Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Trivial Tribulation



Though it isn't quite over, I'm ready to allow that this has been a pretty interesting winter. "Interesting" in the pejorative sense that people increasingly use the word to describe things about which they haven't quite made up their minds. As an example, I'm not even sure what I mean. Interesting... I will, however, give it a try.

Generally I spend about a third of each winter season in work-related travel. Typically these trips are well spaced over the November-to-May gauntlet, with healthy stints at home in Whistler to combat any roadweariness. This year, however, all my major assignments came back to back, with no time between: that meant five-plus weeks on the road starting late February. Not only did I begin to feel like a one-man-act on tour in Europe, Alberta and northern B.C., but it played peculiar tricks on my mind. Instead of the usually distinct journeys woven separately into the fabric of an entire winter, the long-haul version ran everything together like mascara in the rain; towns and mountains, sun and snow, good days and bad; a kaleidoscopic block that practically erased the first three months of winter fun in Whistler, creating what seemed two distinct seasons — one almost forgotten, and another in which everything was conflated. There could be any number of reasons for the latter: each job involved a road trip where long days of tracking the slo-mo circuits of filmers, photographers and athletes were bookended by tedious interviews and eternal Googling; everywhere were the familiar go-to pizzas, bouts of food (or booze) poisoning, unsettled sleep, blister-inducing tours, preternaturally warm and sloppy snow (thank you climate change) set upon the glaciated debris of the colder winter that was, requisite tiptoeing on avie-alert eggshells, and a never-ending parade of passionate ski lifers. Tons of similarity to be sure, but very different details. So how could what seemed constant adventure at the time morph into quasi-sameness? Perhaps that was simply the price. Interesting...

Not to paint any of this as unwelcome (lest someone be tempted to tweet it under #FirstWorldProblems), but it certainly delivered its challenges. Enough, in retrospect, to make the many rewards reaped worth it. In other words, keeping it together for five weeks was pretty much like any hurdle one faces on a major ski mission.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but adversity is the reason skiing works. Without it there would be nothing. If you could ski when and where you wanted, without need for detailed planning, travel, transportation, money, specialized equipment, specific conditions, a boatload of expectation, and going up to come down ... or if it were something instinctually accomplished instead of a mad skill gained via steep learning curves that include surmounting tens of millions of years of evolution which has left soft, hairless human bodies ill-equipped for high speeds, hard objects, frigid temperatures and remarkable feats of anti-gravity... then it probably wouldn't be much fun at all. Certainly there would be fewer broken limbs.

The very alchemy of skiing, then, is rooted in "adversity," as any decent thesaurus will attest. Therein, you'll find associated locutions like "accident," "affliction," "calamity," "catastrophe," "crisis," "difficulty," "disaster," "distress," "misadventure," "misery," "misfortune," "mishap," "pain," "setback," "sorrow," "suffering," "tragedy," "trauma," "trouble," and "woe" that ring with brutal familiarity to any skier. Not only can I guarantee to have written each of these words over the years in a ski-related story, but together they succinctly describe my early attempts at alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, telemarking, and mastering any or all of racing, freestyle, air, trees and deep snow. They also seem to describe any powder day in Whistler — whether you're one of the thousands of crazed maniacs hell-bent on gold-rushing a surprisingly precious commodity, or a patroller charged with mopping up the aftermath. In fact, you could bring the same verbal litany to bear on virtually any aspect of skiing. Terrain parks — need I say more? Shooting photos? Making movies? Tuning skis? Dialing in boots? Touring to a big peak? Getting over an injury? Training? Winning a World Cup event? Skiing in the East?

I could go on. Skiing was obviously invented so that adversity had something fun to do when there was no war or famine or pestilence to keep it occupied. It's a fact.

But here's another: no matter the hardship involved in any given ski experience, it all evaporates in a delicious instant when you tip into the fall line. Adversity's flight in the face of gravity creates a vacuum into which rushes weightlessness and a feeling of exhilaration that fools like myself spend careers trying to define, always falling just short — a particular but necessary adversity of its own. Because if we could adequately describe it, we'd have nothing more to say, and perhaps a diminished need to participate. But we can't, so we keep going back to the well. Whether it takes five minutes, five days, or five weeks.

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