When I was very young, only three years old, I had the good fortune of being buckled into a pair of ski boots and dressed in mountain clothing by my parents. I gather that there was a considerable amount of crying, right up until the moment I found myself physically sliding over snow. Apparently I loved the feeling, and the it seems that the tears stopped and were replaced by laughter and shrieks of joy. My parents had brought me to a small ski hill in Washington State to begin what they could not have known would turn out to be a lifelong obsession.
I wish to start by acknowledging my privilege. Though I am the son of Colombian immigrants, which had and has its challenges, I was fortunate to have been given a solid education, and we as a family were fortunate that my parents were both in the medical profession. This afforded us a lot of opportunities that others have not had. So i acknowledge how lucky i am to have, among many other blessings, been given the chance to learn this incredible sport.
I recently heard someone describe the sport as the closest most people will ever come to experiencing the feeling of flying (applies to snowboarding too, of course). It’s a very good description, because when one pursues mastery or even competency in skiing, one invariably encounters moments when one feels just that—a shared understanding (albeit a limited one) with peregrine falcons.
When i was still a boy, I surpassed my father in skiing at an early age, and so found myself often enjoying the sport alone. I seldom went with friends because the friends I had were not interested in skiing. Thus skiing became for me an escape—a personal journey i would take on winter weekends, on a bus full of strangers or, occasionally, with my parents.
Being the son of immigrants, I was sometimes alienated, left out of things at school. But I always had friends, and many times, my exclusion from others’ activities was more a function of my loud and overbearing personality. Skiing was something I could do alone, something in which I could find joy. I strived to improve, took lessons, and considered myself an advanced skier well before I could legally drive.
Then, somehow I met Josh. A year behind me in high school, Josh was a kindred spirit from the moment we met. We were both a little wild, and we both loved music and artistic expression. A friendship kindled instantaneously. When Josh told me that he was a lifelong skier, too, it became immediately apparent that we would need to begin skiing together at once.
And from the first time we touched snow together, my appreciation for skiing deepened profoundly. For the first time since my early days with dad, there was someone i could share this joy with, someone who could understand my passion for it, someone i could bullshit with on the chairlift. we skied with two other friends a lot of the time and we each pushed each other and challenged each other to improve, but it was Josh i loved and wanted to spend my time with.
We lost touch after high School, and didn’t reconnect until we were well into our twenties. During that time I kept skiing, pursuing opportunities as they came up to improve and grow in my ability. But something else happened that Josh and I did not properly experience when we were in high school. I skied in powder snow for the first time when i was on a trip to Utah in my university years.
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The saying is actually, “Skiing in powder is the closest that most humans can ever feel to flying.” The reason for that is that powder snow is smooth and soft, and there is very little friction underneath your feet as you glide through it, and the snow billows and puffs around you as you carve from side to side, like soaring in and out of puffy clouds. Gravity pulls you down the mountain, and the creamy snow gives way beneath you, offering little resistance and allowing you to experience a sensation that one can only imagine is akin to flying.
After experiencing this feeling, i have chased it ever since. I have traveled to parts of the us and canada, and have flown internationally to find it (again, acknowledging my privilege here), and though I was never able to make a career out of it, I have not stopped pursuing opportunities to find it.
One thing changed. My dear friend Josh got away from pursuing the sport with the same vigor that i have. So although we reconnected as young professionals and have become self-professed best friends once more, we are no longer ski partners. Once more I found myself alone in my pursuit of this obsession, and for years now have made peace with skiing being a solitary activity. It has become a solace and a retreat.
I have another friend who is as passionate about it as I am, and after a couple years of missing each other on the slopes, we finally managed to ride together earlier this year. I’m certain that we will continue to link up, and confident that we may even travel together internationally in the near future. It brings me joy to see this manifesting, because it is a lovely thing to have a friend, and memories are (sometimes) better when they are shared.
Either way, I will be forever grateful to my mother and father—who, even when they were broke, made sure I got up to the snow—because by cultivating this dream in me, they unknowingly paved the way for me to learn how to play with gravity’s pull, to experience the sublime feeling of flying, to cheat death by touching gods and goddesses as I plunge through billowy clouds and imagine myself to be a peregrine falcon.
Touching gods and goddesses