A friend from back East has graciously lent me her ski condo in the late off-season. New trails take me to unfamiliar places, with sights I will not see back home in Dubois.
For instance: An unused ski lift waits motionless and silent, a ghostly reminder of another life. I recall the creak of the lift chair as it swings around to grab you from the rear. The reach back and up to grab the overhead bar and bring it down across your lap.
I recall the enforced strut of skiers in molded boots, conveying a sense of arrogance as they clattered past in the slopeside cafe.
I used to love downhill skiing. In fact, it was my enthusiasm for my first ski trip, at the age of 19, that made my husband notice me in the college dorm.
Once we took ski trips every winter, as a matter of course.
On this morning, at the spot where the lift chairs swing around and dump you off, only footprints led away. I remembered the exhilaration of the smooth, winding sail as the momentum carried you on downhill. The wonder (on the first run) of what awaited around that curve. The sense in my knees of being one with the slope.
For this one morning, I was a little nostalgic. I quit skiing a decade ago, after I got a mild knee sprain in deep powder.
Was that an early sign of aging? I don’t think so.
I didn’t want any more injuries to deter me from hiking, because I knew there are better ways to understand a mountain.
This trail led off away from the top of the motionless lift. I saw that a man and his dog had gone that way not long ago. It beckoned, and I followed.
Just as I can learn a back road far better on foot than in a car, I gain a much closer friendship with a slope by pushing off the boulders on my way uphill and sidestepping over the rocky gullies on my way back down than by gliding down a well-groomed avenue.
The challenge I seek is not for the speed downhill, but for the strength uphill.
The pleasure I’m after is not the joy of following a crowd or a well-marked route, but the difference between getting lost and just exploring.
Far better than the jostle of strangers speeding past is my own solitude, and the delight of unexpected encounters. In truth, I’m the stranger this morning, to the foxes and deer who own these slopes when there are no crowds.
Yesterday, we ran across each other in person. We did not stop to introduce ourselves; we just stared. This morning, I see they’ve been here ahead of me.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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