Downhill From Here
The only sounds I heard—which were muffled by my goggles and helmet—were my skis cutting through the snow and the creaky grinding/mechanical moaning of the ski lifts. At first, I felt lonely. I’m an extrovert who makes acquaintances easily, and I love being chatty, but this day I intentionally spent in silence. I saw few people because it was a very slow day. On some runs, I might not see another skier at all once I got a bit away from the lift drop-off. It felt strange not seeing more skiers. I missed seeing parents teaching their small children to ski, although I enjoyed freedom to roam unimpeded. I sat alone on ski lift rides. That was hard. So many times in the past I’ve had conversations with strangers on ski lifts, brief talks with people I never saw again, and never will. Those conversations, silly or inconsequential as they are, entertain me and enliven me. (Cashiers all over Atlanta are nodding their heads, or rolling their eyes.) This time, riding alone over and over, I sometimes felt as if I weren’t doing enough to be the kind of person I think I am. “Come on, extrovert, do something social.”
Eventually, however, the silence took me deeper into myself. I would occasionally stop and take in a view, alone. With no one to whom to say, “Look at that,” I stared across at a distant mountain fronted by a frozen lake, and I smiled, wonderfully, simply, satisfied. I would stop at the top of a run and look down, anticipating the exhilaration, planning my method: quick-turn speed or leisurely wide turns. Speed feels joyful. Wide turns feel sensual. I like them both. Skiing alone, in the silence, I felt the speedy skiing and the sensual skiing all the way through me. I sensed my body’s motions acutely. No one against which to compete or compare, I felt satisfied with however I skied—smoothly or clumsily.
Thickly insulated inside my gear, warming packets in my gloves and boots (I’m a winter weather wimp), I could see the cold—the snow, the vapory breath—but not feel it. The sound of my breathing resonated through my head. The rhythm of breath and the rhythm of skiing were like choreographed dancing. At moments I felt spiritually energized as my movements became a kind of prayer. It was more than looking around and appreciating God’s beauty, although it was that. It was more a sense that the Creator, the beautiful scenery, and I were united as I moved in my isolation and silence down the slopes.
And then, that afternoon, my skis began to cooperate with each other as never before. I have always admired skiers whose skis are always parallel to each other, moving in unison, while mine often seemed to be playing a game with each other: I’ll go this way and see if you can catch up. I tried turning my ankles simultaneously, shifting my hips, slightly shifting my weight upward as I turned—none worked for me, until this day finally it somehow came together. I was shocked and pleased to see and feel my skis being a coordinated tandem. I’m not sure why it happened. Maybe it was the repetition of it all. Over and over, the same thing, like chanting, until my body, mind, and spirit had a breakthrough. Everything felt as one to me. In my solitude and silence, I celebrated simply, by smiling and thanking God. It was a deep soulful gratitude, a prayer with no words, instead that full-body sense of God’s presence. I would have enjoyed celebrating with another person there, but this time the joy percolated within me. The whole full experience was a prayer.