Vail - Colorado -
I dismounted the lift and skied over to the large
map board. An arrow pointed to the left toward the bowls on the
back side - black diamond runs and very steep for my first season
Wait just a minute I think. You can't be serious; you'll
fall and die, or at least have a femur protruding from behind your
ear. Give it up buddy.
Ok, so the thought is way past the edge of my ability.
But look there, the fire-trail which intersects the slope is slow
and gentle. Besides, a whole lot of people have gone down here. Must
be OK right?
I turned, and headed slowly down the fire-trail and
stopped at the edge of the "real" slope. Several other skiers
follow and turn over the edge without pause. I watch them snake across
the slope and then disappear from view. How do they do that I wonder?
I mean, they just turn and head right down the slope. And there I
stand, moderately petrified.
In the background is one of the most beautiful mountain
scenes I have ever seen. The slope before me falls into a valley that
seems to extend into time and history. The vast expanse of the Rockies
fills the horizon.
Finally I decided that I could do this; but I wait for
the sun to peek out behind the clouds and illuminate the slope. I
need to see the shadows that are cast by the snow mounds, I must see
the contours or I will surely fall, and on this slope, that could
be dangerous. My head turned upward, and I watched the clouds race
against the violet blue sky.
I've only seen this violet blue at high altitudes. Today
the deep color is contrasted with ragged winter clouds streaming across
the sky. The wind at 12,000 feet speeds them along at over 35 miles
per hour. The edges of the clouds are bright while their thick centers
are a more ominous gray. Narrow shafts of light break through and
play on the slopes.
I watch as a band of sunshine follows the contours of
the mountain. It seems to race like a terrain-following fighter jet.
It leaps over boulders, across patches of snow and clumps of evergreens.
I wait in anticipation as a wide spray of light crosses the final
mile. The slope below me is empty. A rapid scan to the right and left
tells me there are no other skiers about to enter the run. I lean
forward, plant both poles into the snow and just as the sunlight blasts
the slope in front of me, I propel myself over the edge.
Petrified, yes. But the reality is that I live for this
moment. Gravity seizes the pit of my stomach and my rapidly beating
heart starts to race. I feel like I am falling. I enter into a series
of quick turns to bleed off some of the momentum. I am afraid of loosing
control, but everything within me senses the moment when I can exit
the last turn - embrace gravity - and blast straight for the bottom.
It is a moment of raw unadulterated speed.
Finally the ski poles are thrust under my arms, and
I my knees tuck to the ground as tightly as I can.
All I notice now are the red tips of my skis and a blur
of white. As I fly into the bottom of the valley, I can see the opposite
slope rising in front of me. I am racing toward the confluence of
three slopes, all of which funnel into the valley as it continues
Screaming down the ragged edge of life I rise from the
tucked position and throw my arms up and to the sides, flying into
the face of the wind.
The wind acts as a speed brake
And I ... in those seconds...I know that I am alive.
Every part of my being is in touch with the universe.
The moment is eternal, frozen in my mind.
The snow sprays as I turn to the left, and head down
into the valley and to the lift far below.
Images: The sunup bowl - Panorama
overlooking the bowl - Down into the valley on the run called the
toward the top of the slope.