By Mary-Colleen Jenkins
Photo at right: The author hikes along a ridge, thick with hoarfrost. Photo by Michael Jenkins
(Ed. Note: This is the final post in the 2013-14 Tales from the Lift Line winter series, and we already miss Mary-Colleen’s clever posts. If you’re looking for funny, inspiring moments, check out her stories from the last two winters at http://outdoorsnw.com/category/blog/tales-from-the-lift-line; keep an eye out for her writing in our next edition of SNOW Guide, too. It comes out in November.)
“Your skis want to run,” said Michael as I sat in the snow digging my ski free so I could stand up again. “You’re holding them back.”
Our group had crossed a difficult ridgeline on the backside of the summit on Mt. Bachelor. Storms had scoured the surface, leaving sharp spikes of hoar frost in their wake. Like a receding high tide leaves ridges in the sand of a beach, the winds had left lines of rock-hard ice sticking up in thin strips across the face of the mountain. They looked fragile and beautiful in the sunlight, but they were unbreakable and caught our edges and tripped us up as we crossed.
Once we descended into the tree line we found new snow, heavy and deep. The others raced through it, cutting through the weight, winding through the trees, making their way around places where it had chunked up. This is the type of snow that my long, fat skis were built for. This is the type of snow that is easy to cut through at speed. But I fell quite a bit. And I stopped frequently to strategize new lines so I could avoid falling again. The landing was soft but it took a lot of effort to get back up again.
Michael was right. If I could stop thinking so much and just trust my skills, I could go at the speed I needed to whip through this run. But I’d gotten myself into a thought process that was hard to get out of even though I knew it was the root of my problem.
Every ski season I choose one particular skill to work on. The choice can be as big as breaking a bad habit — early on I focused on training myself to face downhill rather than across the slope — or as minor as learning to smoothly swing my backpack around when getting on and off the lift (http://outdoorsnw.com/2013/tales-from-the-lift-lines-v-pack-rat). Some years I focus on skills to help me ski more efficiently — once it was practicing narrow turns, once it was better pole planting. Sometimes it’s a confidence-building year — one season I didn’t allow myself to hesitate before dropping into black diamond runs, no matter how difficult they looked.
Ideally, I’d work on all my skills all the time, but that’s the thing about skiing. Thinking too much about what you’re doing can lead to mistakes just like not paying enough attention can lead to mistakes.
The goal is to achieve a perfect balance between mental alertness (strategizing the run) and just letting the skis run. If the balance is right, then you acquire an almost unconscious awareness of everything around you: observing where other skiers are in relation to you, being aware of changing snow conditions, planting the poles in rhythm, adjusting stance, correcting course…. You spend a minute looking for your line and then you go! That’s when skiing feels effortless; that’s when it’s the most freeing.
On the backside slope of Mt. Bachelor that morning, I couldn’t achieve the balance I wanted. I looked at the trees and thought about how close together they looked. I noticed a freshly broken branch nearby and wondered where the next one would fall. I considered which of two possible paths I could take. I wondered if I was holding the others back, how far ahead they might be. All that thinking put a dead stop to my ability to let go and allow the skis to run.
I finally reached the road that loop-di-loops around the mountain and all thoughts were whisked right out of my head as I rocketed towards the closest lift two and a half miles away. It was just me and the road with its ups and downs, twists and turns, sunlight streaming through the branches above. I let out a whoop and happily thought, “Finally!”
I let those skis run.
I wasn’t entirely correct when I said that I pick one skill a year to focus on. On those days when my brain gets in the way of my fun another goal sets in: turning my chattering thoughts off so I can be a little more Zen about what I’m doing. It’s not easy to do — thinking about not thinking — but it’s important for me to try to leave the workaday habits of mind back in the workaday world. The world of the mountains is, and should be, separate; a place for expansion rather than contraction; a place where breathing and being and doing are more important than analyzing. That’s the ultimate skill for me to work toward, and it’s a skill I’ll be spending many years trying to achieve.
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