sry for the lack of writing in the past 8 weeks. Graduating college has turned into a real time suck. Alas, I pulled myself from the deep, dark depths of my thesis carrel to provide one parting word on the ski season before we all forget about it in the name of dance parties. Enjoy!
There are few pursuits more mentally perilous and demanding than that of learning how to shift your weight over cross country skis. To put all of your weight over one foot, compress the entire ski into the snow and then glide for seconds on a carbon toothpick is a beauty and an art sought out by every serious skier. As a junior racer, I feared that I would forever remain firmly planted in the middle of my skis, that I would neither fully ride either side, nor know what it was like to glide efficiently. I wondered whether I had the balance, strength and confidence to throw myself forward over my ski, away from the safety of the middle.
I’ll never forget what it felt like to finally ride a ski. At 16 years old, I rounded a left hand turn on the Plateau trails in West Yellowstone. In a split second that was the culmination of years of gainless work, I transitioned from a shuffle, to a stride. That stride turned into strides, littered with glides, which turned into racing and training and an entire career of pushing past the middle to balance on the sides.
I think that weight shift (either forward or to the side) is the single most compelling part of the physical experience of skiing, it elicits the feeling of flying we have so much trouble putting into words. It helps our movements feel at once graceful and powerful. And once you learn it, you never go back to the middle.
From my (super authoritative) perspective, this year, US skiing decisively shifted out of the middle. Our depth and potential has reached a certain critical mass where every level of competition requires more than simply talent or hard work, but a fusion of the two, to succeed. Our junior, college and continental cup racers have reached a level of competition that produces not one or two, but many elite-level racers that can compete internationally.
And then there’s the World Cup. What a statement, to have multiple people not only in the top 30-top20-top10 but standing atop the podium at the end of the day. What a testament to the work we’ve done as a nation when our goals shift from making World Cups to winning them. How impressive, to scroll down a spring series results list and recognize each name on the entire first page as a committed, talented, driven, successful skier.
This shift is at once encouraging and ominous.
On the personal level, it’s ominous because it makes the goals we all have–whether for a certain team, podium or jacket–more distant and demanding. I’ve shifted a lot this year. Up and down results lists, across circuits and teams, in and out of decisions, and at each juncture at least one person asked me if I was stepping away from skiing. I’ve given myself about five minutes to get angsty about this prospect, a moment to dwell on whether or not I want to embark on a journey that lacks certainty. To consider what my goals are, where (and if) I’ll find them, and what it’s worth to get there.
My five minutes are up.
Do you know what I’ve concluded?
That the force of what I find encouraging in this shift of ours completely obliterates the ominous. That being a part of a culture of success and adventure and hard work, whether you’re first or 40th, means more to me than certainty of success. That a hard loss is worth more than an easy win. That being driven by a challenge–by a near impossible chance in the hardest sport in the world filled with the best people–is the reason I started skiing in the first place. That I’m still driven by the same goals, even if I see them in a different way.
To be a skier right now is exciting, and inspiring and really, really hard. And I still love it.
Because what a brilliant problem to have: to be surrounded by too many impressive competitors. Through their values of Olympism, the Ancient Greeks emphasized that competition makes people better. Better citizens, better friends, better teammates. All I’m saying is that if skiing keeps going in the direction it’s headed, to the point where being able to score on the world cup might not make you a world cup skier, we’re all going to be REALLY GOOD PEOPLE.
Because that’s the dream, right? To be the best skier one can be, while also being a really good person.
So, yes, I’ll keep working, keep improving, keep throwing myself forward searching for glide. Because when US skiing shifted, it asked us to do the same. It asked us to keep building, keep looking forward, pushing ourselves and each other toward successes achieved by individuals but owned by a group. I’m not sure, but I think I would call that progress.