Seizing the Moment

February 7, 1999

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 of skiing.

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 below.

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 catwalk, looking back toward the top of the slope.