The clock reads 5:27 AM. It’s wrong, but I don’t know that yet.
I stumble out of bed, carefully tiptoeing across the unfamiliar room and feeling around the edge of the bathroom door. My eyes slam shut as light floods my field of vision. Quickly, I dive behind the door and swing it shut.
In the mirror, my hair shoots wildly from my head, a sea of reeds parted by the Moses of my pillow. There are no bags under my eyes, no crust in the corners. I’m awake, as usual, an unnatural union of existence and morning I could never have predicted.
The living room is dark and empty, my book still teetering on the edge of the coffee table from the evening prior. It all feels so surreal, discombobulated. Even though I lack a morning stupor I can’t help but wonder if I’m dreaming.
I collapse into an easy chair, my muscles still sore from the pounding I put them through the day before. Around me, the clean, beautiful woodwork of the condo glows under the thin rays of the rising sun and the single, dim bulb of the lamp next to me. Outside, the snow softly falls, casting a pallor over the early morning light. Besides the distant echoes of plows scraping the street, the only sounds are the low hum of the humidifier and my own breathing.
In an hour, my compatriots will rise, but for now, I’m alone in a strange place with strange thoughts and utter sense of complacent joy.
It’s hard to say how I feel these days. I don’t generally have the time to stop and reflect. After having only one non-sick day off since before Thanksgiving, I finally rose to the occasion and spent three straight days skiing hard on my own before falling ill again on my fourth day off.
My superiors reacted with incredulity when I informed them I had the Presidents day weekend off. Yet when they checked the schedule, my claims were confirmed.
I skied A-Basin with two of my coworkers on Saturday, awoke at the ass-crack of dawn to drive to Steamboat on Sunday, and stumbled into Copper on the way back on Monday. Thanks to the hospitality of my friend Allan and his family, my stay in Steamboat was phenomenal, my skills tested, and my resolve justified by my improvement.
At Copper, I rehashed the same runs I had fretted over last season without breaking a sweat. I rode steeps, bowls and moguls deftly, shirking the tepid caution that flavored my trip to Copper with Brooks the previous year. Brooks, a fellow instructor, grew up skiing Copper Mountain. He made it his mission to challenge me and put me through my paces. While I didn’t slow him too much, it was clear that challenging me was no challenge to him. This year, with Allan and Keith, despite the cold and my worn legs from work and the previous two days, I braved the same runs with no issue.
Skiing has become more than simply a job or a hobby. It’s become a calling. My friends and coworkers have become a surrogate family both on and off the slopes. I have found not only happiness, but challenge, success, and sense of belonging. And while I’m hardly a modern day ski bum, nor do I subscribe to identical ideals as my compatriots, I can’t think of anywhere I feel more at home than the mountains I frequent.
My only regret is that I didn’t find this sooner.
The snow creaks beneath my feet, the wind whistling in my ears. There’s a slightly painful tingle in my fingers and toes. My nose burns with each streaming exhale, the heat breathing feeling back into its frozen tip only to have it fade again instantaneously.
Adrenaline courses through my veins as I look between the tips of my skis, the edge of the cornice sitting precariously beneath my toes. For ten feet, it’s a dead drop into the snow below before leveling out into a steep mogul field complete with multiple lines and optional cliff drops.
I take a breath and leap.
In a matter of moments, I’m skidding over bumps, carving around other skiers, and blitzing to the bottom. My thighs sting as my knees repeatedly pound into my chest, each bump absorbed, my speed consistent. The icicles in my moustache and beard jangle as they crash repeatedly against each other, the warm igloo on my face a wind chime of nature’s design.
A year ago, I would’ve balked at dropping over the edge like that, but the thought doesn’t cross my mind until I’m catching my breath at the bottom. I stare back up into the crisp sunny day and examine the face I’ve conquered. I smile and lick my chapped lips.
I’m going downhill and loving every minute.