If you were going to school in the middle of the nineteenth century and forced to recite the alphabet, you wouldn’t end your string of characters at Z, but rather an ampersand: &.
As the industrial revolution rose, the end of the alphabet fell away. As many migrated from the country to the city, “and” went from being a letter to a word. Yet “and” remains not only the third most commonly used word in the English language, but also a symbol of the most common human experience: experiencing all the things, many times at once, and often with no cause and effect between two emotions.
And for me, “and” is also key to my answer to the often asked question: Why do you ski?
Skiing is fun and hard and weird and joyous and exhausting and spiritful and awkward and adventurous and boring and exciting and cold and monotonous and sweaty and simple and complex and scary and odd.
Skiing is a series of recoveries, a continuous attempt at staying upright.
And every 412 turns or so, skiing is a perfect union between you, gravity, and the ground.
Skiing is a dance and a tumble. Skiing is an art and a science. Skiing is an independent sport and a community.
The best day on skis is sometimes in the best conditions. And the best day on skis is sometimes in the worst conditions. My biggest smiles have come from skiing a first descent, and equally so from double ejecting ass over tea kettle through a relatively flat field of powder.
Skiing has shown me the value of partnership. Of friendships that span the globe. Friends who have offered spare couches, floors, and cliff bars.
Skiing has given me the space and time to think about people I love that are now dead.
And, ironically, I have used skiing in the mountains as a way to heal from losing people in the mountains.
Skiing has taken my breath away through both ineffable vistas and literally with trauma-induced panic attacks. Sometimes ski lines look like dreams to me, other times, they look like a nightmare. It no longer is just a straightline to fun; skiing also forces me to process grief and loss and failure.
Skiing has filled my joy cup, given me platinum airline status, a paycheck, and friends. And skiing has brought me to too many funerals, drained my bank account paying off hospital bills, and destroyed my adrenals.
The ski community can be one of the most supportive communities to be a part of. And the ski community can be one of the most elitist, judgemental, and excluding communities to be a part of.
Skiing has helped me become brave and graceful, motivated and focused, open and aware and confident.
Skiing has caused me to become tired and broken, lost and depleted, overwhelmed and sad.
Sometimes when I ski, my boots stay in parallel. Sometimes my tips cross. Sometimes the snow under my feet feels softer than a cloud, other times a rock stops me in my tracks.
Skiing can bring you lassitude, rejection, failures, and bankruptcy. Skiing can bring you awe, friendship, pride, and weightlessness.
Skiing can imprison us into roles and boxes. Skiing can free us from expectations and constraints.
As I stumble along through life, through my job as a skier, I’ve come to realize that I click into my bindings nearly everyday in pursuit not of one feeling — the assumed chase of success and powder — but rather in the pursuit of an entire range of emotions and experiences.
And if I keep my skis in the fall line, if I give in to gravity, if I avoid forcing an emotion out of skiing, everything feels smoother — even those bumps under Jackson Hole’s thunder lift. Skiing cannot be narrowed down into one emotion, one reason, one experience.
The curious part about the character “&” is that it can connect two unrelated things, just by bringing them into the same sentence. A tomato and a beluga whale per say. Skiing can connect people. And can connect two opposing feelings — skiing brings me contentness and then overwhelming fear, all within the same run.
With skis, I’ve become not only a tourist of the wider mountain ranges, but of myself, too. My skis transport me and my skis humble me. Skiing, like the word “and,” connects me to everything. Skiing turns me into a witness and a participant of life.
In other words, skiing isn’t “just” skiing. Not for me, anyway.
And … it sure is fun.