A morning mist envelops the mountain like a heavy, damp curtain of fear and doubt. The summit remains hidden, shrouded amongst clouds carrying secrets and solitude. I, alone with my thoughts, make my way towards the base where a carriage awaits, there to lift me towards my final destination. The first run of the day. Though I hope it will not be my last.
I am swept off my feet, seated now next to strangers. Unfamiliar faces wrapped in layers upon layers of fleece and intrigue. The real estate magnate from Manhattan. The house wife from Westchester. The college bro from Burlington. All walks of life intersecting on a ski lift.
Up up and away we fly. Past snow covered pines and bald faced boulders. The elements of nostalgia are all in place. Like a periodic table from my past with molecules and memories both noble and inert. I swore I’d return. But in that time away I’ve grown unsure. Older too. My courage and cartilage worn down by years of rigor and responsibility. How will my body respond? How will my mind adapt? To the contours of the trail and the limitation of my legs. Perhaps this was a mistake. Maybe I should have stayed in the lodge where it was safe and warm.
But it’s too late. Past the point of no return. As I near the top, the silence turns deafening. Only the sound of skiers below as they turn, twist and carve through the snow like butchers in search of a prime cut of powder. I exit down the ramp and ready myself for the descent. The trail map provides little comfort. From here there is only one direction. Down below, miniature homes and towns nestled safely together between the lakes and hills of the horizon. I exist in a model. A manufactured reality created by man and machine.
My eyes need help adjusting to the altitude. The vertical has me swaying and shifting as if I were standing at the bottom of a large swale of snow and ice. It’s now or never. With the tips of my skis tilting with trepidation I fill my lungs with cold mountain air one final time. I’ll breath again when I get to the bottom.
I start slow, form following functioning. I work my way past the crowd that has congregated at the trail head, obstructing my view of the marker. A black diamond. The most dangerous of shapes. I’m fully committed now, with each turn gaining speed and confidence. My legs burn but my body doesn’t break. I’m in control, until I wasn’t. A patch of ice hiding underneath the face of freshly groomed granules. One ski up, one ski down, for a split second I teeter on the edge of oblivion. With instincts intact I regain my balance. Survival. For the moment.
I allow myself a split second to soak in the surroundings. The tall pines awash in winter white. The early grey fog giving way to a deep blue sky. As the wind whips over my head and shoulders I make sure to appreciate the majesty of the moment. The thrill of the outdoors. The serene beauty of a ski slope. This is what I missed the most.
The bottom in sight, my first trip a success. I take a deep breath and look back at the trail behind. There’s more snow to be had, more skiing to be done. Back up the hill I must go. To the top, where there’s only one direction down.