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My first ski day of the 2020/21 ski season was on my mom’s old Atomic Tour 195cm nordic skis. The day before Thanksgiving, I climbed down the rock escarpment littered with juniper bushes, lichen-covered rock, and ponderosas behind my family’s house. I clipped in on the empty golf course and slid through six inches of fresh snow, catching sight of my tips as they sliced into view with every gliding extension.
It was quiet, and in true 2020 fashion, there were no crowds at all. In the silence, I thought about how the last time I’d laced up my Mom’s Nordic boots and made these motions, it was spring. Resorts had closed early and there was righteous internet shaming for those who dared explore the backcountry during a global pandemic. Toilet paper and instant yeast were scarce, and so was a general knowledge of what the heck was going to happen.
At that time, the plan for me to travel to the country of Georgia in late April for a ski touring trip still existed, Powder Magazine still existed, and my mom was still alive.
During this year’s omnipresence of loss, the collective nature of grief felt by all seems to be both the beauty and the curse. The jobs lost, the favorite hangouts lost, the businesses lost, the people lost. Yet, we’ve all been in it together. Things we took for granted and things we loved fiercely have been lost. No one has been left untouched.
After roughly a month and a half of this season already in the bag with days spent gliding across that golf course, standing in socially distanced lift lines at resorts, and ski touring in the backcountry, we see the universe continues to roll on. We’ve found the sun does in fact still rise and set. Chairlifts still go round and round, even if it takes a reservation to ride them.
Our skis still need to be waxed every now and again, and when we see a patroller dropping the ropes to a fresh run, our smiles still widen with deep feelings of gratitude for being at the right place at the right time. A powder day still brings hoots and hollers (and Instagram jealousy). My neck gaiters still seem to freeze against my face on extra cold days. In some cases, things have gotten better, like the early season innovation found in terrain parks, the wider emphasis on safety in the backcountry, and ski culture’s recognition of its deeply rooted privilege.
And even the things we did not miss but help write the story of normalcy have returned, like overpriced cheeseburgers (consumed safely outdoors), being waived into overflow parking, and shin bang.
Though my mom’s progressive disease had kept her from skiing in recent years, the thought of her petite frame still laying the ski track several yards in front of me, ponytail flying, keeps me company, as do the skis she used for all those years. We would drive into the woods in our 1992 GMC pickup and go on long, flat, cross-country adventures that live in my memory with snow-glittered magic. It was how we weathered storms, like my dad’s passing or a big move across the state. It was how she taught us to embrace change, how to move forward.
Her old ski socks and gold hoop earrings and love for how snow-adorned pine cones garnish coniferous trees like ornaments are all mine to enjoy now. The hot coffee that rests in my cup holder en route to the local ski hill keeps me warm. The promise of future powder days, finally hugging elderly family members, and continuing to laugh at cheeky internet content keeps me smiling.
The future will all be alright, even on the days that it doesn’t feel alright. A New Year is upon us and we are still here. So are the mountains. We must go and greet them both.