This is Skiing, an essay . . . . January 99

photo © Burnham Arndt


from the January 1999 issue


This Is Skiing

THE DANCE OF FEAR AND DESIRE, the duel of friction and gravity, the deadlock of speed and security. This is skiing. Your fingers so cold you can hardly grip your poles, your eyelashes stuck together. Your skis carving a graffiti message of perfect arcs into winter's white indifference, winter's pale skin, the language of linked arcs, circle talk, S-curve whispers in the wind, spindrift flying off cornices, frost feathers in the snow shooting back darts of light, that first light in the first moments of the first run in the first morning of the world, diamond sparkles, angel dust in the air, diamond daggers that scratch the softer stuff of your skier's heart, runs that never stop. This is skiing.

THIS IS WHAT YOU PAID TOO MUCH MONEY FOR, and why. This is why you put up with boredom at work, the endless snarls on the highway, macho weekend warriors in four-wheel drive Blazers with fat commando tires spinning out across two lanes, bringing the whole parade to a stop, the lost bags and lost sleep, this is why. This is it. Skiing. What you do instead of growing up. What you want to do when you finally grow up and can finally do anything you want to do. The blind boogie of the bumps, a whole universe narrowed down to one twisting gully and three monster moguls, ski tips slippery as snakes, pole plants like prayers, bobbing in and out of a hyperspace of hollows and drops, loose as a goose with burning thighs and a demented grin, finding the line where logically there is none, listening to the rhythm of big bumps, syncopated time warp, while the beat goes on, and on, and on. This is skiing.

FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE SUBLIME. Sidestepping half an hour uphill for a few more vertical feet of the steep and the deep, deep breathing before floating over the edge, falling in slo-mo through cornice, air, time, into slow, yielding, bottomless pillows of powder, floating down into an opaque undersea dance, floating to the surface again, born-again, breathe again, living life one breath and five turns at a time, gravity turned off at the main switch, angels with halos of powder, swinging low, coming for to carry you home. Long sighs of compressed snow, tracks filling up behind you, a hundred yards of perfection, another hundred yards, somewhere down there — your instructions read — there'll be a lift and a passport back to earth waiting for you. You don't want to know about it. This is skiing.

THIS IS WHERE TIME STOPS and tempo builds, this is where suborbital speed calls for a subconscious guidance system, where carved turns become an art and cruising a way of life. Your jaw muscles hurt from smiling, your skis hit high-C as they slice this frozen topo map into hyperbolic sections, your peripheral vision is as good as early-warning radar, you weigh only 20 pounds net and skim across the mountain like a flat round stone across a cosmic pond. This is skiing.

YOU TAKE THE BIGGEST EGGBEATER OF YOUR LIFE and somehow survive. Snow is packed down your neck. You've lost your goggles. Your back aches. No complaints, no refunds, no whimpering, this is skiing. You drop down new runs, into new valleys, over new mountains, when does it end? It doesn't, this is skiing. You fall in love, everything works out, you can't believe it, but this is skiing, why not? You've never believed it. It's always been too good to be true. This is skiing.

TECHNIQUE, GOOD, BAD OR INDIFFERENT, is not skiing. New technology and new equipment are certainly not skiing. The wind in your face may be skiing. The fire in your legs is probably skiing. The crazy feeling in your heart as you approach terminal velocity around a white planet where human beings don't belong is definitely skiing. Real skiing. Real skiing is not that all-fired real, it's the dream you don't want to wake up from, ever, though you always do. Weightless, wild, irresponsible, irrational, the white escape hatch from the twentieth century. This is skiing.    This is Skiing, an essay . . . . January 99
© Lito Tejada-Flores
This piece first appeared
in Aspen Magazine.
It's still true