Monday, January 23, 2012

A Passion for Powder

Tempering my excitement for the skiing ahead was a healthy dose of anxiety. Looking from our Gardena Grödnerhof balcony to the mountains beyond, I felt a quickening inside -- a tingling mix of anticipation and nerves. I’m certainly not getting younger, hadn’t been on the slopes for eight years and didn’t know what to expect from the Dolomite terrain. Was it going to be like riding a bike and all would come back to me easily? I needn’t have been concerned. Finding my rhythm on the slopes was indeed like riding the proverbial bike. It was like being reunited with an old friend as if no time had passed. Strapping on my boards felt as natural as walking down the street and once I’d snapped my boots into my bindings, I was ready to go.

The interests we pursue and that provide pleasure in our youth seem to be those with endurance. Much like Proust’s madeleines, they imprint us with their essence and leave us forever with the sensations we experienced when we first discovered their appeal. As adults, we may temporarily forget them, put them aside for years or simply never find the time to enjoy them as before. But once reunited with a youthful passion, the joy returns and we are again filled with the exquisite pleasure they once imparted. Self-help books for those feeling the blues extol the virtues of revisiting a pastime that made them happy when they were young. Whether it’s painting, collecting stamps, ice-skating, fishing, walking on the beach, knitting, watching baseball, dancing or playing the piano, the pleasures of our youth have unique staying abilities that last a lifetime if you let them.

And so it is with skiing. Introduced to the sport on a high school trip when I was 14, I immediately fell in love with it and saved my pennies so I could head back to the mountains whenever the opportunity arose. My best friends liked to ski as well, which made it even more attractive, and the fact that Joe is a superb skier guaranteed that I would get to make frequent trips north. And when we had a family, we managed to introduce Chris and Caroline to the sport we both loved, taking them to the slopes of Pennsylvania a few times a year until they headed off to college. What’s ironic, however, is that while I adore skiing, I absolutely hate being cold. But I must love skiing more because I simply loaded on the layers and prayed for sun. I’ve had the pleasure of skiing in a lot of places through the years including New England, Upstate New York, Quebec, the Mid-Atlantic and out West. When I was studying abroad, I also skied with other students as guests of Rotary International in Switzerland and France. But none of those experiences compared with the endless trails and expansive, above the tree line terrain of Val Gardena.

The snow gods cooperated by dumping some fresh powder on the mountains the night before our first day out. Although not all areas of every peak were open due to below average snowfall in the Alps, there were still hundreds of miles of simply gorgeous trails to explore. The alpine scenery in the early winter light was breathtaking as we made the long ascents by gondola and cable car, the jagged, grey limestone peaks of the Dolomites rising towards the clouds. For me, there are precious few experiences that provide such pure, unbridled delight as skiing down a mountain under a brilliantly sunny, blue sky, the wind in my face and my family around me. Our days on the slopes of Val Gardena were certainly easy to experience but are difficult to chronicle adequately. At one point, as we rested for a moment on the top of the Seceda summit and looked out over the Dolomites, anticipating the glorious seven-mile descent ahead of us, I marveled at the fact that just two short weeks earlier, Joe and I had been grappling with the dusty rigors of Morocco. We couldn’t be in a more different place now: a mountainous wonderland with Chris and Caroline – the stuff my dreams are made of.

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