Friday, April 27, 2012

The end of the affair

No other humans just the hill and I (view to the east)
The falling out of love happened just as quickly as the falling in love. The love affair lasted decades and I certainly had a good run of it. The setting of the affair was the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  There is a romantic ambiance in our ski towns and communities – the athletes wearing their Scandinavian woolen sweaters or colorful fleece, rosy cheeks on the residents from the invigorating cold or unabashed sunshine, the perpetual gentle snowfalls, the tall green conifers framing dappled sunlight and a royal blue sky – and all this was exhilarating and thrilling to me. Being in this environment made me feel like I was waking up every morning to a white Christmas.

Mountains represent something so much greater than oneself:  Mother Nature displays a chilling force of power and special beauty in alpine regions. I wanted to be a part of it somehow and to express my passion -- like a good tumble in the bedroom. And indeed there were sports that could accomplish this meeting between the lover and object of her infatuation. Alpine skiing (and snowboarding) is the art of falling down a snow-capped mountain on boards strapped to your feet with a controlled grace – making turns that look like undulating silk ribbons. I fell in love with falling down. That this “falling down" a mountain sport required a monumental amount of special gear – heavy clunky boots, high tech skis, proper poles, protective goggles, sunscreen, hats, gloves, waterproof pants and jacket  (and a costly lift ticket) -  was just a hurdle I would have to jump over hoping to land gently on a blanket of snow. And jumping up and into the snowy bed was something I did for years.  Yes, I do feel one can have affairs with sports.

Entrance to the Rail Yard Superpipe

Last week, I went downhill skiing for an end of the season fling at the nearby Winter Park Ski Resort. Even though this was not a good year for winter snowfall, a spring storm had recently blanketed a few areas in the Rocky Mountains. The snow on the runs was decent easing into a bit of slush at the base; the temperatures were mild and the sun was playing peek-a-boo with some clouds.  A handful of runs were open and on a third of them I never saw another human. Talk about having a moment alone in nature. I laughed to myself that if I accidentally fell and became injured, no one would find my bones until next fall.

The log architecture at "The Lodge at Sunspot"
I definitely had a good run at it and wove together some graceful turns. Up at this high elevation, I became very thirsty and had to stop at The Lodge at Sunspot for some water and a snack. The lodge sits at 10,700 ft. and is a breathtakingly beautiful structure built of enormous logs with endless views of the Continental Divide. It feels like a natural part of the forest and the safest place you could be in a blizzard. The bottled water cost nearly $4.00 and I spent some time savoring it and watching the sky and clouds move around the mountains. Later in the day, when my burning thighs announced that the first day of skiing was over, I trudged in my clunky ski boots back to the parking lot carrying my skis and poles across my shoulder like a soldier carries his rifle. My feet were anxious to be free and unencumbered; I was looking forward to the hotel swimming pool and bare feet.

Something in me had shifted. My long love affair with downhill skiing seemed to have cooled somewhat – and the cause of this change could be many things. Was it perhaps the high cost of downhill skiing, the ton of equipment to schlep and wear, the heavy uncomfortable boots (even with custom orthotics), along with the added expenses of gas, food and hotel? The ski/snowboard industry has gotten too expensive for the average-income family to easily afford. My pocketbook says ouch every time I go.  And when I weighed the economic situation, like many folks do with a benefit/cost analysis, the costs seemed to outweigh the benefits. Watching a few people on the slopes execute perfect parallel turns, I could not help thinking how unimportant and silly it seemed to make these expensive wiggles.  Maybe, my time could be better spent planting my garden and reaping the rewards of a harvest of nutritious food. Couldn’t I enjoy the mountain equally as well hiking for free in my light-as-air snowshoes? Was I moving in a direction of more simplicity in my life with less reliance on an abnormal amount high-tech equipment for my fun?  A bathing suit and cap for swimming or a pair of sneakers and shorts for jogging seemed delightfully simple. There is a scene in the 1980 comedy, “Private Benjamin,” where Goldie Hawn is marching in the rain weighed down by a ton of army equipment (rifle, helmet, backpack, combat boots and rain gear) and she says, “I want to wear my sandals…I want to go out to lunch…I want to be normal again!”  I can relate.


Zieff, Howard, dir. Private Benjamin. Perf. Goldie Hawn, and Eileen Brennan. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1980. Film.

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