Standing on the heated floor, my gear is sitting on the bed, side by side in the order I’m putting them on. First pair of socks; Under Armour tight, thermal, second-skin, polyester, long-sleeve, V-neck shirt; Carhart thermal pants, then matching long-sleeved top; second pair of socks; thick, long-sleeved shirt; water resistant snowboard cargo pants, with zipper access to mesh ventilation within the inner leg and eight pockets; thin polyester jacket; Egyptian cotton scarf; matching snowboard jacket with many more pockets than I can keep track of; snowboard boots; a skullcap on my head, topped with polarized goggles.
We stepped out of the condo and onto a landing that looks up at the sloped we would soon be weaving down, only Main Street and more vacation condos between us. On the street, a burly man stood taking big gulps of Red Bull, his other arm outstretched, his thumb poking in the direction of traffic signaling for a lift, his unkept beard glowing red in the sun.
As we hike our way from the loft condo along the sidewalk my feet crunch the layer of snow beneath my feet. I feel like a man on the moon every time I suit up, bouncing through my steps, my joints constricted by the many layers of clothes keeping me warm from the dry, rigid cold. Cars slush by; a bus full of other vacationers growls past us; a truck pushing a plow grinds past, splashing snow to the barrier thats formed between the street and sidewalk.
We stood at the base of the mountain; the gondola – an enclosed lift attached to a steel cable – hoisted us up to the chair-lifts that carried skiers and snowboarders to the head of any of many trails that snaked back down to the base. We were on a conveyer belt of sporting entertainment – start at the base, take the lift up, cut and carve your way down to the finish, which feeds back to the start – up the lift again, back down, repeat, as many times as possible, until your legs can’t take it any more, you’ve butt-slammed too many times or face-planted once, or time simply runs out.
It’s easy to focus on how well you made it down the mountain; how much faster or steeper; how deeper the carves or straighter the runs. But we hadn’t started any of this yet – it was early morning, the crisp air still hinting of night – and we were among the first to get on the lifts. The sun was glaring off the snow near the base. Looking up, we couldn’t see the peak, sunk in shadows, hidden behind clouds. The chair rushed behind us as we stood waiting, swooped us off our feet. We crept back into the seats, our skies or snowboards dangling heavily beneath us. And we were lifted to the tops of trees, the evergreens vibrant against the white backdrop.
A single cable looped from base to the beginnings of runs, our chair seating up to five barely clipped to it. As we rose, the distance between us and the clouds disappeared, and the valley behind us extended into the horizon, vacation rentals and resorts radiating out from a dense center, distant hills speckled with smaller clusters of homes. We were now in the shadows of the mountains, the sun still cresting behind it, leaving the warmer base behind. Evergreen points carpeted the side of the mountain, paths cut and manicured like veins cutting throw the thick of trees. As we stared off into distances the world around us changed. The trees that were once bright green now showed patches of color through sheets of snow that covered the branches. Birds flying high in the trees were gliding past us – we were now in their world – at their elevation. The sun was now higher, the peak still in the shadows but no longer hidden behind clouds – we were above them now. Still being lifted up.
Artificial snow makers were ahead of us blasting powder into the air creating a fresh blanket. As we passed them we noticed the trees, once green then blanked in snow, were now frosted, each limb and needle crystalized, all traces of color dotted out by snow. The air had cleared now that the clouds were behind us. Glitter – individual flakes caught in rays of sun – drifted by us. We were being lifted in a snow-dome
We often overlook the details, focused on our next run. But even when we take a moment to notice the details, we overlook what we are taking part in – the magnitude of being listed into the mountain, of speeding with some degree of control down the side of a mountain that has been groomed for our entertainment and thrill. Here we are – large, bruisable and breakable masses of questionable judgement – flying past one another down a mountain for fun. And to facilitate this – to make it easier for even the youngest and least athletic of us to partake – we have built marvels of engineering from base to peak – from our domain to that of the birds.