Skieologians: Breaking trail

Sometimes life is richer when we venture out on our own

The mascot steps in her owner’s nicely set fresh tracks on an April 12 snow day rendezvous.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

If you’re like me, you didn’t spend yesterday just looking for fresh powder. I assume gliding over snow served an integral role in your search for a good metaphor, too, right?

It is that time of winter (if you thought it was spring, go ahead and pack up your mountain bike and head back to Salida) where my heightened awareness of possible crust skiing sites compliments a gradual decrease in my standard for skiable terrain, which dissolves each day right along with the melting snowpack. Initially satisfied slipping down week-old classic tracks at the area Nordic Center usually culminates four weeks later with a joyless training session on a 200-meter hamster wheel mixture of gravel and lumpy ice.

Every once in a while, however, you get lucky. You get a spring snow day.

I drove up to a high mountain road, put on a completely random concoction of grip waxes, slapped my skis down and started striding. For whatever reason, the grip worked and the glide was good. With flakes daintily falling around me and each kick exponentially multiplying the earned stride length of my uphill running, I found myself fully immersed in a glorious winter moment. I turned, pulled my sunglasses down, and breathed in my handiwork — two lines winding a mile downhill to where I parked.

I was setting my own track. The metaphor hit me just like that kind-of-late-but-still-totally-virtuous call (well, at least for teachers and kids) from Eagle County Schools proclaiming the day off .

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As the kilometers ticked by, I realized that when I skied back over my set trail, the free-flowing effortlessness of my stride-and-glide was occasionally paralyzed by sudden jolts wherein my wax ‘iced-up,’ freezing me — literally — in my tracks. When the snow was packed down by my skis and allowed to recrystallize, the new flakes randomly grabbed onto my planks. When I ventured off the beaten path into fresh stuff, my speed was better … but my balance was worse.

The sensations reminded me of the juxtaposition of athletes and students I’ve coached or taught in the past. Some have come from homes where their parents intentionally shepherded them down a specific sporting, musical or academic route, and others had no guidepost whatsoever. On the one hand, there is a certain stability of the ‘set tracks’ inherent to a home where mom or dad went to college or competed on the U.S. Ski Team — they’ve paved the way — but just like my skis in the tracks could ice up, walking directly down a chiseled route presents dangers of its own.

On the flip side, while being the first person on fresh powder is exhilarating, sometimes the speed of life makes that unknown under your bindings petrifying.

I recall a member of the youth symphony my teenage self trumpeted in who was born into a family of clarinet and French Horn-playing parents. Naturally, she chose to play the cello. Both of my folks were distance runners, so I of course dedicated my childhood to converting slow-twitch leg muscles in hopes of dunking a basketball. I suppose a bit of rebel rests in the recesses of all of us.

Then again, some unequivocally follow their parents’ footsteps. Cross-country Olympian Novie McCabe raced the third leg of the 4×5-kilometer relay in Beijing this February, exactly 24 years after her mom, Laura, did the same thing in Nagano, Japan. Good genes and good luck. River Radamus is a local athlete who comes to mind as someone who is blessed to have been brought up on a ski hill, capitalizing on his upbringing with another Olympic return on investment.

While I skied back and forth, I thought about how some athletes who have known nothing other than the path blazed by their parents seem to mature into unaware, out-of-touch members of society. Then again, the practice of humble introspection from others — like Radamus, for example — bestows a certain perspective on both sides of the coin.

While I don’t wish to denounce those who have followed incredible parental role models, I started to wonder if the richest experiences were reserved for those who “break trail.” Straddled with character-building challenges and an uphill-both-ways commute means soaking everything in becomes as pure as the snow awaiting the brave leaders who venture off the groomed trail.

If you picked up this paper today, chances are you are living a life of abundant blessing. If you ran a faucet and poured yourself a glass of clean drinking water, you are — on a global scale — statistically wealthy. If you are reading this while spring-breaking at a Vail Resort, well, I don’t think I have to do the math for you to compute my point.

Regardless of if you’re buying a lift ticket or waking up early to study for the SAT so you can become a first-generation college student, a challenging question awaits: where are you going to break trail today?


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