I’ve written before that the cruel lie of being self-employed is that you can take a day off whenever you want; the brutal truth is that you never do. Well, I decided to take one, and I found myself wondering what, if I could do anything (reasonable!) in the world, I would want to do with it. Didn’t take me too long to decide that I wanted to do some good old-fashioned downhill skiing.
Now, I have a photo somewhere of my sister and myself on our first pairs of skis – old wooden jobs with cable bindings – doing snowplows (I know, it’s called “pizza” nowadays) on the living room carpet back in Millbrae. Leather boots. I must have been seven, at most, but I remember those skis with unreasonable clarity – the shade of red they were painted, the swoop of the cream-colored lettering running from tip to toe on each. And the feeling of freedom they gave me. Those skis were the keys to the highway for me.
Winters, when I was older and living in Denver, one of my parents would wake up at some ungodly hour each Sunday morning to drive me and whichever siblings were willing to the pre-dawn ski bus pickup at the JCC. They’d swing by again to pick us up that evening, completely wiped out (and usually content) from a day pounding the slopes at Winter Park or Copper Mountain. I never realized what a privilege it was, but I’d always assumed they did it to indulge us. It was only when I became a parent myself that I understood the benefits of shelling out cash to have one’s offspring out from underfoot for an entire day.
But I can’t help but finger this ritual, this consistent gift of spending one day a week at liberty barreling down slopes at my own speed and discretion with no obligation other than to be back at the bus by 3:30 (oh, and don’t die) as having shaped my compulsion for visual flow, for Newtonian dynamics and maneuverability, for “going my own way.” Thanks, mom and dad, I think? No, really, it was an amazing gift to give a kid.
Not that I’ve ever been Very Good at it, but I feel like I’ve always been good enough to enjoy skiing, and it’s never stopped giving me opportunities to push myself right to the edge of my abilities and, not infrequently, a little beyond.
And it stayed with me – in college, grad school and beyond. Taking our own kids up to Tahoe and trying to foist them off on grandparents so D and I could get in a few runs on our own. But strangely, when I moved back up to the Pacific Northwest, some part of my skiing brain went to sleep. I mean, there was that pandemic thing, the farm to manage, the software project to run, a novel to write, and Guilder to frame for it. I was swamped. It was only last month that I finally made it up to Hurricane Ridge to spend a morning doing laps on their itty-bitty rope tow.
But that interlude at Hurricane Ridge rekindled the memory of how much I loved skiing. I drove up to the Methow Valley for a couple of idyllic days poking around the woods on skinny skis. It was beautiful and inspiring, but didn’t sate my appetite for the kind of skiing I grew up with: gravity fed, adrenaline-laced plummets down the steep and deeps. So with winter waning and spring clawing loudly at the door, I decided that if I was going to feed the ski beast, I needed to do it Right Now.
Puget Sound geography has always felt vaguely non-Euclidean to me – it takes roughly two hours to get from the farm to SeaTac, south of Seattle. How then, could it take only a half hour more than that to get from the farm clear across the Cascade divide about 60 miles east of the city?
And yet, this morning, having had a shower and leisurely breakfast at home, I found myself barrelling down the slopes at Snoqualmie Pass by about 10. And what a mountain – or, er, bunch of mountains – it is. Mind you, it’s not huge, but with more than a dozen lifts distributed between the east, central and west summits, and more tucked around the corner at Alpental, it was a total all-you-can-eat snow day. Spring conditions – soft, still-plentiful snow, and temps in the upper 30’s. Almost no lift lines – don’t think I ever waited more than 30 seconds to load – and everyone dialed in really nicely, checking in on COVID protocols: “Double up with you?” “Sure – actually, let me drop back and ride with this guy so we’ve got more space.” It felt more like one of those family operations from years gone by than some modern Epic Megapass Resort Experience. Lift attendants wanting to know how your run was, and offering recommendations they’d picked up from other skiers.
Even the food servers – for some reason I have come to expect the kids stuck behind the food service counters at ski areas to be surly – were almost unnaturally cheerful. I’d masked up and waited through the line to discover that the offerings were a bit sparse: mac and cheese, chili, or teriyaki chicken. I was feeling wild and asked the young lady if maybe they might be able to see their way to doing some sort of half-mac-and-cheese half-chili thing. “Chili-Mac?” she said, “Totally!” and threw a knowing look at the woman running the crock pot like they’d both been waiting for someone to make this very request. Honestly, the whole day felt a little like that dance scene from 500 Days of Summer.
And on the slopes I was carving my way through mogul fields that I had no right to be able to ski – left, right, left, right. Not effortlessly – quads burning, knees shaking, but somehow I could just see the through lines, and threaded them top to bottom, just like that. Top of my game, running the big moguls under the lift on Silver Pine like I was a toreador; I swear someone on one of of the chairs above whooped in appreciation. I hit almost every black diamond on the mountain, many of them twice. I was exhausted, but I just didn’t want the day to end.
Spoiler: it did. But uneventfully. Mind you, Snoqualmie’s “all day” pass gives you access from 9 a.m. until night skiing shuts down at 10 p.m. That’s just insane. I told myself I only had to make it to 3 p.m., and I did, just barely, hobbling and wobbling back to the car. Tomorrow’s going to be a rough day, but looking ahead on my calendar, I see that next Saturday looks open, and the forecast says there’s going to be new snow. My legs ought to be all better by then, right?