Marolt: The best part about skiing
December 4, 2018
It's not the corduroy, I know that for sure. I like it in snow about as well as I like it in shirts with patches on the elbows.
A visitor in the gondola asked me what I like best about skiing. It felt like penance after vowing to be friendlier on the mountain this ski season. It's not that I've been unfriendly. It's more like I am all business. The winter is long and my attention span short, so I have forced the habit of going up at 2:15 p.m. so that the most I can ski is an hour and change. The strategy adds some urgency to my ski outings.
I know some people love corduroy snow. They get to the lifts early to maximize their exposure to it. It's not what skiing is about to me. It's too contrived. It has sanitized the sport in my mind. It's easy to carve on, I'll give you that, but the carves are squishy. I know the intention is to make packed snow feel more like powder, but I think it feels like stepping in dog poop.
I like carving on smooth, hard snow. It's the manmade stuff on the steeper pitches like Aztec a day after they groom it and the velvety grooves of corduroy have all been slipped off. The joy is the challenge of it. It is the feeling of accomplishment. When your edge holds on the hard snow and the ski completes its arc without chatter or skidding, you have done something special.
And still, if I have to tell you what the best part of skiing is for me, I don't think that would be it, if for no other reason than it is so physically taxing and creates so much torque on the joints and leaves you feeling so beat up at the end of the day that you can't do very much of it at a time.
Well, duh, you say; the best part about skiing is the powder. Oh pow pow, what a glorious gift for the body and soul! So soft, so forgiving, so effortless; it would be the subject of many love songs if the great composers of history had only experienced it but once.
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What is the value of just one legitimate face shot? You see white snow turning grayish in a churning furrow forming in front of you as your submerged ski tips search the depths of the frozen treasure that covered this part of the earth the previous night. You're floating, not gliding. The path ahead is wide and blemish-free. You shift your weight ever so slightly and the ski begins to push against the airy snow concoction. The tips dive, the skis turn, then tension is released and the tips pop though the surface. The action launches a pillow of snow into the air and it approaches your eyes in delightfully slow motion. You smell it first, so fresh and frosty. Then you taste it, more earthy than you'd think. Finally you feel it sting so good as it melts and refreezes on your chin and cheeks.
And yet, this is not the best part of skiing for me, either. I think the experience of powder is so great because it is so rare. If we had it every day, I honestly think we would get tired of it. One time I skied three straight days of deep powder at Snowbird and, while not actually getting bored, I got a sense of it on the horizon, a premonition you might even say. Alas, we will never know the truth of this theory.
So, then, how about moguls? Certainly not sharp, short, deep moguls on moderately sloped terrain. We had a name for those when I was a teenager that is not fit to print in a Navy journal, much less here. But large, round moguls on steep terrain that challenge you to turn where you are not ready to turn can be exhilarating. When the skis cut through the trough of one and then release to snap you, just skimming, over the ridge of the next and into its trough, it is feeling close to kissing a tennis ball with the sweet spot or smacking a long drive. There is a sensation of nothingness resulting in incredible force. Linking a zipper of turns like this is as close to heaven as we will experience with hard plastic boots buckled tightly to our feet.
And still, I cannot say even this is my favorite part about skiing. It is the possibility of any and all of this happening as I lie in bed the night before hitting the slopes. Throw in the ever-changing elements, the solitude, the camaraderie, the simultaneous invigoration of mind and body, maybe even a little apres ski. … Yes, that's what I like best.
Roger Marolt loves skiing but isn't quite sold on winter yet. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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