Paul Andersen: Are we just lucky or smart … or both?
Standing atop a long, open powder run at Highlands the weekend before opening, the usual sighs of effusion were emitted with billows of steam. “We are soooo lucky to be here!”
The air was crispy cold. The snow was deep and mostly untracked. The sky was blue and severe clear. The sun beamed down with warm radiance. It was winter in Colorado, perfect for my first ski day of the season.
Yes, we are lucky, is the expected reply — lucky compared to those hundreds of millions who don’t have what we have right outside our doors. Would any of us trade a winter powder morning for a flat in Brooklyn during COVID, or ever?
Luck is part of it, but not all. A lot of what put us here is a series of choices that opened our lives to mountain living. We all chose to live here by weighing the values this place gives to our lives, values to be acknowledged every waking hour.
We chose to develop the endurance to skin up the mountain and the skills to ski down. We chose to be fit and healthy, to be with good friends and family, to grant ourselves enough freedom to take advantage of this time and place. We skinned up the mountain on a perfect day because of conscious choices — not luck.
But before we think we’re so smart, humility tells us to thank providence that we were born at a time and place in history that allows choice. To be born in America? That’s lucky. To be born white and male, as I was? Some might say that’s the luckiest of all.
Other than obeying genetic codes and the laws of metabolism, I had nothing to do with any of that. It came with the package delivered to my parents in a Chicago hospital in the predawn on Jan. 29, 1951. I didn’t choose my parents, either, so I was lucky that they loved me and loved each other and made our home a great environment in which to grow and thrive.
Good luck and an unfathomable succession of choices blessed me with the wherewithal to stand on a mountain with a long, open ski run below and feel the excitement of being about to ski it. The path that brought me here could not be planned or plotted. It makes me consider fatalism.
I first skied Aspen when I was 14. The year was 1965. Skiing in Aspen changed my life by setting me on a course to living here. I was lucky that my aunt and uncle had a friend who gave them use of a condo at the base of Little Nell, and I was lucky that they invited me for five days of unforgettable skiing.
Aspen Mountain was immeasurable, and I felt awe for these mountains. Four years later, in 1969, I chose to enroll as a freshman at Western State in Gunnison. Luck played a part in that because a Snowmass ski patroller I happened to meet while skiing Snowmass in 1968 planted that idea.
Gunnison was too conservative for me because I had chosen to grow my hair long and to wear hippie togs. Luck had it that Crested Butte was just 28 miles away, where I could let my freak flag fly.
Some 36 years ago, I chose to jump across the Elks to Aspen where, luck would have it, I landed a reporting job at The Aspen Times. Luck prevailed again when Bob Lewis, an old friend, set up me and my wife, whom I then chose to marry.
Luck would have it that we birthed a beautiful boy child with whom I now stand on mountains, skis ready, stoke factor high, big smiles on our faces as we push off into the crystalline fluff, arcing turns in sync and leaving ephemeral graffiti in our snowy wakes.
I’m lucky to have genetic advantages as I age. Hell, even the male pattern baldness is an advantage because it saves me money on shampoo and barbershops. In sum, I’m lucky because I choose to appreciate the lucky life I’ve lived by choice.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at: email@example.com