More than words

That’s me, in Backcountry Magazine’s 20th anniversary issue, giving a three-sentence soundbite on “why I backcountry ski or ride.”

Backcountry Magazine reader feature

I’m not a stranger to appearing in print. I write a bi-weekly column about cycling for a local paper, the Vancouver Courier. In 2009 I wrote a book about user-generated content and its impact on library services. I’ve written at least a half-dozen articles for professional journals and contributed to an assortment of other books on libraries and technology.

This is different. This is the first time I’ve ever appeared in print talking about skiing, however briefly. Something about which I’m very far from an expert, but that’s closer to my soul than anything else I’ve ever written about.

I remember Metal Dome, our group gathered on softening snow beneath an azure sky, gazing out at a world away from the world, a stunning landscape that belonged to us alone. And talking about why we did it, why we were prepared to take the risks to be in this place and see these things. I still don’t know if I’ve found the right words, not really. To go high and deep into the mountains, to experience and remember such incredible beauty, casts a light into every aspect of my life. It changes the days, even the mundane ones where nothing much happens, because I know that such places exist. It makes me grateful to be in this world.

Downhill biking is amazing. It turns the forest into a place of secret treasures, the hidden trails that snake between the trees and the joyride they promise. But skiing – backcountry skiing – is something else. It’s transcendent, a path into places that are high and wild and empty, vast spaces of snow and rock where descent is a flight above the buried surface of the earth, anywhere you want it to be. It’s the time I need away from the world to be able to believe in the world; it’s the time I need away from people to be able to give them time when I come back. It saves me from myself.

I’ll keep trying to find ways to describe it, but whether I take three sentences or three hundred there will always be pieces of the experience that words can’t capture. And even as someone who works with words, I think maybe that’s okay. Some things can only be lived.

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