I stand over the cornice, gazing down at the next couple thousand feed of mountain that is my chosen challenge. The crisp air and perfectly blue sunny day beckon me to enjoy the scenery of the Rockies for just a moment more. A moment passes and I consider whether I’m procrastinating the ledge I have to drop off before I hit the snow. My friends go forth, one by one, and a big plume of Colorado powder puffs up as they race down the double black diamond run in Vail.
I take a few seconds to analyze the potential path in front of me. Just a few rocks and trees to avoid at the top, and a steep, 35 degree incline to manage until we get to the trees below. I feel the anticipation and slight nervousness as I point my ski tips off the ledge. No stopping now. One moment’s hesitation, one indecisive move, or letting my fear control me, and I’m done. It’s been a long powder day and my legs hurt. My quads are tight and my hamstrings have been complaining to me for hours. Still, I can’t get lazy. The moment I let my mind or my legs relax in a turn may be the moment inertia allows me to fly into a tree. As I focus and let myself live in the moment, the muscle tension, the fear, and the worries of life melt away as I cut a low amplitude waveform S curve into the untracked powder.
Skiing has been a passion of mine for almost 14 years now. I began at a tiny hill in Michigan, and once I came out to Colorado with my family I was hooked. I visited the University of Denver for a college tour (at the beginning of a ski trip) and the sight of the mountains from the freshman dorms was the instant that sealed the deal on where I was to go to college. Many factors went into my decision to attend DU: A well developed Cognitive Neuroscience program, a small but engaged student population, a city with an international population, and of course – skiing. I probably made the final decision on where to attend on an emotional basis, like most decisions are made, and I was able to justify with logic what allowed me to pursue a passion of mine throughout my undergraduate career and beyond.
Skiing has a great social aspect. Many, maybe most, of my best friends in Colorado are accomplished skiers. I’m happy to be able to keep up with them most of the time, as they’re often ski instructors, former professional skiers, or others possibly even more passionate about the sport. It is an individual sport often done (recreationally) in groups, and you are always responsible for yourself. Surrounding myself with skilled people who constantly push me to challenge myself is a constant reminder of what I need to do in my personal and professional life. Most people can have fun on a moderately sloped, groomed run – but the real prize is found really getting out there. The rewarding runs and snow are not found where most people go, where the crowds scrape off the snow and the kids learn how to go from pizza to french fry. The best runs, the ones you feel the most content skiing, are far off the beaten path. You may have to hike there, and you may encounter some things you didn’t expect – but that’s part of the fun. Whether you have to manage a steep incline or feet of powder through densely wooded areas, the challenge is really what makes the run.
The time I spend on the mountain and the rhythm I find cutting turns really allows me to step away and look at my life from a different perspective. Many corollaries can be drawn to what it takes to be successful in life. You must constantly challenge yourself and surround yourself with supportive people who will push your comfort levels. You have to live in the moment and pay close attention or you’ll lose your footing and may hurt yourself. Get away from the easily accessible areas and you’ll discover the joy of untracked snow and the reward of getting out there. And perhaps most importantly – enjoy where you are. Be present, because this moment is all we have right now and because it frees the soul. Take time to appreciate the natural beauty and the perspective of seeing the world from above the tree line. And be thankful that you can be out there, around good people, doing something that ignites your passions in life.