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.