Balancing Act

Around the holidays, people flock towards their families to be near the ones they love. They suck up the airfares, brace the thruways and begin their commute, whether down the hall or around the world. For many of them, the holidays include the annual tradition of laughter in lift lines and the posed scenic photo to appease mom.

Not for me.

Upon visiting my mom’s house, you could sift through every inch of it and never find a single photo of a family ski trip, let alone everyone on skis. Skiing was not something that branched off of family roots. The family I have skied with throughout the years has been an ever-changing one that I’ve built myself.

There is no lineage of powder lines in my blood and there are definitely not any adorable stories of me learning to ski as a little marshmallow. Instead, my infatuation with skiing starts with the same plot of every teenage movie.

There was this boy.

The short of it, was that I just wanted to spend more time around him, which was only possible if I spent more time around the mountain he worked and skied at. There’s no way of gussying up the details to make this a better story, because when you’re in middle school, ridiculous is the norm.

It’s hard to reflect on all the details without peeling back the pages in my life and opening some old wounds. It’s hard to even write his name. It’s just too damn hard to think about a perfectly normal fifteen-year-old boy dying on the most beautiful of June mornings in the most abnormal of freak accidents.

So I kept skiing, not because I loved it, but because he couldn’t.

As time passed, I still skied. The lodge, admittedly, felt eerie at first. I could feel his presence. I could hear his jackass comments in the rafters. It was hard. But I still skied.

Something that started out as the means to an end quickly progressed into an obsession. I was never someone who excelled at your run-of-the-mill recreational sports. But skiing? More than just the bindings clicked for me.

My ski friends grew in numbers as we grew in age. There were the leaders, the rebels, the kid brothers and the ones documenting it all. The token girl role lent itself to the butt of many jokes, the supplier of food and the title of being the only person to ever cry over lost car keys at a rail shoot. I couldn’t do a trick to save my life, but I was a part of a culture and a group that gave me a sense of belonging at a time I so desperately needed it.

The years hauled on and the crew’s members and numbers fluctuated. Eventually, diplomas were doled out and many of us found our way into college, thus planting the seeds to root a new ski family.

Eighteen and moving away from home, I again was a part of a new group that wasn’t organic in my life. For the first time ever, I lived with someone who shared my happiness. We became each other’s alarm clocks, co-pilots and DJ’s for many trips from our dorm to the hill.

Finally, I felt like I was in a country where people spoke my language. I didn’t feel strange for donning at beanie on a regular basis. My knee complaints were met with understanding instead of prodding questions. The sources of my happiness and bouts of frustration were heard by a sympathetic troupe.

Moving to another mountain town was more of the same, with a conversation that spread across the ages and disciplines. The snow-loving vibe was felt throughout the county and ultimately the state.

Over the years there have been many trips that have intertwined in the timeline. The cell of a single skier was like an infection, as the cells doubled, then multiplied their numbers. It was like I had blinked and my whole life had been consumed by epidemic of skiers.

Today, I feel so grateful to say that I have friends on an international level. Unfortunately, I am unsure if I will get to see all these people again, but the impressions they’ve made in my mind and memories they’ve made in my heart are things that last longer than the season’s snow.

Despite all the amazing people I have been able to surround myself with through skiing, there is an aspect of skiing that everyone must master and experience to fully appreciate the soul of the sport: being alone.

I don’t have my ear in the skiing conversation as much as I used to, but every time I take a gander, I find a common thread of comparisons.  Am I doing this trick right? Is this jacket cool? Is this person better than this one? I always spend more time wondering what provoked these people to inquire about such topics.

I myself have had approval-seeking questions in my head. In fact, I wondered if I was even a skier at all earlier this season as I was forced to acknowledge that I would probably be on skis no more than a week this year. And yet, in this same brain of mine, I question the skiing of others. I debate the validity of the gapers and contest the idea of our sport becoming mainstream.

The only thing in skiing right now that is truly infuriating though, is the conversation.

The other day, I saw a discussion about who you felt bad for on the mountain. The answers varied in nature and I’m sure there’s reason behind each person’s response. I don’t know what’s right. But I know one thing for sure: the joy of skiing is incomparable.

The people I feel bad for are the ones who take the fun out of skiing. The ones who spend their days ridiculing those around them because they don’t ski, dress or act a certain way. If you’re so busy worried about the practices of others, then you have the time to step-back and work on yourself.

Being content with your own skiing is the biggest challenge you will face. And this doesn’t mean you are the best skier. What it means is that you get up and you get out there. It means that the soul idea of being on-snow is enough.  You don’t need the promises of bluebird skies, friends or beers for motivation. Although those three things can make for an amazing day, they will be all the better once your own mind is balanced.

Skiing alone allows you the time to focus on the core of skiing. It allows you the opportunity to disconnect and participate in the natural beauty of the earth. In such a modern, techno-crazy world, these moments are becoming their own sort of endangered species. It is rare to experience the unaltered, unedited, unrefined skiing that the sport grew from.

By cruising through the crystals on your own, you acknowledge life’s truths. You are reacquainted with the undeniable facts: gravity, speed, pleasure and pain. It’s a small scale test of a big picture problem–balance. Not falling on snow or in life is all about balance. It’s about riding the edge in just the right way to fully enjoy all that the moment has to offer. When you get greedy or overzealous is when you risk losing it all. It’s when you risk your body and your well-being.

No one can help you when you are in this moment. It is something only you can control. Others can prep you before hand or assist in managing the consequences, but that defining moment is only as good as you are. By building your own confidence in these trials, you are putting yourself in a better position to enjoy time with others.

Skiing alone creates time to really explore yourself and the mountain. It is an irreplaceable experience. But never shy away from the camaraderie of skiers.  Never deny the opportunity to call someone you meet through skiing a friend. If friends are the family you choose, then I’m damn proud to be part of such an amazing family.

As skiers especially, we know life is short. We know that going through life is no different than skiing. We know that in one moment, everything could come out from under you and consume you. We know this. And since we are so painfully aware of these facts, it would make sense that we made better use of our time. It would make so much more sense if we focused our energy on enjoying the offerings of the mountain rather than arguing the details.

Does the hint of competitiveness keep our progression going? Maybe, but as mentioned, the only person you should be trying to please is yourself. When skiers are standing on podiums or at the base of a line, do they turn around to marvel at the people? No. They look at what’s behind them. They look at what they just conquered. It isn’t a basketball game where you turn to your teammates. It is a moment of self-delivered pride that is wholly deserved.

Seeing others challenging themselves and being successful is what is infectious. Seeing others love the sport is what catches the next generation’s eye. Skiing wasn’t in my blood-and that’s okay-but I am so incredibly thankful to have invested the time in seeing why it meant so much to one boy. I am thankful to have wavered on my own unknowing edges only to have ridden away unscathed. Every day is a new journey and a new line, but as long as you keep pushing yourself to find the balance, I’m pretty sure you’re going to be okay. And should you need it, you’ve got a great family, biological or otherwise, to push you to try again.



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