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Illustration: Mark Gunderson

Hilary Meyerson: Ski Days, Redux
Illustration: Mark Gunderson

 
 

          Twenty years ago, I fell in love. A suburban girl, I spent four years at college in rural Vermont where the winter entertainment, besides copious drinking and complaining about the cold, was skiing. I got a student season pass to Mad River Glen and discovered the joys of going downhill in a rush. I enjoyed the camaraderie of skiers and being part of a crazy social club for which the only membership requirement is the senseless desire to get up at O-dark-thirty to spend a day sliding downhill in the freezing cold.
          I was not a particularly good skier, but possessed a recklessness that brought inclusion with a group of skiers far better than me and caught the eye of a cute ski instructor at the college’s small ski bowl. We piled into barely functioning cars, careening up the slippery roads leading to the mountain and spending the drive time recounting spills, comparing runs, and telling fish stories of snowy exploits. We ratcheted up our bindings with the screwdrivers chained to the lift line posts, then took to the slopes, our skis all but welded to our boots. With my skiing buddies, I embraced all types of terrain: the trees, the steeps, the downright stupid, all heedless of injury potential. My skis were 185 cms: two narrow slices of arrogance that towered over my 5’1” frame but went downhill in a hurry. I loved the group experience, the nod of acknowledgement to another raccoon-eyed student in the library or chatting at night with someone in the dorm I’d shared a lift with earlier in the day.
          As much as I loved the group experience, it was the solitary moments that helped define my developing identity. I nodded knowingly through my philosophy classes during the morning as we discussed philosophy and the self, but it was during the afternoons on the slopes that I had anything approaching an understanding of it. In my poetry classes, we parsed through the words of Yeats, and when we got to “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” I thought not of ballerinas, but of myself carving turns, my body and skis moving together more gracefully than my awkward legs could ever do alone.
          It was when I was briefly alone, at a distance from my fellow skiers that I felt most like myself. On the slopes, I experienced something I hadn’t yet in my almost 20 years: a sense of solitary contentment, a sudden consciousness that I could experience joy alone while doing something that I loved. When I was schussing downhill, there were a few moments in a day that transcended mere pleasure, the ones when I was conscious of a rare and fleeting sensation as gravity, my body, and my skis worked together on just this side of control. In these brief moments, I would laugh out loud for sheer pleasure, heedless of anyone else.
          That was a lifetime ago. I married the ski instructor and began that life with jobs and health insurance and mortgages. We didn’t get out skiing much, and when we did, we were out of practice, our gear out of date. A kid. Then another. Then several years of infants and toddlers, wonderful years, but a time when a good night’s sleep and toilet training take far more headspace than skiing. These were years of true selflessness, a loss of self, where it was easy to forget that I ever had an identity besides parent.

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