One morning, in the spring of 2008, while the sun was still a distant, early-morning presence above the Rockies, my dad and I slid off a chair lift and rounded a corner onto a vast expanse of pure white snow.
The exhilarating tingle of a first run rolled up from my toes as we took off down the mountain. I cut through clean, still air and carved my existence, temporarily, into the velvet surface of the mountain, reveling in the joy of being 18 and free.
Near the end of the run, I tore round a corner to see a sloping bank dropping off into clear blue sky, and I slipped effortlessly over the crest, expecting the semi-shallow slope of the blue line I’d traced out back in the overly warm lodge.
Instead, I looked down upon a sea of white mounds, glistening in the Colorado sun. Deep blue crescents delineated clearly the depth of each mogul, paths worn into the snow by more experienced skiers as they attempted to slow their rapid descent.
As comprehension dawned, my side hit the snow out of sheer fright. We had taken a wrong turn somewhere. My father flew past me and came to an abrupt halt ten feet below my crash landing. I looked past him to the lodge, within sight at the base of this monstrous hill. I turned back over my shoulder, but 30 seconds in open snow will take you far, and I had no hope of returning by the way I had come.
I looked him straight in the eye, “I’m not going. I can’t make it. I will die.”
He laughed kindly, “You’re gonna have to figure it out unless you want to live on this mountain; there’s only one way down.”
It took 20 minutes of psyching myself up (and a seven year old flying past me fearlessly without poles), but I finally stood and stared into the labyrinth of snow and shadow. I took a deep breath and bent my knees forward. I let my weight shift infinitesimally over the tips of my skis and surrendered to the pull of gravity as it wrapped itself around me, pulled me farther, faster.
I shifted right, then left. Once, my skis, desperate for adventure, cut straight across the top of a tiny mountain and I flew into the air (I was, at most, two inches above the ground). I hit the snow and banked left, continued my plunge unscathed, arriving, finally, on the shallow plateau that heralded “SLOW ZONE”. I cut sharply to the right and came to a breathless stop, snow spraying into the air.
I exhaled. There is a fierce pride in doing the thing you think you can not do.