Tag Archives: Winter

Back on Skis

I learned how to ski when I was in kindergarten and skiing remained a significant part of my winters until I moved to Malaysia. That was eight years ago.

A few months ago, a friend broached the subject of a ski trip to Austria. We looked at photos and maps and shared memories of past experiences. I started making lists of what I needed to buy (everything) and began purchasing, trying on, returning. Other friends got involved, logistics were determined, decisions made and finalized. We did squats to get stronger, planned our grocery shopping, packed the car.

“I hope I remember how to ski,” I told everyone who asked. To a person they replied, “You’ll see. It’s just like riding a bike.”

Not just like riding a bike, perhaps, but not too far off. As it turned out, I remembered how to ski. I was certainly not as strong, elegant, or fearless on skis as I once was, at least in my memory of it, but my body knew how to move and my heart knew how to laugh. That’s really all I had hoped for in the mountains.

My experiences skiing took place in equal parts in the icy North American east and in the beloved terrain of the American Rockies. I’ve skied in plenty of powder, played in glades (once with a GoPro that we made the mistake of showing to my non-skier mum), and used to plan my ski days around ungroomed blacks.

I knew that skiing in the Alps would be different, and it is no exaggeration to say that skiing in the Alps has been a lifetime dream. Perhaps it was the landscape that hit me this time, for I’ve spent a long time away from mountains now, or perhaps it was something else, but I was overcome by a feeling of awe from the moment we arrived.

After half a day, tired of repeating “wow” ad nauseam, I mentioned that I wish I knew other words. A friend supplied a string of words in German, all words I already knew, and it was these words that sang in chorus in my head throughout the week.

And it really was beautiful, in all kinds of weather, the entire time. We skied fast groomers in bright sunshine; found patches of powder in a snowstorm and worked our legs hard in the moguls that remained the next day; felt ourselves tiny and insignificant in the howling wind that rose through the glacier where we spent our last day. My breath caught with nowhere to go and there was nothing to do but fly, nothing to do but trust the skis in the wind even as the snow swirled up from everywhere and rendered visibility impossible. And then there was nowhere to go but back up the glacier in the hopes that our trial by wind had been recognized.

The landscape was desolate and extraordinary.

I recognize how fortunate I am to know how to ski, first of all, and to be able to take a week to do it. I recognize what it means to have learned this sport as a child and engaged with it for my whole life, less an eight-year break. There are some really interesting cultural differences that I noticed between Europe and North America in this way, accessibility and affordability being only a part of that.

If I could bring everyone this experience, I would. There is something about being out in the world, about recognizing the world rather than the self in the world, that gets me every time. The world would be a better place if we recognized that more often than we forgot it.

And as always, I thank the mountains and the sky for that lesson.

The Sky

The sky is changing.

My bike spent time in the shop this week, which meant I walked to work. At first I was annoyed, because of course there were things I’d planned to do on that first surprising morning and I wanted to get to work early to do them. I took a moment to be frustrated and then, because there was no other option, pulled myself out of my head and into the day.

This is when I noticed the sky changing. The gray was no longer steely and imposing, but softer, gentler. The light not hours away, but minutes. People riding without bike lights were suddenly less foolish and more visible. Morning was not long in coming, but rather already here.

Just over a year ago, when I first knew I was moving to Germany, I received photos of snow from the colleague I replaced. This was atypical, I was told, and I have since learned that snow like that, snow like the snow I grew up with, only happens every ten years or so.

When I was a child, we waited impatiently for snow days that never came, no matter how many spoons were carefully placed under pillows or pajamas worn inside out. Rochester, New York gets a lot of snow, or at least it used to, and we lived with it. The climate has certainly changed, but my parents’ photos of snow still look like I remember it. Lake effect, they say on the news, as though the type of snow makes any difference to children playing. I only remember one time when a snowball thrown contained more ice than snow and a neighbourhood boy went home crying; I’m sure that happened more than one time.

I remember climbing on the piles of shovelled snow to see the white, white world from a point higher than the lamppost in our yard. I remember the time my dad left his car at the top of the hill behind our house and hiked down, snow up to his waist. I used to keep sandbags in the trunk of my car so that I could drive through the hills leading to our neighbourhood, though sometimes I took the long way to avoid the sharpest right. There was always the danger of missing it. Cycling up that hill in the summer was no one’s idea of fun, so we never did. From the top, there was first a red barn and then fields and then sky.

Two weekends ago, a group of friends headed south into the Thüringer Wald to go for a walk in the snow. There’s usually snow there, I’m told, though it rained there this winter, too.

We greeted cross-country skiers and children sledding and kept the dog away from other dogs. We climbed the tower and were forced back down by the wind, tossed two tiny frisbees, ate delicious muffins and other snacks pulled from backpacks. The boys had a snowball fight and I played photographer as the group built two snowmen. We played in the snow because that’s what snow is for.

The sky was right there through the trees.

The house I grew up in was at the top of one hill and the bottom of a smaller hill, but a hill all the same. The cul-de-sac gave us a snow mountain that grew gradually larger each time the plows came around. As children, we named it after our street and friends from outside the neighbourhood would come over to play in the snow. Building a fort using recycling boxes was always harder than we thought it would be. My siblings and I used to dress our snowmen in Hawaiian shirts from our dress-up box; Mum always gave us a carrot for the nose.

You could see the world from the top of that hill. You could look out across neighbourhoods, across trees, and watch the leaves and the sky change. The atmosphere was peaceful well before I knew the world. Rochester is a cloudy place, a place where, on the rare sunny days, people suddenly come out of their shells. You see smiles where there were previously faces hidden in scarves or behind hoods of raincoats. People greet one another more warmly and the general mood is one of optimism and joy. I have never in my life known people so happy to see the sun.

I forgot that feeling, and then I left the equator and came to another place that is cloudy, a place where I have recently felt the sky change. In Singapore, my apartment looked out over a highway and then the towns to the north. When the sky took over the buildings in the distance, rain was coming. Sky in the tropics changes in a flash, in a second, and if you don’t look now, it’ll be different in a breath. Hours could pass watching it.

This week I saw the sky changing.

And today, clouds are moving across the sun.

Dreaming of a . . .

It rained on Christmas Eve (Heiligabend here in Germany).

“Well,” we said, “a white Christmas would have been nice.”

And then the temperature dropped, the rain turned to snow, and the snow stuck.

I haven’t seen snow, real falling snow, in a really long time and I laughed. Outside, I threw my head back and tasted.

It snowed on the way home, late.

I took off a glove, touched the flakes on a bush, tasted.

And there was still snow on Christmas Day (Weihnachten here in Germany).

So I put on my new boots and went outside to play.