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ODE TO FIRST TRACKS


We’re all chasing the thrill of that first time. The memories of our first turns sliding down snow are branded onto the deepest, most primal parts of our medulla oblongata. So that at the very sight of that glorious white stuff falling from the heavens, the memories shoot to the surface of our minds like springs through an old mattress.

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We might not remember the trail name, or even recall the mountain, but we can’t forget that intoxicating feeling we got sliding down snow—that sensation Warren Miller dubbed “true freedom.” Ever since then, when we cock back our heads and catch those first flakes on our tongues, our hearts instinctively flutter with euphoric delight.

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The lucky among us got a heaping dose of that good stuff early on. Pulling into a cold, empty parking lot, our parents’ car cramped with boots, poles, extra jackets and pillows for the early morning drive, the windows fogged, we wiped away the condensation to follow the chair lift creeping up the mountain with our eyes. When the crusty lift attendants finally swept off that yellow line and assumed their post at the chairlift loading dock, we bolted from the car like gold retrievers seeing their owners for the first time all day.

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And up, up, up we went, fidgeting the whole way on that old wooden two-seater, shifting our butts through the cold and the mounting excitement. Nothing mattered in that moment. All the worries, all the trivial bull, just fell away, and we were left with a natural order of things. Indeed, the right order of things: eat, sleep, ski!

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When the chair finally mounted the top, we pointed our tips up and shoved off down the ramp, and then down, down, down we went through that moving meditation that we never knew existed, but now couldn’t imagine living without.

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And so, too, it was for the late-in-life skiers, those brave twenty-, thirty- and, hold-on-to-your-hats, forty-somethings who showed up to the hill for the first time wearing blue jeans and totting six packs and a couple nips of Crown tucked into their Carhartts. God bless those Wrangler-wearing rascals who shuffled into line behind us with nothing more than liquid courage coursing through their veins and visions of ski bunnies prancing through their heads.

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Lessons? They didn’t need no stinking lessons. No, they were willing fight through the fear of careening unnaturally down hill. Willing to crash over and over until they were wet and cold to the marrow. Willing to try and stay up just long enough to link a few turns together and lay claim to their own mountain meditation, thus falling under the same spell as the rest of us.

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And so it is that whether we found skiing late in life or right out the gates, the true devotees among us sock away cash, run up credit cards, and deplete our sick days and vacation time to ship out to far-flung mountains in search of the thrill we first found on the little slopes of our lives.

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And here’s the great part, the reason why skiing is different than all the other worldly delights and endeavors: We always get a taste, a little smidgen, of that original thrill. Every time it’s there. Because like pizza, even when it’s bad—skiing is still pretty good. And just the sight of snow brings us back to a mindset when the natural of order of things feels right again.

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