I’ve never before felt, under a level of control and ease that astonishes me. I glide by people that vanish in my peripheral like ghosts, and I see only the mountain passing underneath my feet and hear only the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of my skis gripping the snow.
To say I lost track of reality would be an understatement. When done right, there’s a rhythm to turning on skis, a rhythm that matches your breath, and when you focus on this, the entire world disappears. It’s you and the mountain, focused, lost, aware, asleep, alert, weightless, a moment of pure bliss we try to achieve in our everyday lives.
In what seems like only a heartbeat, I cross the blue finish line left from yesterday’s competition and slide to an Olympic style halt (well, kind-of). With the end of the meditative whoosh-whoosh of my turns, I begin to pant, not so much to catch my breath, but to return my mind to the distracted reality in which I seem to live. But why would I want to return to such distraction?
The question haunts me as I work my way towards the lift line, but it’s quickly replaced. Can I escape my distracted reality again? Could I do that run again? Could I repeat that speed and control? The answer? Yes, I could. And I did. Twice more. My heart raced, the adrenaline pumped, and like the rock climbing exploration before the New Year, I felt free.
A footnote: after these runs, as I made my way back across the mountain on some mellower green slopes, I found myself distracted by my own ego. I moved at unnecessary speeds down a bunny slope, tried to avoid another skier, missed the timing of my turn and headed skis over head over skis over head into a fence. I saw a flash of yellow light, heard the chuckles from fellow skiers at my stupidity, and laid on my back, dazed, feeling the cold tingle of snow and humility.
Turning Zen, young ski-hopper? I’ve got a long way to go for that to happen.