Back in the world

It sucks being a seasonal sports addict. For six long months, you’re cut off from the activity you love the most. You use other muscles and try to make the best of doing other things. And then suddenly the season turns, and you’re back in a world that you last stood in half a year ago. It feels as comforting and familiar as home and yet as unknown as walking on the surface of the moon. There’s no consistency in your progression when it suffers such an intense annual disruption.

This year, more than any other, I couldn’t wait for winter to start. I’ve been sick since the beginning of July, first with one thing and then another that jumped in while my immune system was still on hiatus. I’m out of condition, still on medication, weaker than I’ve ever been going into a ski season. Weaker by far than I was coming back from my blown knee and surgery in 2011. And yet I’ve never needed to ski more than I do right now. I need some kind of redemption, something to take me away from the things I lost this year that I won’t get back. I need that one thing where nothing else matters and once the turns begin there’s no more room in the world to think of anything else.

Yesterday, it came around at last.

Rocker 2s, Red Chair

I’d been anxiously hovering over for days, tracking storms like an amateur meteorologist. In the end, we got lucky; I opted out of Whistler’s early opening at the weekend to allow an extra few days for my bronchitis-ridden lungs to rest and heal. Those who made the trek on Saturday were rewarded with a 25cm base and howling winds. We waited for Thursday, Blackcomb’s opening day, and got 126cm of additional snow and ungroomed runs all over the mountain.

I’ve been wanting this day so hard and for so long that I’d lost the ability even to imagine it. This new, feeble body that four months of illness has left me with doesn’t know how to carve a turn. The night before I woke from a dream that we’d already been to Whistler, and I couldn’t remember a single turn or run. At Creekside, boots on my feet and skis over my shoulder, it didn’t seem possible. On the gondola, watching the blanket of white deepen as the cables pulled us up the mountain, it didn’t seem possible. On Red Chair, gazing at the snowline that stretched almost the whole way to the valley floor and feeling my face and fingers go numb in an unfamiliar cold, it didn’t seem possible. Standing at the top of Ego Bowl, a single heartbeat away from the first turn, I honestly felt that I must still be in a dream.

My lack of practice and fitness and ability to breathe properly showed. I skied like a gaper from first chair to last. My first couple of runs were all skidded turns, trying to adjust to my weakened body and six months away from snow and a new pair of skis with a full hybrid rocker profile. On the third run I suddenly remembered how to carve, and finally got the new skis up on edge and running with speed. On the fourth run we left the groomers, and as we ploughed through the soft new snow the Rockers came into their element and blew my mind.

I’m not going to make any apologies for how badly I rode them. I had no style, no finesse, no technique: I simply hit the snow and made my way down as best I could. And yet these skis were like nothing else I’ve ever strapped to my feet. They floated. They bounced. They were playful as hell. They were fun.

That’s as much as I can tell you about the Rockers from day one, because I wasn’t able to ski them to any kind of reasonable testing level. What I can tell you is that we skied perfect corduroy under Emerald at the start of the day, knee-deep blower pow on Blackcomb, and soft moguls and heavy crud on Whistler in the afternoon.¬†And I walked from it at the end of the day with a grin – such a grin – because this is my world, and I’m finally back in it. I may be crashing inelegantly through with flailing arms, weakened legs and a total lack of grace, but I’m here. And right now, this year, that’s the only thing that matters.

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