Although skiing, like life, is a voyage and not a destination, it is a voyage comprised of destinations, of special places that ignite and sustain a lifelong love affair with sliding on snow. It's the smaller, more intimate mountains that offer most of us our first taste of careening downhill. And it's among these mountains that we begin our journey of discovery, as skiing helps shape both who we are and who we dare to be. Certain special places-standing tall in stature, if not always vertical drop-strip away the sport's trappings, revealing its essence. Places like Vermont's retro Mad River Glen, the skier's paradise of Snowbird, Utah, and even Mount Bohemia-a 900-vertical-foot oddity rising out of the expanses of Michigan-are touchstones of authenticity, spirit centers where the faithful can renew their vows. Skiing's wellspring resorts expose the liabilities of progress. They do not offer a cookie-cutter experience, nor do they attempt to dazzle with distractions. Here the ethic revolves around respect for the mountains and all who draw their strength from them. In other words, it's about the terrain, not the terrine. I skied my first turns this season at little Sipapu, tucked into a forgotten corner of New Mexico. The poma lift carried its charges up a gentle slope, where they had to choose between two runs. Just as the day was closing, I spied a tiny skier, no more than 3, toting his mini-skis on his shoulder and heading to the lift. He looked up at me with brown eyes too large for his face and said, "Mine." He meant, I believe, that they were his skis, and he toddled off toward an experience that would indeed be his and his alone, a journey of adventure and exploration that will one day lead him, mountain by soulful mountain, to himself.