Cover: Carter makes a low angle slash at Lolo Pass, Montana
In 7th grade I played basketball for my middle school’s team. During that season I shot for 100%, which might sound impressive, especially given that I was 5’6” at the time, with the coordination of a puppy who hasn’t quite grown into its feet yet. Truth is, I shot the basketball once. A single three pointer, the result of a brief spurt of confidence, and cause for a momentary elation that I only felt once that season. And then I continued to happily avoid the basketball for the rest of our games that year.
When I say that I haven’t crashed once this ski season, I mean something similar. I’ve skied plenty fast, launched off some small hits, and had the occasional close call with a stump or a rock, but I haven’t taken any chances.
Growing up, my friends and I used to take chances on a daily basis. Sometimes I’d find myself on an unusually large hit, desperately trying to spot the ‘transition’ my friends told me existed, voice cracking to piercingly high octaves. Other days I’d be at the top of a booter we built somewhere out of bounds, contemplating trying a new trick.
In those moments your vision narrows. Your heart feels as though it might burst, and the blood gushes and thunders in your ears. Eventually, you accept your fate, point your skis down hill, and desperately call dropping!
And, sometimes, when you toss the dice, it goes well. For a millisecond all you see is a blur of white, and then the landing gear comes down, your knees narrowly avoid your chin, and you ride away. As you cruise towards your friends all you hear is the wind rushing by. But the brief solitude is always broken by shouts of encouragement, or, if we’re referring to the high school days of relentless meat-chucking, a chorus of pubescent screeching.
Even more often, though, there’s just impact. A quick trip to the tomahawk spin cycle. Or an expertly placed jab that splits the skin underneath your chin. In my younger days I probably spent more hours looking for lost gear in the snow than I spent actually skiing. A fact that illustrates how closely related skiing and eating monumental shit were for me at the time.
Crashing sucks, no doubt about it. But without the occasional yard sale, you’ll never experience the unbridled joy of getting the trick or sticking a line that you previously assumed was impossible.
As I passed through high school, and then university, I realized just how indicative my crash-rate per ski day was of my current relationship with skiing. In aging, I found that I was more often willing to forego the dice-roll of putting myself in a risky situation. This season I seem to have lost the urge to chuck myself entirely, choosing instead to relish the quieter joys that skiing offers. Reconnections with old friends, blower pow turns, and, when the weather cooperates, stellar views of the surrounding landscape.
Amelia making more low angle turns at Lolo
Skiing, like everything else, never remains static. It’s a uniquely personal and individualistic past time, often tied deeply with one’s understanding of self. If someone asked me to provide a few defining traits of myself, I can only assume that I would feel compelled to include ‘skier’ somewhere in the mix. But time’s done it’s work on me, and I’m hardly the same person I used to be in high school. I engage with my parents, loved ones, friends, and, as you might guess, skiing, differently than I used to. And, with more responsibilities on the line, I can’t fault myself for taking a more cautious approach to a pastime that I’d hate to lose to an unexpected injury.
That’s not to say an evolving relationship with skiing goes only one way. Some of my old friends rediscovered the sport after a long hiatus. Others turned to the backcountry to find a fresh challenge. A select few continue to compete and ski hard, constantly improving and expanding their bag of tricks. That’s what’s so exciting about skiing. You might get sidelined by an injury, or not find the right crew to ski with in a new place, but the sport and the community, whatever your commitment to going hard may be, isn’t going anywhere. So, however timid I may feel on skis these days, there's no guarantee that next time the conditions are right I won’t find myself upside down, hurtling towards my first crash of the season.