Nov. 16, 2011 - Issue #839: Ox
Into the winter
The freedom of the snow season
Hundreds of feet below (or so it felt) was nirvana, that little patch of flat snow which heralded the freedom to stand up without sliding off backwards, sideways or generally in the wrong direction. "You just need to feel the snow," piped up the more-experienced skier beside me, clamping his goggles firmly onto his face before shooting off at what seemed like Mach 10.
Moments later, while tumbling head over heels down the tiny slope, I felt the snow. I felt it in my eyes, ears, hair, down my neck, in my pants—every crevice was well acquainted by the time I rolled to a stop. "No, no, no," scoffed my instructor, totally unconcerned about the 50 or so bones I'd likely just broken and the rest of his class strewn face down in the snow. We were picked up and frog marched back to the lift, where the weaker members of the herd fell back, questioning their commitment to something so uncomfortable, cold and slippery.
So why go back up? Well, for the most part, stubbornness—it's one of the true virtues of any snow sports enthusiast. Sure, we fall. Yes, we cartwheel down hills like broken rag dolls. Without a doubt, we overestimate our abilities and come to a stop at the top of a precipice we don't know how to tackle. But, by God, we have fun doing it.
What you can't predict during those first few hours doing "pizzas" and "French fries" with your skis or side-slipping on your board while falling more times than you can imagine, is the ultimate freedom that you'll later find. The slopes that felt like a battle for survival start to provide playgrounds in which to swoop and soar over the frozen ground. That relentless pain in your legs and feet becomes a satisfying slow burn, telling you that you pushed yourself to the brink and made it back again.
Skiing and snowboarding are about snatching those moments when you're right on the edge of what you can handle. You are the master of your destiny. You choose where to go, how fast, when to turn, whether to hit that jump or snake through those trees, whether to cruise down a green run or tackle a black. There's no speed limit, no rules of the road, nobody telling you what to do.
This winter, trade security for powder, the future for the moment and boredom for the pure exhilaration of carving your mark into fresh, unexplored whiteness. As your heart pounds in your chest, your muscles ache and your breath puffs out in ragged gasps, you'll know you're truly alive.
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