We’re back. Most of us are. Or soon will be.
Back in the ski shops, back at the ski swaps, back on the chairlifts, back in the tram crowds, back in the mid-mountain warming huts, and back in the cafeteria lines. Back so much that we sound like a breathless Chris Berman, with his ESPN back-back-back description of an outfielder trying to gauge whether he is chasing a long fly out or a home run.
It’s been a long way back. Some of us skied last year, substituting a parking-lot lawn chair for the ski lodge, riding the lifts only with blood relatives, fogging our goggles with face masks, or saying, to hell with it and just strapping on our boards and heading downhill. But a lot of us took a year off; it’s as if an entire swath of the ski population had Tommy John surgery and sat out the festivities until, like a pitcher treating a torn ulnar collateral ligament inside the elbow, we were convinced that the ski scene had restored stability and enhanced its range of motion.
The spring season was full of newspaper and television reports on how we changed and what we learned during our coronavirus confinement. This column is not a reprise of that theme.
We didn’t change; we still wanted to ski, to brave the blistering winds, to hop through (or slide around) moguls, to cruise the easy blues without singing the blues, to bake in the sunshine of spring skiing on an uncommonly warm afternoon in early March.
And we didn’t learn much. We didn’t learn new techniques, we didn’t explore new resorts, we didn’t venture down new trails, we didn’t try new access points to the glades. If we learned anything, it was how much we loved the sport we could not fully enjoy in our year of isolation. That, plus a small revelation: We thought skiing was an individual sport, like golf, and not a team sport, like football. But we discovered that skiing was a social sport, practiced during the morning and afternoon, enjoyed through our lies in après-ski conviviality.
But now, we are back.
We are looking forward to that moment described by Thomas Mann in “The Magic Mountain,” when we look at a 270-degree vista on an uncrowded slope, see the peaks surrounding us, and feel “proud to have conquered them, brave in the pride of having been measured to the height of surrounds such as these.”
We did not have that feeling — nothing remotely like it — in our intermission year.
We are looking forward to introducing our sport to outsiders — that is, people who love the outside — and to a new generation of skiers who will discover that, in the words of the great Benno Rybizka, the St. Anton am Alberg skimeister who joined Hannes Schneider in North Conway, N.H., at the birth of modern American skiing, this sport “is a thorough gymnastic exercise for the entire body,” and to reach the conclusion he set out:
“The best times in my life I have spent on skis in the mountains, days full of joys and thrills, days without sorrows and troubles, glorious days that I will remember forever. To sit on top of a mountain, to see hundreds of proud peaks pointing into a deep blue winter ski, their reckless contours smoothed with the soft ermine of glittering snow and a splendid sun overhead, golden and blue lights pouring down over mountains and valleys — every skier who has experienced this will realize how paltry human troubles really are and how insignificant are so many of the things which we spend our lives hunting.”
Rybizka wrote that in 1938, with world war on the horizon of those golden and blue lights pouring down. We know now that, in that very year, Hitler prosecuted the Anschluss that annexed Austria onto Germany. And we know today that paltry human troubles — a mere virus when it started, a pandemic when it took global possession of the year 2020 — can be a big human challenge.
Which is why we are back.
We return — to the mountains, to the slopes, to ski towns and ski schools and ski chalets and ski shops — not merely to reclaim our sport, but also to reclaim ourselves, the better selves that appreciate the soft ermine of glittering snow and the rush of wind when we sweep down the slopes. We need this not for the physical exercise, but for the exercise of our inner selves, deprived for a year from all that we loved and, in tragic circumstances, from those we loved.
So brace yourselves Stowe, and Waterville Valley, and Jackson, and Waitsfield and Warren, and Lincoln and Manchester, and Newry and Bethel. We are on our way. Get ready in the Foggy Goggle and Zip’s Pub and Castlerock Pub and the Hourglass Lounge. We will be hungry and thirsty. Make those beds in the Eastern Slope Inn and the Jay Peak Hotel and the Clay Brook Inn. We will be tired.
Get ready all those places, and all you readers.
Because we are back.