I Opener

Jackson Hogen Out of the Blue photo

Out of shape on opening day? Just visualize otherwise.Every year, the first day of skiing evokes in me a visceral excitement that sharpens my senses and tingles dormant fibers, my suddenly nervous system sending signals to every sector of my being to stay on high alert. As I sit my fanny in that first chairlift seat, my heightened sensibilities confirm the unthinkable: I am completely out of shape.

How could this be? I played at least one set of tennis over the summer, and I must have walked my favorite golf track 10 or 15 times. I own a bike. I remember flexing my abs once while I sat at my desk, and I even thought of joining a so-called health club, but when I dropped by for an inspection I came away more frightened than encouraged. Nobody was smiling the way they do in the infomercials. All I saw was grim determination and sweaty towels. No thanks, I think I'll try intense visualization instead.

One of the great benefits of visualization as a training regimen is that you don't have to be conscious to do it. Skiing dreams are a terrific way to remind your body of all the movements it will need to make on the slopes. Just dream intensely, in color and in vivid detail. When you get up, shower as you would after any workout, the way real athletes do. If skiing is 90 percent mental—and what isn't?—then your nocturnal visualization sessions will put you way ahead of the all those poor, sweaty saps at the gym.

Now that I am on the first lift, my body is spasming as my muscles shrink to avoid being called up for active duty. I didn't visualize this. Then I remember that the key to doing what you don't think you can do is to pretend you're doing it, and voilà , you're doing it! So I pretend that I'm not being folded into a fetal ball by violent muscle contractions, and soon I'm right as rain. Now all I have to do is remember how to ski.

Or do I? One of the beauties of early-season, first-day skiing is the mountain tends to be groomed everywhere, the better to retain precious snow. The woods are usually a nasty place, so cross out that option, but the big boulevards are ballroom smooth. If I aim down the center of one of those, what can possibly happen?

When threatened with imminent harm, the body is capable of astounding feats. Somewhere around 50 mph, my brain stem seizes the wheel and, drawing on a mysterious response mechanism, executes a series of subtle movements that, when added up, amount to a turn. Continuing down the mountain on autopilot, I am suffused with the feeling of conquest, of having cheated the hangman of preseason conditioning. Nothing wrong with me that a half dozen ibuprofen can't fix.

The casual reader might imagine that my pre-season regimen of scrupulous inactivity is a prescription for disaster, but it has served me mighty well in more than 45 years of opening days. My most memorable was an unexpected delight from over a decade ago at Alta, Utah. I was staying in Park City, where Salomon had invited the skiing press to sample its new boot during America's Opening, the first World Cup race of the season. America may have been open, but Park City wasn't, except for the race course. So I borrowed a rep's van and scooted over to Alta. All the snow that Park City didn't have was piled deep on Alta's legendary shoulders. I was practically the only skier on one of the world's great hills and I cut loose. After charging down East Greeley, I was reeling from oxygen deprivation when a fellow skier came up and said some kind words about the reckless abandon with which I had assaulted the run. That's how I met Jim Jack, a big-hearted man who two seasons ago was the oldest competitor on the North American freeride tour. He handed me his business card. Where most people list their occupation, his card read simply, "Skier.

I chased Jim Jack up and down every shank of snow that spilled off the rocky spine of Germania that day until, mercifully, they stopped running the lifts at closing time. Sure, my legs were shot, my spine probably permanently altered, mmy lungs collapsed, but I had opened the season with an epic bang. The pains in my body would subside. The exaltation I felt in my soul lingers still.

The author can be reached at jacksonhogen@sbcglobal.net.