BORN TO SKI, BORN TO LIVE
Ryan Summerlin March 12, 2013
Skiing is more than a metaphor for life. For some people, skiing is life. Same with the other snow sports, but all I care about is skiing. Nothing negative about the other snow sports is intended (except ski skates) by intentionally omitting them from today’s column.
In skiing, as in life, you start off knowing nothing. Then you listen to someone tell you what to do and how and when to do it, unless, of course, that someone is your parent.
In life, as in skiing, you stand up, balance and try to walk in a straight line. Falling is inevitable until you improve. Then you learn to turn and run faster, and go wherever you want, which is usually away from your parents, and towards the mountains.
You learn how to control the pressures of life, and the pressures under your skis, and use the sharp edge of the skis earlier in the turn, and how to carve short turns on steep slopes. Learning to use both skis from tip to tail is like learning to climb the corporate ladder, but much more fun, and probably more innocent and less dangerous.
Then you learn to ski all terrain in all conditions, including steeps, bumps and ice. The terrain and conditions of life are easier to navigate if you satisfy your passion for skiing.
The sacrament of skiing, so it seems, was ordained by the creator before the Big Bang ever happened. It sounds blasphemous to some, but God created ski bums to ski!
For those born to ski, the intimate relationship between skiing and the origin of the universe is obvious. For those who do not understand, or who might call our passion for skiing a selfish obsession, no explanation is possible. Many of them are simply jealous.
The life of a skier is not likely to result in wealth, riches and access to the finest cars and mansions. Responding fully to the divine calling, and following it faithfully through life, is likely to be seen by a skier’s family, friends and society as a personal failure, and cost him dearly. But that’s OK. Success and happiness are worth the expense.
Like the universe, a powerful turn on a steep slope starts with a big bang, theoretically. The ideal would be to link smooth but radical, dynamic turns together from the cradle to the grave with little interruption, but that’s where the metaphor, or the allegory, becomes too life-like. You can’t link turns all your life without money, and you can’t get money unless you work, and you can’t ski if you have to work, unless you become a ski instructor! My only regret is that I didn’t have that part figured out when I was 18.
A skier is not a person without regrets or faults, but a person who knows himself well enough to be himself. For a male professional ski bum, living within your means to fulfill your destiny may seal your fate as a single man, but the thrill of skiing is close enough to the thrill of loving. Skiing is a faithful lover you can trust to keep you forever young.
We were created in the image of radical, dynamic movement, flung this way and that to the farthest reaches of the mountain terrain, courting balance and imbalance, on the thin edge of triumph and tragedy, pivoting boldly in and out of the best angles you can create with your ankles, knees and hips, blending skill with fatigue, athletic ability and the force of gravity, trying to remain standing, at least somewhat, hanging on as your body is compressed into the terrain at high speed, and strength and age defy the non-believer’s crude notion that there is no such thing as grace, and the thrill has no end, and the cold beer at the end of the day never tasted so good, and it’s the best day of your life, again!
Like life, every turn on skis must end, but more babies are born to fill the skis of those who have gone before. The call of the mountains is God’s way of saying, “I ski, therefore, I am.”
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.