For the past 30+ years or so, each and every year, I have travelled to the mountains during the winter. Whether with a couple of friends or many relatives, the consistent piece has been that I have travelled to the mountains during the winter. And this year, I was there . . . in the mountains . . . in the winter . . . once again. This year’s crew included two of my children, their significant others, my grandson and, of course, my spouse. The intent of my travels to the mountains is always . . . to ski.
For me, skiing is one of the best ways to experience the glory of the mountains up close and personal. On skis, I can get to places within the mountains that I am unable to reach in any other way. And, I can get there during winter – which for me is the best of all seasons to be in the mountains.
The ski day starts at 8:30am and lasts until 4:30pm, and minus the lunch hour, I am outside the entire time. Now, I do admit that it takes a lot to get outside when skiing. Helmet, goggles, gator, ski gloves, ski pants, ski coat, boots, poles, skis – are the round one necessities. Round two includes hand warmers, toe warmers, chapstick, locker keys, lifesavers, iPod, cellphone, and a lift ticket. All of round one and round two entities require time and energy to organize. But . . . when complete . . . the fun begins.
Characterizing that fun . . . for me . . . is difficult. But, for starters, it certainly is fun to be with family and friends outside all day. And, it is fun to participate with them in a challenging sporting activity. Whether with my daughter zipping through old skiing haunts and stopping for hot chocolate at the same spot every year for twenty-five years, or with my sons skiing well above my abilities and hoping they remember my age, or with my husband following him or leading him up and down slopes, looking for the best snow, the best run, the best view, I have fun. No doubt, it is a fun sport.
But what draws me back year after year after year is the more personal side of fun that skiing brings to me. It is more than just sharing fun times with others. For a week each year, I am in the mountains, and even though there may be dozens of others navigating the slopes with me, there is always that feeling of being on my own – on skis somewhere in the Rockies.
I enjoy the sounds and sights of skiing: the winds whipping through the pine trees, skis slicing fresh tracks in new powder, the chirping of a few lonely winter birds, the quiet of a mid-day snow shower, and the beauty of the sun either shining brightly or peering out from behind dark winter clouds with snow and mountains all around. What I see and what I hear is unbelievably overwhelming with fantastic moment after fantastic moment.
As I ski my mind swirls around all that is winter. I hear the poetic wisdom of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I have committed a select few poems to memory with this one at the top of my list. Certainly, I am not in a horse-drawn carriage far from the closest farmhouse. There are no harness bells shaking, and I am not skiing in the dark of evening. But, I enjoy “watching the woods fill up with snow”, and I recognize the sound of “sweeping winds and downy flakes”. And most of all, I, too, believe that I “have miles to go before I sleep . . . miles to go before I sleep”.
And as I ski, my mind recalls the lyrics of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High. His song, though literally describing a summer meteor shower viewed from the depths of the mountains of Colorado, invokes that feeling of serenity . . . of peace . . . of tranquility as I ski run after run after run. And when the sun shines over the bridge of the mountain tops, I, too, see a “fire in the sky”.
At the end of a long week, I take off my skis, boots, helmet, gloves, coat and ski pants for the last time. And as is our tradition, I meet my family at the bottom of the last run on the last slope to sit for a moment together to catch the beauty of the mountains for a few more seconds. Without a doubt, the mountains are simply majestic – nothing better.
A few minutes later, amid the clutter and chaos of packing up and heading out of the majesty towards the open plains of the Midwest – which has been my home sweet home for a long time – I am ready. First, I am exhausted, as during my ski week, I have skied way too much and slept way too little. Second, I have little time to consider anything but leaving. The ski day is over, the sun is setting, and it is time to face the traffic as we travel down the mountain pass.
Finally, I miss the Midwest. I do.
It isn’t mile high mountains covered in snow, and skiing isn’t among the typical winter sports. It doesn’t have Aspen covered slopes and there are no views of the Continental Divide. And, let’s just say that it isn’t exactly that Frost/Denver vision. But for everything that skiing and the mountain experience brings to me for a week, my Midwest roots does for an entire year.
So carving out that one perfect week each year to live in the clouds is just what I need to allow me the luxury to live in the best of both worlds.
Once again, I am lucky.