On the hill: The mountain wins again
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – For an assortment of reasons (physical infirmities, school functions, Arctic temperatures, penury, uninspiring snowfall, life), I had not made it out onto the slopes until this past Saturday. Tragic, sure, but the delay of my personal opening day had at least one moment of pure benefit.
Friday night, as I scanned various sources for weather predictions and did a mental checklist of gear and passes, my mind wandered away from logistics and landed on the mountain. Not the snow, not the trails, not really the skiing even, but the mountain – that fact that, come next morning, I would be far from ordinary terrain, 3,000-plus feet higher in elevation, surrounded by steep terrain.
I flashed back 17 years, to the eve of my first ski season. Yes, I had been atop Aspen Mountain before. But that had been as a tourist, and those few ski days counted as a vacation. This was a journey I was embarking on. I remember lying in bed, thinking only of the top of the mountain. Not the conditions, which were totally beside the point – I wouldn’t have known what to do with 2 feet of powder anyway. Not which trails I would ski; I didn’t know Bell Mountain from Dipsy Doodle at the time. I got dizzy, my heart started pounding, and what little sleep I had was marked by dreams of motion and an unusual visual perspective on the world. I jumped out of bed as excited as I’ve ever been.
This past Saturday morning was considerably slower. Even if I hadn’t been heading out with my 10-year-old daughter, I would have waited till the day warmed and the snow softened. I’ve been through the routine enough to know there are days that call for sprinting out the door, and days that don’t.
This was not a day that demanded storming the gondola. But it was good enough: sunshine, chairlift stories (about cats playing professional basketball) for my daughter, the sensation of sliding a few thousand feet down the side of a mountain, the joy of being back on my board.
But the best memory of all came during Friday evening’s preparations, when my thoughts narrowed to the fact that there was a great mountain outside my door, that in a few hours I’d be on top of it, that this was a ritual that wasn’t going away. My breath got short, I could feel my heartbeat quicken. And I wondered if I was going to be able to fall asleep.
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