Suszynski: Knowing through imagination | VailDaily.com
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Suszynski: Knowing through imagination

During this time of year I get out early and ski for a few hours. The runs are quick, I can’t say as much for the lines, and my patience is also on a short fuse. When the winter really begins, I can escape into those parts of the mountain that I know are quiet, where the trees and the distant stream under the snow are the only living things speaking to me.

I catch myself in these moods, stomping around in my ski boots at the end of my couple hours, returning home to the winter quiet a little peeved and then I promptly snap out of it. And the next day, I try to do better. I get on the mountain, I stand in line, but instead of focusing on the covered-up faces of the people around me, I look up. My day often begins when I enter the Gondola One maze and shift my attention to Pepi’s Face, how the snow has such a lopsided relationship with the angle of the slope.

The day progresses when I finally enter the gondola. I look off to the left and see the distinct rabbit figure of Riva and then below as the frontside chutes either look inviting or a little worse for wear. I have observed these runs for a long time and it takes discipline to look anew.



When it comes to learning from people of the mountain, there is no better teacher than Nan Shepherd. Shepherd lived most of her life close to the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland and toward the end of World War II, she wrote a slim, yet very wise book speaking to what she found in those mountains. This book, “The Living Mountain,” is special in its universality. She writes: “Well, I have discovered my mountain – its weathers, its airs and lights, its singing burns, its haunted dells, its pinnacles and tarns, its birds and flowers, its snow, its long blue distances.”

I am young, but I have spent significant time on Vail Mountain in the winter. There is something soothing about sliding upon beaten-down snow in the early season. As I carve turns on groomers, concentrating on each sweep as I drive my outside ski, I am also traveling a path that a stranger tread before me. Or perhaps, not even a stranger, it could be my neighbor, or a friend. Their tracks, I am also adding to, layering them. And these people who are skiing before me and after me, experiences separated by days or maybe even seconds, while our thoughts are certainly singular, there are some we share, too. Shephard makes a familiar observation of the cold: “… cold air smacks the back of the mouth, the lungs crackle … Frost stiffens the muscles of the chin …” Her words echo back to me as I breathe in that crisp sip.



In the early season, I like pushing myself in ways that I usually do not when the snow is good. How do I take different routes on a mountain I have been skiing my whole life when space is limited? Where can I find an unseen view of the Gore? Can I push my imagination and take a different run each time? Can I ski the same run five times and learn something new from each descent? Once I get to know the mountain in this way, “when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him,” I think I get a sense of why Shepherd dedicated so much time to the Cairngorms.

“It is therefore when the body is keyed to its highest potential and controlled to a profound harmony deepening into something that resembles trance, that I discover most nearly what it is to be. I have walked out of the body and into the mountain,” Shepherd says.

I do my best skiing when I let go. When I focus on what I hear, what I touch, I can vibrate with that keyed frequency. In the early season, the abrupt transition from chalked snow to ice, the particular feeling of my neglected edges on that ice and the next day, the anchored speed of newly-tuned skis carrying me over those same rough patches with grace, these are the textures of December. All of those feelings require a sort of creativity, I think, and most definitely training. A sensitivity to being open to minute changes.

“Knowing another is endless. And I have discovered that man’s experience of them enlarges rock, flower and bird. The thing to be known grows with the knowing,” Shepherd says.

This morning, I will not go through the motions. I will hoist my skis on my shoulder and walk to the gondola, pass through the maze, try to smell the storm in the trees, layer on yet another slice of memory over the old, click into my bindings, ascertain whether chair 3 or 4 has the longer line, and then ski. And do it again, carve, want to do it better. Only knowing the mountain when she is at her best is not truly knowing her. Any kind of frustration often means I am not engaging my imagination.

Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at asuszynski@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.


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