Thursday, January 27, 2011


Could it really have been 8 years since I've last skied? The last time I remember is up at Daisen, on a crowded Saturday where I achieved legendary status in coercing homebound skiers to give their lift tickets to myself and 7 friends. The following winter was spent traveling around the States, and the one that followed I spent in Europe. My last winter living under the shadow of Daisen, I was newly enamored with someone, and so focused more on indoor activities. Living later in Kyoto, my skis went into storage under my house, until pulled out dusty, and given to a snowboarder friend when I left the country.

My current employment situation offers me a chance at some cheap, yet high quality gear, as well as a nice break on lift tickets. So it was that I headed up to Pajarito last Friday as a sort of gear test. This ski area, at the edge of the Jemez and above Los Alamos, is only open three days a week. Choosing a Friday made the best sense, and I doubt that I saw twenty other people on the mountain. I also didn't see my new boots, which I'd left in the back of my truck down in Santa Fe. Rentals would have to do. I didn't want to make my friend Derek wait for me, so we made plans to meet in an hour, after I'd had a chance to break in my new skis down on the bunny slopes. A few minutes after he left, keys in pocket, I realized I'd left my goggles in his car.

Not that I needed them. The day wasn't too bright, despite the sun being warm and strong. Many people are bemoaning the lack of snow in northern New Mexico this year, but these 40 degree days offer a pleasant day. Besides my goggles, I didn't need a hat either, and after a few runs, I regretted the sweater. The snow itself wasn't much, long tracks of icy snow with grass and rocks poking through. These offered some fun obstacles to slalom, but the ice and a poor boot fit made right turns difficult. There was a lot of play in my right heel, and I often had to lift my leg from the hip to make a turn. The first hour on these beginner slopes was accompanied by an avant-garde soundtrack, like an LP at the edge of its grooves, as my new boards scraped over ice. And it was tough going at first, the missing gear made it more of a body test than anything. Legs, shoulders, and hips took some time in finding their old rhythm.

I eventually met up with Derek and we took the lift to the top of the mountain. The view from the lift was of all the northern part of the state, with perhaps a bit of Colorado thrown in. The foreboding peaks of Truchas looked less so with their jagged tops covered in white. Everything below was all brown, but for Black Mesa squatting proud in the center of it all. The view mesmerized me with each ride, one time so much so that I forgot to get off the lift, finally jumping off from about three feet up, narrowly missing an orange cone enema. My pride took a hit, but it was my only fall of the day. Conditions were better up here, and finally I could get a decent ride. With each subsequent descent, my muscle memory began to kick in more and more. For the final few runs, I felt in control. There was a bit of powder, a borealis of snow visible from the corner of the eye. But the rocks up here were bigger and less avoidable as I clack-clacked out a morse-code all the way down. Derek was a delight to watch on his telemark skis, the lift of heel and bend of knee like some graceful crane with its weight balanced atop a narrow support. I'd like to graduate to telemarks in a few years.

As we neared the end of the day, a soft white glow appeared just over the top of the ridge. The shadows maintained their timeshare control of the hill, and the hat finally came out. Though we'd skied less than three hours, Derek and I were both happy. Not only had the body remembered its chops, but my soul was reminded of how I love this sport. It won't be long before I return to the top of the mountain, if these springlike days of January allow it.

On the turntable: Mark Knoplfer and Emmylou Harris, "All the Roadrunning"
On the nighttable: Gary Snyder and Tom Killion, "Tamalpais Walking"

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