My phone vibrated on the nightstand last Wednesday morning. It was my publisher. The nearby clock was proof positive of how early I thought it was. He asked if I wanted to go skiing. It was a no-brainer. Within the hour I was on the mountain at Cataloochee Ski Area. The moment I sat on that chairlift, I was home — a feeling in my soul that has existed my whole life.
Raised in the Champlain Valley of Upstate New York, I was surrounded by the Adirondack Mountains to the West and the Green Mountains of Vermont to the east. Legendary ski resorts like Jay Peak, Mad River Glen, Whiteface, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch and Mont-Tremblant were all within a couple hours drive.
But before I could tackle those majestic vertical drops, my eager elementary school self had to learn at Beartown Ski Area, a tiny bunny hill for little kids and patient parents. I was told to make a “pizza slice” with my skis when I wanted to slow down, and to turn them straight like a “French fry” to go faster. Needless to say, “pizza slice” was my go-to move for those first few trips to the hill.
Eventually, I got more confident in my abilities. I let go of the “pizza slice” philosophy and went straight into “French fry” runs down the slopes. Many-a-time, I’d fall, and fall hard. But, I always got back up, and was ready for more. Skiing, like life, requires balance, patience, skill and a strategy for a perfect execution of a plan.
As a teenager, I was hooked on fresh powder days, small lift lines and cute snow bunnies. Jumping into my old Toyota Camry, my high school chums and I took off on the weekends in search of the perfect trail. In college, it was all about weekend cabin ski trips around New England, where hot tubs, cold beer and former girlfriends filled our visions. After college, I took my first reporting job in eastern Idaho, amid the Grand Teton Mountains — a skiers paradise of chest-high powder, endless trails and riders from all corners of the world.
But, at the heart of it all remained the snow. Once the lift dropped me off at the top, the downhill was mine for the taking. I’d make final adjustments on my equipment, take a deep breath and launch myself into the wintry abyss.
With each turn, my body becomes more and more in rhythm with the earth beneath my skis. Like a maestro in front of an orchestra, I sway back and forth — smoothly, effortlessly, but with a keen sense of direction and intent. The matters of the day slowly fade to the back of my mind, where now the utter beauty and passion of being completely immersed in nature takes center stage.
The massive snowstorm left roads last Wednesday silent and empty. But, for those lucky few that made it to Cataloochee, it was glorious. I found myself with a grin ear-to-ear, only to be greeted by the same expressions from any and all I cross paths with on the trails. Fresh powder as far as the eye could see, with each ride proving better than the previous.
“Skiing? In the South?” my northeast and western friends questioned after I told them of my snowy exploits. Yep, and it was glorious, and just another of the innumerable reasons why I choose to reside in this outdoor paradise that is Western North Carolina.
1: Robin Thicke performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 25 at Harrah’s Cherokee.
2: Brushfire Stankgrass will play at 9 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Water’n Hole Bar and Grille in Waynesville.
3: The Squirm Burpee Circus hit the stage at 5 p.m. March 2 at Western Carolina University.
4: What Matters, an anthology of poems, will be read at 3 p.m. Feb. 22 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.
5: CaroMia Tiller performs at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville.