There’s a day in mid-March that will live in infamy in our household. On this day, the ski season came to an abrupt end because of a pandemic. We started hearing about COVID-19 in early January as we crisscrossed the state of Colorado, moving from ski resort to ski resort.
It seemed far away then—an extra worry for our friends going to Japan to ski or for an acquaintance ski racing in Italy. I was extra cautious about washing my hands when my daughter and I flew to Maine for an event at Sunday River. But I had no idea that the disease was jumping from host to host at ski resorts in Austria and France, and on to U.S. mountain towns like Aspen, Vail, and Crested Butte. People from all around the world are drawn to the sport of skiing and the mountains that offer access to it. I’ve always seen this as a blessing, but now the speed of travel seems like a temporary curse.
I think my friends would say that my husband, daughter, and I are really into skiing, which might be a nice way of saying obsessed. I’ve cobbled together a career in the industry as a ski writer, ski event organizer, race coach, and instructor. I’ve even written a children’s book about snow, so I’ll own the obsession. My husband is a ski patroller and my daughter is a ski racer. It’s easier for me to count the days out of my ski boots than days in them. My favorite text this winter was from my boot fitter, who after several visits wrote in February, “Happy birthday, how is your toe?”
All winter, we juggled three calendars, entertaining heated discussions about gear, transportation, and weather. We fell into bed exhausted each night before 9:00 p.m.
Our season chugged on at this pace for months—until that day in mid-March when the pieces of our ski season fell apart like a doomed game of Jenga. First, the governor of Colorado enacted an executive order to close ski resorts for a week. Then, all ski races were canceled. The Women’s Weekend in Taos I organized: Canceled. Working ski patrol: Canceled. Our entire overfull calendar of work, races, events—plus a family ski vacation to Aspen—fell to the floor. The ski season shut down like a water park under a thunderstorm. Everyone, out of the pool.
Skiing felt normal and natural at Eldora, our home resort, during those first few days when the ski areas were open but the schools were closed. I understand the governor’s order—and the many more orders to come. Perhaps we came in contact with the virus at one of the ski towns we visited recently. Or perhaps that person sitting next to us on the chairlift did. We may know more about the virus now, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.
Now we’re “sheltering in place” at home. It snowed 21 inches in one day and there are no resorts open to ski it. So we go sledding in the driveway and talk about the stellar dendrites that land on our sleeves. My daughter builds a ski jump near her playground. My husband sets a skin track around the house and we lap it over and over like an animal pacing in a pen. But it feels good to glide over snow again and I notice how the snow weighs down the pine boughs, dusting me as I pass underneath.
As I reflect about skiing, I realize that what we love and crave is the connection: Connection to nature, our friends and family, connection to our bodies, our gear, the skiers and riders we ride chairlifts with, the friends we high five on powder days, the people we meet in the bar, our co-workers, and our clients. Strangely, our connections can both help and hinder us.
This virus will pass, leaving heartbreak in its wake. The ski industry, and those of us who work in it, will have to deal with the loss of revenue from missing the last busy month of the season. But the mountains remain, steadfast in their evening alpenglow. For now, we will focus on staying healthy. We will get outside as much as we can, even if it’s only in our backyard. We will connect with our friends and family by FaceTime or by sharing humorous and semi-inappropriate memes. We will join a meditation session on Zoom and try not to think about skiing.
When the resorts open their gates again and the lifts start spinning, patrol will ski early morning powder on their trail checks, instructors will meet their clients from other continents, and ski racers will enter the start house, place their poles over the wand, and focus downhill. We will be ready when the ski areas open again and we will happily hug our friends and drink a beer next to a stranger.
But don’t doubt for a second that we will be different. We’ll be acutely aware of how fast things can change from normal. We’ll see our favorite ski resorts through a new lens—one where we appreciate the part everybody plays—from the lifties, to the parking attendants, to the general manager. We will treasure the passing of snow under our graphite bases and we will feel especially blessed to ski, which is our connection to so many things.
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