Story and Photos by Mary-Colleen Jenkins
At the end of The Wizard of Oz there’s the famous scene in which Dorothy awakens to see her friends and family surrounding her bedside. She begins to describe her adventures to them: “And you and you and you… and you were there…” Around the circle she goes, and the familiar faces smile at her.
On a February morning in 2010, I was lying on my back in the snow feeling like Dorothy as I looked up at the faces of those gathered around me. They smiled encouragingly as it dawned on me – maybe my “agony of defeat” moment had been more than a typical wipeout. They were all there: the ski patrollers, my daughter and my husband, two neighbors, another friend and the kind man who had stopped and helped.
But, the excruciating pain was gone, as was the shock of the fall, and I sat up.
“Let’s just get you standing up,” one of them said. “Then we’ll see.”
They helped me to my feet and let go, but my leg just collapsed beneath me.
A friend gave me a knowing look.
“Don’t say it!” I said.
He didn’t have to. The look said it all: blown knee, surgery, months of rehab.
“Welcome to an exclusive club,” said the patroller steadying the sled as his colleagues guided it on the nauseating downhill trip to first aid. “Each of us has blown a knee at some point, and we’re still skiing!”
We’ve all heard the old saw about never knowing what you have until you lose it, but my “Year of the ACL” answered a question that had crossed my mind many times before without my fully considering it.
Did I love skiing because of a love of the sport itself? Or did I like the appeal of skiing – that it offered an enjoyable excuse to get out every winter weekend with my favorite people?
Suddenly it seemed that everyone I encountered had blown a knee or had some other serious accident while skiing. They fell into two camps: the “I’ll never ski again” camp and the “Hey, it just happens sometimes, but it’s not going to stop me” camp.
I was in the newly established “I’ll never see my family again if I don’t get back out there” camp.
By the time September arrived, five months had passed since my knee surgery and I had graduated from the early days on crutches to hiking uphill and riding a bike on the street. Days between physical therapy sessions were increasing and, in spite of myself, I felt the annual itch of anticipation as the spiders started weaving their autumn webs, the fog filled the streets every morning and the school buses once again rumbled through the neighborhood.
I wasn’t allowed to ski until February at the earliest, but when the snow started falling, I had choices. Stay home relaxing every weekend or go up to the mountains with everyone else. Hang in the lodge with a book or pull out the snowshoes and trekking poles.
With snowshoes, I could go places on the mountain I’d never seen from the runs above. The quiet trails were uncrowded and followed a creek bed flowing with unbelievably clear water. There was time to think – or not – and there were chances to test my balance and strength on low slopes and hills. I could move slowly enough to look for signs of the wildlife that is rarely seen in winter but always leaves its mark. Snowshoeing was a fine substitute for skiing. At first.
The weeks passed and I became impatient to get it all back: the camaraderie, the speed, the freedom, the challenge, the adrenaline. As I thought more about it, I realized what is at the heart of skiing for me. I don’t love skiing because it’s easy – it is definitely not. I love skiing because it is the one thing I do that consistently takes me out of my comfort zone. It forces me to get out of my head and to be physically present all day, taking each moment as it comes. It is the ultimate exercise in mindfulness.
Deep philosophical questions are all well and good, but in the end, it’s simple. When you’re in the mountains with your favorite people on a blue bird day, and the snow is deep and every person you see is smiling, there’s no doubt about it: Skiing is pretty damn fun.
Winter weekends call Mary-Colleen out to the snow, but during the week she can be found warm and dry and working with words. Jenkins is a freelance editor, writing coach, and writer of two blogs,Too Fond of Books (toofondofbooks-sea.blogspot.com) and Along the Branches(www.alongthebranches.wordpress.com). You can find her on Twitter at @EmceeReads
Catch up with all the previous posts of “Tales from the Lift Line” below.
>> I. Waiting for Winter
>> II. Dorothy and Oz
>> IV. Vittels
>> VI. Olympians
>> VII. Emergence
>> VIII. Nickels and Dimes
>> IX. Nickels and Dimes Part II
>> X. Letting Them Run
>> I. The Beginning
>> II. When Seeing is Believing
>> III. Expeditionary Forces
>> IV. Velocity
>> V. Pack Rat
>> VI. Dude
>> VII. Expectations
>> VIII. Don’t Cry in the Trees
>> IX. The Sounds of Silence
>> X. Known/Unknown