There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when any activity or sport that didn’t instigate a rush of adrenaline, an oxygen deficit or an opportunity to test my limits of speed, was deemed to be boring – likely for old people. As I check my bank account for a pension cheque, I am reminded that I might be considered old. And that brings with it permission to explore previously discarded opportunities.
My commitment to be physically active and participate in various work-out regimes has enabled me to explore and experience a variety of sports and past-times. And while I love opportunities to go fast, I now welcome slower excursions that challenge at a deeper level than a racing heart rate and being at the front. I consider this new perspective a gift of aging and maturity.
Standing at the top of a steep pitch, I take in the view and untouched landscapes on the horizon. The assault on nature to create ski runs and chairlift corridors are beneath me. Covered head to toe in down and ripstop nylon, a bulbous helmet, and mirrored ski goggles, ski tips facing down the hill, I begin my descent. I maneuver through a melange of snow clumps, ice patches and hard-pack rubble, enjoying the challenge of finding the intersection of speed and control. The flattened bottom of the run comes too soon. I am keen to ride up and do it again. My helmet muffles the sound of the ancient chairlift as it sways and the cables creak, propelling me slowly up the valley wall. The tinny echoes of music playing from the hut below bounce against the rock face. These sounds compete with the din of the lift engine and the loud scraping sounds of smooth bases and sharp edges trying to get a grip and make a turn on the sleek and steep surface.
At some point my knees, quads and back tell me it’s time to quit. After lunch, I transition to lighter and looser layers of wool and nylon. I exchange my heavy and rigid buckled boots for zippered sleek low rise leather footwear. And deposit feather-light skinny skis and ridiculously long poles in the flatbed of our pickup. Meandering on country roads beside vast white fields of snow and hardwood forests, I am keen to be out of the car and on the land.
The loudest sound by far is that of the car tires in the deep bank along the side of the road as we park. A map is thoughtfully nailed to a tree beside the clearing that marks the beginning of the trail – two side-by-side ski tracks set in the fresh snow. Winter on cross country skis is a subdued experience. The thin boards glide noiselessly. The forest lurks all around me, hushed and still. Fresh animal tracks show no haste. I’m left wondering if they were playing hide and seek. The corridors through the pine trees offer shelter while the wide-open fields cause me to stop. To breathe. To look in wonder at the surreal postcard painted by mother nature. The almost frozen creek meanders desperately between the icy banks. I want to take a picture–and yet I know that without the deafening sound of winter silence, it’s just another flat tableau.
I work on extending my legs, reaching with my arms, and pulling my skis along in search of the rhythmic cadence that makes this sport seem smooth and effortless. My sore muscles and sweaty base layer tell a different story.
I am drawn to the contrast between the two sports. The thrill of hurtling down slopes cleared of trees and groomed by mammoth machines and snow guns is exhilarating. I am a witness to the challenge of nature trying to be tamed. The deep peace and body glide between snow-laden trees, across footbridges, and down and up gentle forest undulations puts me in the middle of nature. Moving within it, rather than despite it. Choosing to explore rather than conquer. Stopping when I want to, rather than because I have to.
I am reminded of the energetic and healing powers of balancing the opposing forces that we all harbour within. Finding outlets for yin and yang expression nurtures me and mother nature.
At least, that has been my experience.