Note: My condolences to everyone in BC whose ski season was cut short once again this year. I hope next spring is wonderful for all of you.
How can you tell someone’s home hill is still open? You don’t need to ask, they’ll just tell you about it in the comments if you post anything about yours closing.
The further past ski seasons recede back into my memory the harder it becomes to remember specific lines and days from each one. Instead, I’m left with general senses and emotions, feelings that encompass how that season affected me. For example, if I were to sum up the last seven years of my skiing I’d classify them as: Progression, Photography, Exhaustion, Mellow, Exploration, Competency, Malaise.
Malaise is the exception there. A couple of avalanche fatalities that struck too close to home, and everything else that we developed trite euphemisms for last spring left me, and a fair number of other skiers feeling, just, well, off.
I stewed on that off-ness all spring and summer, viewing skiing through a haze of funk. Going into this season I tried to make a conscious choice to choose “gratitude” as my theme for the winter. That’s never worked in the past, every time I’ve set out to mold a ski season to my expectations it’s squirmed into something else, and this year was no exception. But gratitude felt like the right move. Be thankful for every day on hill, every time you get to hitch your mask back up over your nose and slip onto a chairlift. Appreciate every turn, icy, or deep. Focus on that perfect moment when you know you nailed the pop, when all you’ve got to do with your life for a second is wait for the tails to come around and slap into the landing. I felt like some new-age festival goer in flowered earrings and a brimmed hat, willing myself into gratitude every time I slipped into my boots.
Photos are of Sander Hadley, redeeming ski photography for me this spring.
But as winter slipped into spring, I found myself, along with every other skier I know, holding our collective breath as we surged towards the weekend that signaled last season’s premature close. The feeling of suppressed dread was familiar. I’ve felt it before, dropping into a chute that I’d found lurking rocks in before, slipping into a couloir that I know has a choke, and I’m not sure if filled in enough yet. Does it go? Will we get to keep doing this? The first weekend of March came and went, so did the second. We slipped through the choke gratefully, blasting huge arcs on the apron. I’d been determined to be thankful for every day we got, hoping against hope we got as long of a season this year as we did last. And then we did, and closing day was still a month away, and gratitude gave way to something else. Redemption.
Every spring day I skied this year was a bonus, not something we earned, not something we deserved, a gift. It didn’t snow much after the beginning of March. We were handed mediocre snow, and very safe avalanche conditions. And that’s when I started to realize that season wasn’t just about gratitude, wasn’t just about how one winter of skiing went, it was affecting how I viewed my own relationship with skiing.
I spent a lot of this winter scared of skiing, scared of dying, scared of my friends dying. I’d lie in my bed, obsessed with thinking through the current avalanche problem, trying to figure out better ways to message, better ways to think about the risks we take. I struggled to find a balance, to figure out a way to approach the mountains cautiously and safely without spending the night before every big tour with a dead pit in my stomach, an eternal dread weighing me down. I’d play every line I wanted to ski over and over again in my head, trying to game every scenario, but I couldn’t ever find one that didn’t involve a fracture, shooting cracks, a chaotic fade to white. I had, in the words of much wiser women, worked myself into a funk. And worst of all, I wasn’t taking any steps to get out of it.
Then spring intervened. Stable snow, quick afternoon laps with friends, snowlerblading fast, charging the wiggle, figuring out how to go big on little skis again. A couple of great tours where the avalanche hazard was minimal, the risk of dying far from our minds, and without even realizing it, I fell in love with skiing again. Now the lifts hang empty in the breeze, the park jumps melt slowly, and I’m ready to rest far from the mountains. But this year I’m not entering summer angry at skiing, suffocated by a fog of frustration. This year I feel fresh, new, excited to ski again next fall. I feel redeemed.