Tree Skiing

Tree Skiing

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Forbes, Sean

Snow fell late in the season last year. So in spite of the nearing arrival of spring with pleasant dreams of sunshine and warm rock, there were untouched fields of snow demanding attention.

With the sun just starting to emerge and the temperatures still chilly, I spent a few days “on tour” in the surrounding mountains. As I approached another virginal white slope under the grey light of dawn, I tried to remember the last time I saw the sun rise. Evidently it had been a long time, since I was struck almost speechless by glowing colors touching the edges of the few large clouds in the sky. I guess I’d almost forgotten there was more artistic beauty to a day than just a sunset. There was definitely beauty in the vibrant oranges and deep purples when the sun also rises… which is the name of a Hemingway book, I think.

And with that, my mind deserted my tiring body to race across continents and an ocean for a glimpse of Pamplona. I tried to keep my legs and skis moving for yet another mile but my mind kept repeating the story of bullfighting and fiesta-ing, the images of the hazy details I remember replaying over and over and over.

It’s the story of Brett and Jake—one of the two is a lady—and the celebrations surrounding the Spanish tradition of bullfighting. But when my memory began to skip, all that played across the screen in my mind was the ringside scene when the aficionado of the two tried to explain the beauty in the brutality.

There’s the bull’s terrain and the fighter’s terrain. The better the fighter, the closer he gets to the bull—closer to the dangerous brush of a horn or the soft touch of hair.

I was breathless anyway, but my lungs hurt just a little more each time the fighter’s red cape rose into the wind a moment before the imaginary bull, as it passed beneath the raised arm an imperceptible distance from the man’s body. And the fighter didn’t even flinch.

The mental diversion ended as I topped the ridge and my eyes got to roam over a view that few will ever see. The scene from that height pulled the surrounding geography up into sensible form as the distances stretched to the far horizons, making the world seem impossibly large and flat. As Hemingway faded away, we stripped skins, dug a pit, and prayed we got the diagnosis right before we dropped into miles of untouched powder.

The trees near the ridge were little more than scattered stubby protrusions from the unblemished white surface, but they made for fun obstacles at high speeds on the steep upper slope. So I slalomed the trees with all the confidence of a season spent on skis.

The tele boards were finally quiet, holding the soft snow easily, responding effortlessly to every shift of weight and every lean. I flew down the mountain with such ease that my mind had time to wander off and randomly compare the poise I thought I had to that of a matador planted calmly amidst the chaos in the middle of the ring. Then thought drifted away and all I felt was the turns.

Finally, I saw where the slope flattened out and the trees opened up. The ache in my legs as I dropped another knee, carving through another gap in the trees, made me wonder if I’d be able to stand back up. And the speed carried me on, skimming smoothly over the snow.

The final band of trees bordering the open meadow approached at what should have been frightening speed and I tried for one more desperate turn. I was a little late and close to the green boughs. Trying calmly not to notice, looking into the open snow on the other side, I heard first then felt the scrape of the pine branches against my body as I threw my arm up and tried to clear my pole from a tree.

I blinked and held my breath and my body flew through the branches. I opened my eyes on the other side to acres of untouched turns and thought—I’m tired, I’m careless, but I’m good.

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