Back to White: Hello Winter 13/14

Now that the shock of last week’s tornados dulls back down into the low grade, white noise of confusion, I can go back to talking about what I like talking about. Winter.

Last Saturday I made my first foray up my new home, Stratton Mountain. After about 6 straight days of snowmaking, the upper mountain rolled with whales, but no lift service. So I did what any self-respecting slackcountryist would do: I strapped my skis to my backpack and hiked.

Stratton Mountain, Mid-Mountain

Memorial Day weekend, I hiked Stowe on my own. It was also the first time I’d ever done such a thing, and one of the few times I’d ever skied by myself. Looking back, I hiked Mansfield that morning because I had something to prove. Exactly what, I’m still not sure, but I think it had to do with love and independence. (Spoiler alert: most everything I do in some way returns to love and independence.)

I needed to prove that I love skiing for skiing’s sake. That this is the sport I do precisely because it’s difficult, because it requires time and sweat and heart. I also felt I needed to prove that I can take care of myself. That I can rely on myself to make wise decisions while moving with the mountain, not against it, and that I can do these things all on my own.

Last Saturday, I was three quarters of the way up the mountain when I realized I had nothing to prove. That day, wearing almost the same clothes and almost the same gear, it struck me that I was on the mountain because I love skiing, and that I was by myself simply because that’s what was most convenient. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I wasn’t even trying to impress myself. I was just going up for the sheer pleasure of going down.

It’s awfully exhausting to have something to prove.

Over a delicious salad, pizza, and beer, I told my sister-in-law that I felt that I’d found myself and – just like in the Avicii song – I didn’t know I was lost. She laughed and said, “Just think, you’re going to find yourself at least six more times in your life.”

I laughed along, too. She’s probably right, but I hope that I can hold on to this feeling of nothing-to-proveness for as long as I can. To quote my favorite UpWorthy video of the month: I do not accept the ephemeral nature of this moment.

Tomorrow is the first day of Stratton’s lift served season. I’m waking up early to capture the Opening Day excitement. Follow Stratton’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you can’t make it. I’m also sure I’ll be updating my personal accounts, too.

Happy winter. xo

Frank's Fall Line

Uphill People, Downhill People

For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. Families roll out barbecue grills. Co-eds drink beer in folding lawn chairs.

Pro Tip: Always match your beer can to your ski graphics.
Pro Tip: Always match your beer can to your graphics.

Today, Memorial Day 2013, I went skiing.

Between Saturday night and Sunday, a beautiful nor’easter dumped 8″ on the summit of Mt. Mansfield (and 3 feet on New York’s White Face). The lowlands were pelted with rain. Monday morning had me waking up to sunshine and blue skies. Naturally, I threw my skis into my car and high-tailed it for the hills.

All day, two thoughts circled through my mind. One I’ll write about now. The other I will save for the next blog post.

The first: Brendan Leonard over at Semi-Rad wrote about a divide between Uphill People and Downhill People. He is of the former – finding pleasure in the journey UP, whether it’s sending a climbing route or skinning into the backcountry. As he describes, “I enjoy the Zen rhythm of methodically skinning up the snow, forcing myself to stay at a pace that I could hold for an hour straight without stopping…”

I have a deep appreciation for the uphill. Movement is my meditation, after all; the more all-consuming the better. This morning, I took a round-about way up to avoid the sight and sounds of other hikers (all four of them). In no time at all, I fell into a natural, steady pace. With no one to catch up to or slow down for, I simply walked forward. And up.

It was a warm day in the sun, but the wind flowing downhill was cold. It picked up the smell of the snow and beckoned me ever forward.

I stopped to eat lunch below the gondola summit and leaned again the pylon. Here, the snow lay inches thick and heavy with the morning’s warmth. I felt no need to walk any higher. The tops of things don’t interest me, particularly when I’m hungry and surrounded by snow. By the time I was done eating, the cold wind had picked up and drove me to my skis.

Clicked in and buckled up, I pushed off. The first turn wasn’t so good. Neither was the second. But, as I made my third arc, I hit the rhythm and my face exploded into a wide, open-mouthed grin. I turned off Gondolier and onto Switchback – which was perhaps not the brightest idea. Riding down Switchback meant navigating over ditches and large rocks while sliding on a fifty-fifty mix of snow and small rocks. I loved every minute of it. I was drunk on the same heady elation that overcomes me on long powder runs. It’s a thick, rich, sweet feeling of absolute thankfulness. (I imagine this is analogous to drinking Turkish Coffee.)

The most fun I've had since I discovered my brother's afraid of worms.
The most fun I’ve had since I discovered my brother’s afraid of worms.

See, I’m a Downhill Person. I love stepping down, then down again, then down once more, ever faster as momentum builds. I love the jarring shock of my legs absorbing the full weight of me with each step or turn. When I ski, I fly downhill. When I hike, I run downhill. When I am in the throes of a moment I want to savor forever, I run downhill. Even when I’m afraid, I find it’s best to take a deep breath and go downhill.

If the uphill is meditation, the downhill is ecstasy. At speed, I am released to being the child flying, arms flailing, as she runs into the arms of her mother.

(Aside: My love of the downhill is funny, because I am afraid of heights. But I think much of my fear isn’t fear at all, simply a horrified reaction to l’appel du vide. The call is strong in me. It stubbornly persists, insisting that I could fly if only I jumped. I long to fly. If I could, I would fly as high as Icarus, then drop like a peregrine, only to open my wings and climb once more. This is why I ski. It is my answer to l’appel du vide.)

The balance between Uphill and Downhill is the joy of earning your turns. By going both ways, reap the benefits of both motions and mindsets. The zen and the ecstasy – or whatever it is that goes through your heart as you get out there and enjoy.

How did you spend your Memorial Day weekend – going Uphill or Downhill? (Or relaxing around a grill?)