It was before dawn. A whisper of steam escapes from my coffee cup as I halted the escaping heat with a lid. An unstoppable stream of condensing water vapor from the tailpipe of my truck. The air was cold, the wind blew. Driving forward, up a steep grade towards the continental divide – the top of the Rockies, and all I could see was frosted darkness. Snow reflected in my headlights so bright that all I could identify in the night’s dark skies was a constant river of moving white, shooting past stars as if science fiction became reality. The wind ripped past me, sending lips of snow into me. Trudging through piles from previous gusts kept my pace slow, my vision shrouded by white, saturated by darkness, yet blinded by my own light. Adverse to say the least. Truly a marvel to move through extreme weather, cautious yet un-phased. The weather was not adverse, it was auspicious, snow on the roads means deep snow on the slopes above them. Culture shapes your values, and in ski culture you value the white knuckle drive through blinding snowflakes, the adversity is exciting, the anticipation thrilling.
The harsh weather is not exactly inviting. Blistering winds, frigid air. The dryness squeezes moisture out of flesh and air alike. Frozen, but dynamic, this is what we embrace. Base layers, mid layers and outer layers create an armory of impenetrable blockades against the seemingly inhabitable conditions. The cold becomes warmth. Layers of other accessories compliment the armory leaving little flesh exposed. You can’t warm the cold air, so instead you embrace it. The funny thing about this world is that colder is often better. Warm air holds significantly more moisture than cold – one may think; wouldn’t that manifest more snow? Yes. Of course, if it is still cold enough to snow, relatively warm air harbors storm that pile snow high and deep. Cold air, however, brings snow that is composed of relatively more air, light fluffy snow that is easier to move in and creates a trail of “cold smoke” as it blows in the air. So, we embrace the cold. Brisk temperatures elevate the senses in a strange way, crisp dry skin sensitive to each airborne granule.
Stranger yet, the next form of transportation in this cold weather ritual is baffling regardless of its form. The goal: attain elevation by gaining the slopes of mountains. Methodology varies, chairlifts are the most common. A bizarre sofa the cushions individuals whilst dangling from a cable held taught between two massive pulleys, known as bull wheels. Along the cable several towers support the cable and guide it towards its destination as one of the massive bull wheels is rotated by electric or deiseal engines. Alternatively, skinning uses human power and holds a name otherwise used in backwoods fir coat operations. Skiers attach velvet “skins” to the bottom of their skies to prevent them from sliding downhill as they move upward. Its one way to get up when your intentions are to climb as opposed to descend. Lastly, snowshoes – over sized plastic or titanium platforms designed to substantially enhance the surface area underfoot. Clunky to say the least, though they keep you above the often deep snowpack. All these tools are methods to obtain elevation in order to come back down in a much more enthralling and exhilarating fashion, fueled by gravity.
Regardless of the how one arrived to obtain elevation, most end up with animated smiles. Perhaps fidgeting with ski poles or gloves, saturated with anticipation of the ride back down. Rugged mountain ridges can be intimidating when looking down their slopes. The snow beneath appears astounding, thrills await. Emotions become fluid up here. The nervousness volatiles into collected focus, individuals become cynosure.
The process of gliding down these precarious slopes is elating. Practically indiscernible, its as if we are embracing our aqueous architecture. Fluidity from cerebral to limb, the body engages in a stream of movement. The movement is liberating from the constrains of logistics. Gravity becomes a dictator, the only leader, us rebellious followers making our own paths in the wake of its tyranny. The rush is invigorating. Swooping across the topography of mountains is intoxicating. Muscle coordination in this environment is precise, fine tuned, and rigorous. Equally impressive is the connection and understanding of snow and mountain achieved by such a enchanting activity.
Mountain tops yield dramatic views. The jagged peaks soar from valley floors beneath and break the horizon into geometric shapes. Blue skies contrast against the blanket of white. Flags of white streak across sides of peaks as the wind howls. Snow covers most anything in sight. Few rocks stand out above snow across the windiest of ridge tops. In other places, the depth of snow is seemingly bottomless. The variation is remarkable. Frost crystals sparkle in the sun on the surface of the snow, a reflection of humidity and still air. Each crystal of snow a piece of atmospheric history. The gleaming crystals paint a lucid image of tranquility despite their danger in contributing to avalanches. Snow from the recent storm unites in a cohesive block. One simple move reveals a booming collapse – the continual transformation of snow from water to ice to gas and back has formed vertical frost crystals underfoot. Poorly bonded with the unity of other slabs, these columns give way to my weight. Insecurity. Susceptibility. Suddenly the snow has me ambiguous. Such self-doubt brings explicitness to my decision making. Caution to the mood of the mountains, familiarity with snow heightens my awareness to all my surroundings.
My consciousness expands from the moody snow to the geography of the mountains. With the liberty of mountain travel comes the need for acclimated decision making. Blunders and goofed decisions test the temperament of mountain and snow alike. Interactions here must maintain well balanced accords. Greedy governing leads to entombment. The corollary of said relationships is life or death, a breakup here traumatizing. With such high consequences, intimacy with snow and mountains is crucial. To maintain a platonic relationship leads to bewilderment at the complexities that live here, one must be affectionate. The relationship that manifests from understanding such complexities and attaining intimacy with such mighty beings is astounding.
From the start to the end, skiing is unbelievable. Variables align in an infinite number of ways to enable the possibility of such an activity. Vehicles equipped with the proper furnishings to negotiate perilous road conditions become a necessary initial component. To fully embrace the cold, one must be outfitted with the proper paraphernalia to protect the delicate body. The proper vice to carry one to high ridges and mountain tops must be kept in due maintenance. Most importantly, cerebral control of dynamic muscle groups and a balance of liberty and greed must keep the individual in order. Skiing is not a self-absorbed activity, it is a miraculous story of love. Intimacy with something so different than ourselves is a reflection of absurd commonalties. Skiing animates the mountains and snow as relationships come alive. Skiing is an embracive appreciation for our aqueous component while also humbling our might in comparison to the wisdom of the mighty mountains and their intricate blanket of snow. Skiing is oneness with these beings and the forces that create and shape them; it is fluidity in a relationship with no expectations. Skiing is miraculous.