The Mountain, the Snow and the Sky
I used to tell my children that skiing is life. You go up, you go down and you go up again. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you touch the sky. You’re alone with your strength, adrenaline, and skill. You fight the mountain, the snow, the ice, the moguls, and the wind. You fly. The air whizzes by, the eyes water, the muscles ache. You’re freezing cold and burning hot at the same time. Awe-inspiring nature is all around you, majestic and pristine. The people around you are your friends.
I started downhill skiing when I was in my early teens. The equipment was much different then — leather boots with long, white laces, heavy, long wooden skis that needed to be waxed each night, rudimentary bindings that didn’t immobilize the foot on the ski and didn’t release when you fell, and bamboo poles. I skied frequently with my high school and college buddies in places like Sinaia and Predeal in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. Foreign tourists and some of my friends, whose parents traveled overseas, had modern equipment — skis made of synthetic materials, Salomon bindings, and real ski boots. How I envied them!
Years later I went skiing again in Killington, with a good friend, for a few days. I rented the equipment — the first time I used modern skis and boots. I remember how nervous and uncertain I was when I purchased my own skis, bindings, poles and boots, all for exactly $100. Try and do that today!
Since then I skied many times in Europe and the United States and Canada, alone, with friends and with my children. They learned to ski in Grindelwald in Switzerland and in Corvara, the beautiful resort in the Italian Dolomites. We went skiing at Big Boulder and Jack Frost in the Poconos, at Killington and Stowe in Vermont and at Mont Sutton, in Canada. When the children became teenagers, we started traveling West. Winter Park, Arapahoe Basin, Steam Boat, Loveland, Copper, Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek, Vail — we did it all. We skied the deep fresh powder in Utah, and the frozen peaks around Lake Louise. We went to a skiing Club Med in Sestriere and enjoyed the slopes of the Italian and the French Alps. Every morning we skied down from our lodge to the chair lift where the young people who worked there treated each skier with a shot of Grappa to start off the day. Then my daughter moved to the Denver area. For a few years she worked as a snowboarding instructor in the winter and an Outward Bound mountain guide in the summer and the Rockies became her playground.
Why do I like skiing? I guess it is because of the rigorous physical challenge it offers me. When I ski, I cannot hold back. I can’t ski in half measures — either I fly down the hill, or I don’t. Yes, I experience frustration, fright even, when the slope is too steep and too bumpy and ice shards hide under snow, when everything hurts, but the feeling is mixed with the knowledge that this is my time. The exhilaration takes over. Everything I see is beautiful — mountains, valleys, the sky. Then skiing ends, and this is the best time of the day: my ski boots come off. My feet can finally breathe and I can wiggle my toes. And then there is the camaraderie — friends and the evenings with food, banter, laughter and drinks. The bond I developed with my children is stronger because we skied together, and because of the memories we will always have.
Last Monday I went skiing in Eldora, a smaller, less known ski resort in Colorado, about 20 miles west of Boulder. I went there for the day with my daughter — just the two of us. She is a mother now, to a one-year-old beautiful girl. I had not skied in a couple of years and I was somewhat apprehensive, but it went all right. The old legs did their duty and I still remembered a few tricks. The slopes were not crowded, which made the experience enjoyable, and the weather was great — somewhere in the mid twenties, with a clear blue sky. A smattering of clouds hung onto some mountain peaks in the distance. The branches of fir trees were heavy with fresh overnight snow. When the wind blew the snow swirled over the groomed slopes like the long white tresses of a witch.
We came down runs with meaningful names such as Sunset, Klondike, and Around the Horn (blues), Muleshoe, Corona and Cascade (blacks), and stayed away from Ambush and Gully Glades (double blacks). We ate at Timers Lodge and payed $38 for a chilly hotdog, a bowl of tomato soup and two cups of Coke. Tired and happy, we drove home.
The one thing I never told my children is that at the end of a long skiing day, when the mind is foggy and the body achy and tired, before falling asleep, I feel sometimes that it was all for naught. I spent the money, the time and the effort and I am left with nothing but an illusion of accomplishment — nothing concrete. Like in any sport. Like in life. But I don’t share such thoughts with anybody, because I’d be wrong.
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