I had one of those eureka moments this past weekends in the unlikeliest of places.
On Sunday I was at my home hill - Sugarloaf, in Maine. The most challenging on piste skiing is on the front side, basically straight down from the summit. The trail I am talking about is White Nitro. It is reported to be about 30 degrees, with a pitch just before a cat track rumored to be 20 more. Skiing it the first time each season always gets the heart fluttering a bit, and I picked the afternoon to do it.
From the top of the chair, you cut right past the sign that says "Experts only." At that time on Sunday, I was the "only" skier of any kind there. Now, on a typical day, you stand at the top and admire the view to the north east, towards Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It is a dizzying, even disorienting, view because Nitro is the kind of trail that falls immediately away from view. Only faith that something beyond the immediate horizon actually exists prompts the feet to go.
But this time was different. Very different. You see, there was nothing to see at all. First, the light was flat - no detail to be seen. The world was like an 18% photographers gray card. But beyond that, legions of snow guns were barfing out dense shrouds of man-made gold on the trail just to the north. And with a strong northerly, much of that snow missed its target and enveloped me and Nitro. And still it was just me and the trail. Others more observant or sensible took the path more traveled.
There was no way to go but down. Down on a frozen, wind-blown cat track of an imagined slope. Down without the advantage of sight except for the view of my skis and boots chattering in short turns across a presumed fall line.
It was a remarkable ride. Without the benefit of sight, I had little choice but to "feel" my way along, one linked turn of faith after another. It was a feeling of skiing in the present that I have not experienced before. Physical forces and my body's reaction to them were amplified. Oddly, I seemed to become more aware of my surroundings even though I could not see them. But I could, in my mind's eye, visualize where I was on the trail. What I could not seem to perceive was the steepness of my path. It was all flat, but I was moving like it wasn't.
And I reached the cat track that bisects the trail, and the experience ended. All was revealed.
The next day, I stood in the same spot at the top of Nitro. But it was a very different place. The sky was bluer than blue and the sun shone brilliantly. And I skied that same path. This time, I had use of my eyes. And it was an exhilarating romp, as it usually is, but it was not magic.
I may just have to ski, just a little bit, and when the time is right, with my eyes closed.