To be perfectly frank, I don’t like the title to this essay. It’s borderline trite, fairly vague, and leads to some pretty personal emotions. But, I cannot get those words out of my head this week. Since they popped up they have been pushing and pushing on me to write; although I am intimidated by the prospect.
I believe there is magic in skiing. It has been the most powerful force in my life since junior high. Skiing was the safe place I could go after losing my best friend in a car accident. He was gone, but all of our pre-adolescent hiding places on the ski hill were still there for me. In high school it was the equalizer between myself and other traditional student athletes. I couldn’t read a defense to save my life, but my offensive skills in bumps at 30 miles an hour were to be reckoned with. Each time I stood unsure in life I put my boots on and transformed into a capable and confident young man. That is the power of skiing, and I had fallen in love with it.
At 22 I found myself finishing several successful deployments in the military service and unsure how to move forward. Skiing and I had taken a break for those four years, seeing each other infrequently, each changing in important ways. I missed it, so I packed my sea bag and moved to the Wasatch Mountains, skiing in the Rockies for the first time and quickly falling in love again. Along the way I met a beautiful woman that worked for a local lodge, carelessly living and loving in the way that only 23 year old’s can. As my second winter season ended, the riptide current of life pulled us apart, heartbroken and theatrically sad. Another person gone yet skiing remained.
Time passed, finding a different perspective and life outside of skiing and away from Utah seduced me. Money was more than abundant through the bubble that was the Mid-Atlantic housing market of the mid-2000’s, and I was well placed to capitalize on it. With an ego that only a 30 year old up and coming man could muster, I stood on job sites watching my work unfold and declared myself to be at the top of my game. Laughter and love permeated every part of life and skiing became secondary to worldly pursuits. You know the things that seem so important to have before you find what it’s like to have nothing at all. Before you find out what and who is really important in life.
I did not stop skiing, but I treated it as a mistress. Something hidden and not shared with the ones I loved, believing that it was mine alone. When the recession began (does anyone remember that?), and my world was dismantled one possession at a time, I tried to turn to the mountains again, but the rolling green hills of Appalachia were no longer enough. With everything gone, but the love of my family and some very close friends, I began to miss my old flame. Her mountains reaching above the clouds to the bluest sky I had ever witnessed, the comforting embraces of her deep, light snow, the whispered sweet nothings as I flew between the spruce and the fir. I knew that to love I must live, and to live I had to go back to the mountains of Utah.
A year has passed since returning, and the love affair I began with skiing as a child is in its twenty fourth year. We have seen each other grow and change, enduring periods of separation and doubt. Through our relationship there have been celebrations and tragedies along with friends made and lost, but in the end we haven’t lost that spark, that feeling you get when you open your eyes and know you will spend the day in love. Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope it’s full of love and fresh snow!
It was lunch with Paralympics Champion and Deer Valley Ambassador Stephani Victor and her Husband/Coach Marcel that put the title of this essay into my head. When they return from World Championships in several weeks I will be skiing with them again and learning what it’s like to ski sitting down, how the Paralympics work, and why poorly termed “disabled” skiers consider themselves far more able bodied than you or me.