Vail Valley Voices: Spacetime looks like … moguls |

Vail Valley Voices: Spacetime looks like … moguls

Tom Boyd
Vail, CO, Colorado

Buried in one of last winter’s pow der days, I had a moment atop Prima when I felt like the field of bumps below me was the only thing that mattered in the universe.

I was almost right.

It turns out mogul-like bumps may be the way matter distributes itself throughout the universe. A group of scientists has recently discovered that the world around us – spacetime itself – may look a lot like the bumps on Prima and Riva Ridge.

The most famous physicist of our time – Stephen Hawking – is known as much for his debilitating Lou Gehrig’s disease as for marshalling one of the post-Einstein era’s most compelling scientific the ories: Euclid ean quan tum gravity.

He also helped prove the existence of black holes and then, alter nately, that they radiate energy. But in the world of physics, he’s primari ly known as the poster boy for EQG.

The term Euclidean quantum gravity may make you want to nod off. But before your lids slam shut, imagine yourself carving down Birds of Prey, Highline, Prima and the val ley’s other bump runs. All this time, we’ve been carving something that looks unbelievably and uncannily like Einstein and Hawking’s space time continuum. When time and space come together, they look bumpy – yet patterned – just as a mogul run does.

As we ski, we look down at the next section of piste and imagine the elu sive, invisible “line.” It’s not always easy. Irregular yet patterned, moguls are the creative work of hundreds, or thousands, of skiers before us – none of whom had any predetermined idea of where the bumps should form or how.

If the grooming cats fail to show up, what we’re left with is lumps of mat ter recognizable as mostly the same shape and size, but none that are exactly the same.

Now imagine the proverbial face plant.

Up close, the snowflakes are each as individual, as unique, as nature allows – perhaps, as some say, each snowflake is unlike any other to ever fall (a non-provable concept yet appealing in its own right). Take a snowflake under a microscope, and you see something that’s not only unique but also a fractal, meaning it has the same basic pattern repeating itself over and over and over again … or, said otherwise, it looks the same no matter how close you zoom in.

Once we stand up from our face plant, however, the landscape returns to its bumpy yet recognizable form.

New theories suggest the universe may be built the same way – fractal at the subatomic scale but bumpy on the cos mic scale.

This may not seem like rocket science (which it’s not), but it may be the most important step forward science has made recently in harmonizing the two disparate fields of physics: Einstein’s theories of relativity (which apply to the cosmos) and the theories of quantum physics (which apply to the very, very small world).

I’d like to think skiing was the genesis of the idea, but actually, it’s the work of physicist Renate Loll, who divined the idea through theoretical physics and chalkboard math ematics. Visit her Web site at

Support Johnston

This newspaper and have been following the story of Vail native Mike Johnston, who recently won election to the Colorado Senate, representing District 33.

Johnston won election during an inspiring three-week campaign to replace departing Sen. Peter Groff, who departed midterm for Washington, D.C.

This means Johnston, a Vail Mountain School graduate with deep Vail roots, must quickly put together his cam paign for re-election in 2010, and for this, he needs imme-diate support from around Colorado – the Vail Valley included.

While Johnston represents Denver’s District 33, the deci sions he makes in the state Senate will resonate throughout Colorado. To learn more about him, visit

Tom Boyd is a lifelong local who writes and edits for and Destination Colorado magazine.

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