I am a different skier than I was three weeks ago. And that is after more than four decades on skis. And it did not have anything to do with new equipment, or new instruction or some newly discovered technique. It had to do with courage.
After more than 40 years of skiing in my home state of Maine, my first time out west gave me the opportunty and inspiration to push my personal comfort boundaries in a way that has influenced more than just my experience on the hill.
Spent six days at Vail in mid February with my wife. The terrain was the first revelation. Imagine skiing in a bowl filled with snow and virtually no boundaries. Coming from the tree defined streets of snow here in Maine, the experience was intoxicating. And that snow. Consistent, dependable, not a shrowd or shill for hidden boilerplate. And that all got me thinking. The first couple days I spent wife my dear wife who begain the week as a solid yet rather timid blue skier. We skied the front side of wide open boulevards of lovely white carpet. For me, hero stuff. And for her, comfortable. Moved into the China Bowl and easy glades at Blue Sky. Stunning. But for me, increasingly unsatisfying. Especially when I looked up the imposing north (?) wall to lines, not trails, with names like Ghengis Kahn, Dragon's Teeth and Jade Glade. At first well beyond my visual comfort level. But as the blues turned into the "blues," about the third day, the need to hurl myself down that face overcame my fear of it. So I ditch my lovely and headed up the Tea Cup Express. Damn if it did not look tantilizing and rather terrorfying floating safely above the cornice that "protects" the lines from the unwilling. Screwed up my nuts and headed down Dragon's. Remarkable. I could ski this. I could own this. And I did. And at the bottom I felt on top of the world. So I did it again, and made it more interesting by cutting over to Jade. And I got stronger with each turn. Survival turned into strength. What else does this hill have.
So I went up the lift again with a father and son who looked timidly over the bar at the Ghengis cornice. And I said lets do it. And they agreed. But the mountain gods exacted a price. On the way up Tea Cup, the light snow showers were whipped up into a full white out by the time we de-lifted. The flat traverse to the top of Ghengis was bizarre in this all white world. At one point, my knees buckled under me. Apparently, I had stopped, but my brain was still moving resulting in instantaneous disequalibrium. A bad omen for our first drop? Finally reached the ultimate lip of the cornice which stood sentry. The elements conspired against us. The world was a white blender, and we were perched on the edge contemplating the blades. And then I moved onto the vertical. And then my feet hit a feather bed on a 30 plus degree pitch. And I turned and I turned and I soared.
A new found feeling of confidence drove my feet for the rest of the day. I had never done the trees before. But my companions took me into the woods for an exhilerating romp in that playground. Hit Skree, a terrain park designed by mother nature. Wood, cliffs and pow. By the end of the day. I truly felt that I had penetrated a barrier woven by a longstanding and limiting fear of terrain that no longer bound me. And it carried me through the rest of the week. I hit terrain with a confidence and determination that was liberating and elating.
There is no going back. Only forward. The ski stars favored me with a trip last week to Deer Valley where a friend scored a free condo for a week. So the first thing I did was to check out the map for the steeps in this area known for anything but. The Daly Bowl and chutes stand sentinel over the immaculate groomers and myriad fart bags. Jagged rock fashion tumbling rivers of snow with mogul rapids. Frightening from a distance. After two days with my blue buddy, that familiar mix of trepidation and determination drew me irresistably to the edge of the Daly Bowl. Damn that is steep, even with side access that led me on. And unlike the China wall, moguls and gashes littering the way. Testicals tightend and in I went. And it was good. OK, kind of survival on this first run down, especially the second half of the line when it gets tight and VW bug sized moguls want to eat you for lunch and then barf you out. And at the bottom, I looked up with no small sense of pride and satisfaction. And so I did it again. And skied it this time. And then again, and I crossed over to the first chute which narrows the turning options considerably. And it was all good and inspiring.
A couple more days with my buddy on the blues gave me the blues. I was grateful for a cancelled flight from NYC to Bangor which gave me one more day of redemption. The day was glorious. Sunny and in the mid forties - with a 40-60mph wind blowing over the Daly cornice. And there I stood, alone, pushing the limit again. Contemplating my first real mandatory air drop into the Daly chute onto a 40 degree or so mogul field. Mother nature's windy arm "coaxed" me over the edge. And then it all went silent, except for the snow beneath my feet. The turns were automatic. Magical. And three turns later, I was half way down the most challenging terrain I had ever attempted. And it was good. And even better the second, third and fourth times.
I am no hero. And as a 52 year old father of three and attorney/musician/photographer, am no fool. I have the skills to ride that wave. I only lacked the desire and inspiration and opportunity. I write this in the hopes that those similarly situated might reach beyond their own comfort level, no matter what that personal boundary may be. To break on through to the other side, as Jim Morrison put it. It will change your skiing and more.
Thanks for reading