03.16.13 12:31 PM ET
Skiing is Love at First Swoosh
My National Post column reflects on what skiing can teach us all:
“Before you learn to ski, you must learn to fall.” Those were the very first words of my very first ski instructor. They were good advice, too, and not only for the obvious reasons. I was 47 when I took up the sport, and to begin at that age enforces a certain humility. I practice as often as I can (and, realistically, how often can a middle-aged person practice?), but will never gain the ease and grace of the 12-year-olds who slalom past me.
But I don’t care. From that first lesson, it was love at first swoosh. I can’t fully endorse T.S. Eliot’s, “In the mountains, there you feel free.” Obviously, the man had never bought a lift ticket. Still, his general point is valid: Standing at an edge of a mountain, facing even wilder crags beyond, overlooking a valley thousands of feet below, and then plunging off the edge into speed and wind … you leave a lot of things behind you on that edge. If the mountain is big enough, they don’t catch up with you again for nearly an hour.
Over the edge, you hurtle forward at a speed the human body was never meant to travel at. Gravity is transformed from the constraint that holds us dully to Earth into the power that lets us fly. And it’s only your individual skill and strength that will bring you safely back to ground.
When you do return to ground, you return a different person.
Skiing has more lessons, at least for me, than any other sport I’ve ever tried — including rowing, although I spent many more hundreds of hours pulling at an oar than I’ve yet been able to spend on a slope.
Skiing teaches the management of danger. Skiing is inescapably a dangerous activity: My brother-in-law broke his leg on the same slope from which I write these words. During the past week on the mountain, I saw four other skiers carried downhill on the ski patrol’s rescue toboggans. You are always one mistake away from serious trouble — and you have to both carry that thought with you at all times and yet somehow banish it too.