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Sometimes, when I want to feel good, I flip through the photos on my phone from winters past. I relish the feelings of joy and gratitude. Laughter. Almost all of my memories of skiing are happy, but there are a few unpleasant ones. That time I was heeding nature’s call in the trees, pants around my ankles, and an arctic gust blew me into three feet of fresh snow? That was unpleasant. Watching my 7-year-old brother get taken out by a linebacker-sized skier who failed to look uphill at a trail merge was pretty awful. And I’ll never forget the pop of my torn ACL, which meant missing two feet of powder at Jackson Hole, not to mention the rest of the season.
I also remember one particular drive home from the hill as a kid, when my parents’ hushed bickering in the front of the car erupted into shouts. Our home hill had just adopted a season pass pricing strategy that incentivized advanced commitment—buy before this season ends and save big on next season’s pass.
My parents needed those savings, but they didn’t have the cash; waiting until they did would mean no savings. At one point, we pulled over for gas. The tension escalated and my mom drove off, leaving my dad at the pump. Even in the ’90s, it wasn’t easy for a family of four to pay for skiing.
A lot of things feel harder than they should lately. Basic tasks are stressful and overwhelming. We are tired in new ways. We’ve had to miss weddings, meeting new babies, even funerals. We’re attempting full-time work and full-time childcare simultaneously. We have dirty dishes and unreliable wifi and we’re expected to just carry on as if there isn’t also an ongoing climate crisis looming above us.
Skiing doesn’t come easy, either. It costs a lot of money and a lot of people want to do it, which means the lift lines get long. Sometimes you don’t get first tracks or you have to park all the way in the F lot. F for f–k, that’s a long walk to the lift in ski boots. In general, walking anywhere in ski boots is hard. Finding ski boots that fit and don’t pry your big toenail from your already mangled feet? Harder still.
But if somehow, by the grace of some higher power, dumb luck, or sheer stubborn willpower, you get your feet into those cold plastic boots, to the front of the lift line, and on top of a mountain formed by granitic intrusions forced together by magma and earthquakes some 24 to 38 million years ago, things start to get easier.
You no longer have to fight the forces railing against you—you’re free to give in to gravity and let go. You don’t think, you feel: Feel your shoulders drop, your chest rise and the stinging cold fill your lungs as you leap spirit-first into the white room. You shift your weight and lean against the compulsion pulling you to the snowy earth.
You exist, timeless and weightless, as the neurons in your mind and body fire exactly in sync. It comes together easily. The counterbalance allows you to keep your speed and your power and your freedom, and you simply become incapable of considering deadlines, your mortgage, your inbox, or how damn hard it was to arrive at this moment of transcendence. Whether you know it or not right now, the decision to come back for more will be an easy one.
When my mom pulled away from the gas station, she lapped the block once and went back for my dad. I think that was an easy choice too.
This article first appeared as the editor’s intro in the December 2021 issue of SKI.