I like it for the fireplaces that are everywhere. I like it for how thirsty you suddenly are. Drink lots of water, breath lots of air. The air feels only lightly oxygenated; thin and effervescent compared to sea level. I like how even the kids that look like punk teenagers are probably athletes, outside for most of every day using their bodies and looking around them and being alive.
We just do it this one week every year, but for that week, we do it every day. We arrive and we take off our city clothes and put on fleece and long underwear in layers and walk around looking like adults in cuddledowns. After a few days our faces are burnished, ruddy cheeks with dry lips and patches of windburn. You see people rubbing chapstick over their lips constantly and patting on sunscreen and vaseline, but it does nothing. We wake up in the morning, look up at the mountain and wonder if it will snow. All anyone talks about is the snow. Will it snow, when will it snow, when did it last snow, what is the snow on the mountain like, how did it feel out there? Hey, how was it out there? you ask each other. Crunchy, soft, powdery, icy, white out, bright out, cold.
My dad taught me to ski and for most of my childhood I associated it with something he wanted me to do. Like taking long bicycle trips, or practicing for cross country weekend races by running longer and longer routes throughout the week, it was not my idea, it was his. As a kid, skiing meant that there was a lot of heavy stuff to put on, it was cold, and there was every possibility I could get hurt. The chairlifts seemed thoughtlessly fast. My peripheral vision was cut off by googles, and snowboarders came too close. I don’t know if you can ever introduce your kids to something that you love without tainting it with your own passion for it. You want it for them so much. But still you plant the seeds, and hope when they start claiming things for themselves later in life, they will recall this mother tongue and be pleased to find it within themselves.
As one of my great aha! moments of adulthood, skiing recently became a real freedom for me. Now I see it: the pillowly cushioning silence of the snow. The hush shoo of my skiis swiftly skating over the ground. The crisp scrappy-edge sound of cutting through icy patches. The glorious aloneness of it. Picking a direction, easing down the slope towards it, and just a moment later, finding yourself racing towards it. Feeling fast and strong but feeling in control. I think I see why I didn’t take well to it as a kid. It requires something aggressive in you.
The two runs I really loved this year are rated double green—the easiest you can do and supposedly for beginners, but I just love the pace of them. Ten minutes up of small up-and-down slopes. You go down a small hill and have just enough momentum to go up the next one. Then you do it again. Patches of trees are scattered throughout, to weave around if you want to feel like a rabbit racing through the woods. If it’s morning there are shadows and you can see little dips and bumps as you approach them. If it’s noon there will be no shadows, just dazzling white shining back at you. And then you ski almost as if you were blind, keeping your legs loose and easy.
There are several perfect things you can do when you ski. One is to ski for a couple of hours and then take a break for a hot chocolate in the sun. If you already have warm snow gear on, in addition to being on top of a mountain, it’s toasty in the sun. Hot chocolate on the mountain is serve yourself. First you pay something like $3.50 for a paper cup. There’s a tub of marshmallows, and several canisters of whipped cream, and a push button hot chocolate maker that asks you to stop when the cup is 2/3rd full. It’s hard to do this.
Another is take a chairlift up the mountain alone. Ten minutes of silence, the chair tugging its way steadily past the treetops. You, on a bench, not even a seatbelt to hold you back, swinging high over the ground, surrounded by views only the birds would see. The scatter of animal footprints below is suddenly so clear—their winnowing paths. It feels like you could embrace a passing pine tree, they are so narrow and soft up top.
And another is to take a chairlift with a stranger. I’ve been on chairlifts with fat men who are very good skiers. I’ve been on chairlifts with 80 year old men who are very good skiers. These trips always remind me that it’s an inclusive, happy sport. As the chairlift scoops you up, swings back for a moment, and then lifts grandly up into the sky you look at your new partner for the next ten minutes and grin. Oh, it’s great out here, they say. Yes it is, you say.