Floating into the Quiet
At the bottom of the hill, down through the trees that dot a chute leading to where water streams through this hidden valley, I come on a quiet calm you don’t find in the city.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve cleared out everything,” Guido says looking out from the front porch of a small cabin he and a few others own and care for. “Perfect for shredding.”
Last night, after we all pack into our cars for the drive north, it starts snowing with the promise to last all day. First flakes begin to fall after we arrive, five of us up from Boston where we live, and work, and rush around because it’s all we know. That is until we arrive here, up in the hills and woods of Vermont, where a gentle drop in slope and promise of a foot of snow calms our nerves.
“I can’t believe I’m going to miss it,” Chris says. Sad to be flying down to Florida for a conference. “For years, we’ve talked about being up there after a big snow.”
“It’s perfect!” I say and think, looking out over the white blanket laid the night before. No lifts to rush out to. No crowds to beat. Just fresh snow to craft, with friends I’ve known since even before I made the move to Boston from Middletown Connecticut.
“Have at it,” the collective sentiment from those who come every year, and know the drill. They are talking of the great outdoors, but also of the eggs and bacon Leif just cooked for breakfast.
We are five of fifty or so who played ultimate together since college. Played a game of keep away, besting all who challenged us. Bonded by our success, and by the love of a new game we helped mold as it molded us into the people we are now, here, in the trees, and the snow, and the simple nature of the day.
“You know what I always appreciated in your skiing?” I say to Leif as we ponder our options. “The hyper ventilating you did before taking on a particularly difficult run.”
Leif and I once partners on snow. Before family and kids. Before the responsibility adulthood lay at our feet. Together at the top of Star, or Goat, or Corbin’s Couloir, we stood, ready, Leif breathing in and out, hard, loud.
Today we all breathe in and out with purpose, not because this next run might kill us, but in appreciation of the opportunity to be together doing what we love—physical exertion in the nature Vermont offers to all who come looking for it.
I strap on my new skis bought as if I knew this day fast approached. Skis, boots, skins. Perfect set-up for perfect snow, though the rest of the group dons a variety of equipment for a day we will remember for as long as our failing memories will allow.
Leif taught me how to ski. I don’t mean how to turn, but how to attack the mountain. Find my rhythm. Float. Today, along fresh tracks that whisk me to bottom of this pitch, I arrive in a ravine where gentle water flows in anticipation of spring. Here, I find a peace, and take out my phone to bottle it.
“Keep your eyes ahead of you by a few turns, body facing the fall line, and let your skis do the turning,” he explains. More and more as the technology improves, the arc of the ski make the job easier and easier, until today, with new tele gear underfoot, I barely need do anything but edge to float down and into this magical scene.
“Stay on the sides,” he’d remind me. “Long after everything looks skied out, you can always find fresh turns.” This proves true, and takes constant care to stay clear of thick New England wood.
Another friend reminds me to drive my pinkie toe into each turn, to keep my uphill ski from fishtailing.
We skied Stow, where Leif’s family built Spruce Setter, a beautiful house tucked in a notch facing Vermont’s tallest, Mt. Mansfield. We skied Alta, and Jackson. Found a secret oasis of powder at the Grand Targee. We didn’t wait, well maybe just enough to catch our breath. We skied fast, and with joyful abandon. Made tracks. Found ways down where just a few others dared.
“It’s clear,” he once famously encouraged. “Perfect landing and snow. Let ‘er rip.”
Another white lie I discover too late while launching out between two trees into the rare air of the Wasatch Mountain Range of Utah. Arms flail. Knees buckle. The ensuing yard sale just what my Norwegian friend conscripted. These the days when we could recover from such antics with pain free images of bodies soaring and legs pumping.
“I hyperventilate to get enough oxygen, but also to let people know I’m coming,” Leif tells us. He can make the pronouncement because he skis as well as anyone we know, able to tackle deep moguls and the steep of deep powder. “Watch this,” his breathing announces.
Today I take a few deep breaths before pushing off the cabin road on into the open field. Air flows in and out of my lungs, not loud, but with purpose and focus on the moment.
“First tracks,” I think, dream. “Point them down and float.”
I make a series of turns into the fall line before curving to the right through a stand of trees surrounding the stream that cuts through the bottom of the property.
“Snow globe,” Guido will say, over and over again, our day’s mantra for this perfect storm.
My skis have just enough momentum to ride me all the way down into the peaceful existence of this little enclave — alone with my thoughts, and yet far from my worries. The healing powers of the forest as abundant as the large flakes falling all around me.
At first, when I come to rest where the stream takes a jog, I just wait. And listen, before taking skis off for the hike back up. No, not yet. Just listen. To a quiet louder than the constant ringing of tired ears. To the day unfolding before me. I will ski up and down the exact same pitch some ten times over the next couple of days, but not yet. First, I will take it in. Hug a tree and the life we live together. It’s not cold, nor windy. A still to reflect. Right temperature will keep the snow from setting too quickly. No hurry. We’re in nature’s snow globe, with trees lined white, and tracks not yet laid. We are here, alone and together. With our thoughts, and our turns. Nature’s blessing.