We skiers like to act tough, puffing out our chests with an untouchable fearlessness. We crave the thrills that scare the masses–intentionally thrusting off cliffs, questioning gravity, gaining speed or seeking solace in the chilled, desolate woods. The public questions our morals, our intentions and our brains, never fully understanding what we do. It’s alright. We don’t mind. We consider ourselves the lucky few.
The moments that we capture, in the time spent with elongated, gliding feet, are the ties that bind us, between us and them. Still, we don’t mind. There is no shame in there being an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ rather a subtle internal smirk of knowing that we are all-the-more satiated because of the nourishment that skiing feeds our soul.
The ‘we’ is an oddity in-and-of itself as skiers form a rare gumbo within the winter sports world. Despite being a cumulative masterpiece, there’s still a mix of a little of this and a little of that. Each aspect of skiing can’t help but draw in the flavors of the world that surrounds it, but still contributes and displays a taste all its own.
Our extended family is one of the most varied imaginable. Should skiers ever summit as a whole, the shenanigans would not stray from those expected at a gathering of any other family in today’s world. The youngsters are driving everyone crazy (either because their ass is hanging out of their pants or because we envy their youth.) Someone is undoubtedly passed out (from enjoying the festivities in excess.) The parents are striving to balance it all (and somehow being successful.) All the while, the elders are sitting in the corner, quietly observing and waiting for the moment to remind us of their wisdom.
Regardless of what segment of the ski family we identify with, there will always be overarching threads that weave through us all–those crystallized strands that create our close-knit web of passion and love for one unified thing. We all proudly paint the same perfect picture of snow-capped mountains in defining our utopia. It sounds close to bliss, doesn’t it?
But we have our secrets.
We fake our fearlessness.
The fear does not lie in the bucket list of snowflaked to-do’s, as those are obtainable. Instead we find ourselves at a loss with loss. The incomprehensible realization that, while all mountains can be conquered, it is the metaphorical ones that can be insurmountable.
It comes with no judgement or shame, but rather a collective sigh. We all know someone through skiing who has clicked in for the last time. We point to the nuking clouds to thank them, pour an après beer out in their honor, and carry their name in our hearts up and down the pipe walls. Our eyes may be blurred with the tears shed for them, but our focus has never seen such clarity.
We carry on.
The weight becomes heavier as we age, as our hearts are covered with the etchings of Ski In Peace scars. And just as with the stitches we’ve all earned (from executing a perfect pizza when we should have French fried,) time will pass and the healing process will begin. You’ll carry the visual reminder with you forever, but the body is a magnificent piece of equipment, capable of forgiving.
Yet, we must forgive ourselves. We must forgive our fears. We cannot live in the shadows of uncertainty, plagued with what-if’s for those we have lost. They would not want that. As our fellow wintry warriors, they would encourage you to fight. You have battled the crowds for their movies, the elements of the seasons and every other demon that rattles the integrity of a skier. But we CANNOT let the inner demons of loss and strife consume us.
We must wage on and carry their torches–the ones that bear the very light that sparked our own ski-loving passion. In these moments, THESE VERY MOMENTS, we must unify with the highest-held heads. The tears will fall, in moments that range from drips to floods, just as they should. Do not stifle the tears as, after all, they are not much different from the somber melting of snow. Don’t let the water that freezes to become your love, be the same water that consumes you in tragedy.
Skiers refuse to accept the negative. Can not. Could not. Will not. Should not. These words are not in our lexicon. And with it, comes our inability to process the thought that these heroes will not be coming back. We scour for answers and pray for a mistake. But all too often do we see the truth–we have lost a legend, a mentor.
And so ruins our track record of fearlessness. In the end, our fear stems from love. A love of the mountains, a love for the snow and an unwavering love for each other. Which is probably why we are always puffing out our chests–hoping to provide a little more cushion for that battered and bruised heart.
In loving memory, with the utmost respect, gratitude and appreciation for giants-among-men, J.P. Auclair & Andreas Fransson.