Paul Andersen: To my friends who missed skiing
I know that life in the Midwest has its own reasons — family, career, security. I know! But while skiing the final day of the season last week on a perfect spring day, swooping down Aztec on a scrim of corn snow, I could only lament: My god! You missed skiing!
I’m sure skiing hasn’t crossed your minds since you watched Sun Valley Serenade or perhaps glanced at a ski magazine featuring Stein Eriksen on the cover in his classic Norwegian sweater.
Those were the only vestiges of skiing where we grew up together in the suburbs of Chicago, where snow was seen as a nuisance, where winter was a drab pain. And yet, as kids, we frolicked in the snow, we loved a White Christmas — only to watch it morph into brown muck amid winter rains.
At that time — the mid-’60s — skiing was exotic, romantic and foreign. The ski areas of our youth were built on landfills. Ski Mount Trashmore! Any vertical relief was a blessing for Midwestern kids in lace-up leather boots and Head skis with Cubco bindings.
We skied Wilmot, Alpine Valley and Little Switzerland. The first soft snow I ever skied was at Gander Mountain on a rare winter day. We froze under the harsh white lights at night in below zero wind-chill, skittering over blue ice. We plowed through muddy slush when rain turned it all to mash. But still, we were skiers!
I was hooked early on by skiing Aspen in 1965, when I was 14 years old. Riding Lift One higher and higher was a freaking terror for a Midwestern flatlander. How would I ever get down?
Skiing Snowmass in 1968, during its first year, I stood gape-mouthed watching Stein make the cabin jump. A true Norse God! My brother and I would mimic Norwegian with ridiculous accents just to feel like we could be like him. (We were of Danish descent, a close cousin, but with neither snow nor mountains as a legacy.)
At Snowmass, I met a patroller on a lift ride up the Burn to whom I lamented my poor high school grades and dismal chances for college. He guided me to Western State College (“Wasted State”) in Gunnison.
Bless you, patroller, for leading me to Crested Butte, where my first backcountry turns were made in the early-’70s on wooden 210 Asnes Tur Langren with lignostone edges, cable bindings and flimsy leather boots. When I felt the arc of that first telemark turn, that was it. My ski roots were planted in backcountry powder.
I thought of you on closing day when lift-served skiing ended in a corn-u-copia of soft, granular snow. Warm sun, blues skies and high spirits were perfect complements to the rhythm of skiing to an internal melody that matched my heartbeat, my pulse, my natural vibration.
Skiing! How can I convey the sublime sensation of carving turns on soft mid-winter corduroy? I would need to clamp you into a pair of boots and skis and shove you down the rippled ribbon so you could feel it for yourself.
How can I explain the feeling of acceleration in a freefall through deep powder dropping into the Bowl, the Dumps or the Headwall? The experience is without parallel (if you’re a tele-skier) when snowflakes tumble pell-mell from a deep gray sky, beating against your goggles and pattering against your parka.
How can I describe the graceful dance with gravity to the music of nature on a ballroom of crystals with the earth as your most intimate partner?
You missed skiing — without ever knowing one of the most graceful, sensational kinetic experiences known to man, where the edge is all, riding that shiny, silver strip of steel on a compressed, curved plank that springs you from turn to turn by a subtle shift of weight and stance and angulation.
You missed skiing, but you’re not in the grave yet, and it’s not too late to venture into the world of white, though it means overcoming the fears and trepidations of old age and old habits. Your body could still feel it, if only you gave it the chance.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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