Thursday, December 9, 2010

Describing the Indescribable

When asked, "What's it like to ski powder?" most skiers and boarders, like one of Pavlov's dogs, immediately smile ear-to-ear. They usually respond with something like "It's the best feeling in the world....," but then they think a little deeper and say, "Honestly, you really can't describe it." Knowing what powder skiing is like is a true privilege. Talking about POW is like talking about what you would do with a million dollars: it's fun, and the conversation never gets old. It can be a huge connecting point for people because they don't generally use words to describe how awesome it is, they just know. It's an unspoken word, a rare feeling, an intense emotion, and there aren't enough people in this world that know it. So, for those of you that don't know POW, it feels a little something like this.....

Imagine yourself living deep in the Colorado Rockies, where the air is crisp and rarefied. It's mid-December and snow has already covered the entire valley and surrounding mountains. You've just come home from work, and the night begins to close in. The sunny sky glows and diminishes over the mountain like a flickering flame; burning oranges, reds, and purples. The night sky sweeps over the valley like a blanket, and soon clouds start to form just beyond the highest peak in the distance. While nature begins to work, you seamlessly drift into a deep sleep.

Before you know it, a muffled explosion wakes you up as the morning sunlight creeps through the cracks in your curtains. After the explosion, nothing. You can't hear anything, but your mind is telling you that something is going on. You slowly crawl out of bed and peak out of that crack in your curtains.  The light hurts at first, but your squinted eyes slowly open and your vision recovers. Your eyes widen, and a huge grin quickly grows from ear to ear. The billions of unique snowflakes outside your window are falling plentifully and gracefully onto the roofs, trees, and cars outside, gently adding to the 20 inches of snow that already fell the night before. The snow seems to absorb every sound in the air like a vacuum and create a serene, silent atmosphere of white.

All of a sudden, the day has become a race. After the quick rush of exciting realization, your mind begins to churn...."where's my helmet??....where's my long underwear??...oh shit, they're screw it, i'll wear'em anyway." It's a day of simple pleasures, and hard work for the ultimate reward. Nothing matters but the snow. "Gotta go, gotta go," you keep reminding yourself to move faster. After what seems to be the longest 15 minute-preparation of your life, you finally step outside. You stop for just a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath. The fresh, cold, thin air refreshingly rushes through your lungs like an ice-cold glass of water on a summer's day. You smile as the snow falls onto your face. It's going to be good day.

After a short, brisk, exciting walk to the lift, you realize that you're the 2nd person there. Then, you wait. Waiting in the gondola line on a powder day is like standing in a pack of hungry wolves. Everyone exchanges small-talk and giggles to pass the time at first. but then as the last half-hour approaches, the people get antsy. Whiffs of aromatic herbs randomly pass by your nose, and the people start to shout joyously, yet aggressively as an attempt to coax the lifties to open up. They know ski patrol needs to give the go-ahead, and that the lifties ultimately have no control, but the crowd needs some way to release their energy. Chants begin to start, and snowballs start to fly.  As 9:00am approaches and quickly passes, the energy level in the crowd escalates. The snow is still falling, and bombs still go off in the distance as the ski patrol attempts to manually trigger avalanches. Just as the crowd's about to explode, the line finally begins to move. A big cheer emanates from the crowd, then silence; a focused, driven silence. As you slowly ascend the mountain, you scan the surrounding terrain with awe. There's so much snow.

You quickly get off of the lift, and start charging towards the trees. Even the runs that should be groomed are not. The snow is up to your knees and it's getting deeper. Rhythmically, you pump through the powder to get to steeper terrain. You can barely move through the deep snow at "usual" speeds.

You finally get to the top of your first run. There's nobody around and no tracks made in front of you. Just trees, and beautiful smooth snow. This is what today is all about. You quickly point your skis straight down the steep, tree-covered slope and all-of-a-sudden, you're flying down the side of a mountain in chest-deep snow. You're in-control and focused, yet totally relaxed and free of thought. With every turn, the lighter-than-air snow flies into your face and you're treated with a fleeting moment of weightlessness. Each turn is better than the last and you begin to laugh uncontrollably. It sounds like a drug, and it is. Your life will never be the same. Even with the blinding white moments, and mouthfuls of snow while you tear down the slope, you're still as giddy as a child on Christmas morning.

The day goes on beautifully and before 2pm, your legs can barely hold you up anymore. With a smile on your face, you make your way back home, start a fire, grab a tall beer, and bask in the day that was....only to seamlessly drift into a deep-sleep again, wondering when your next powder day will be.

Skiing is like a roller coaster, but YOU are the roller coaster. Your roller coaster can do whatever you want it to. It can go upside-down, sideways, fast, or slow. It can go through beautiful scenic trees or take you down a frightening, jagged couloir.  Where it goes, what it does, and how it's all up to you.

So maybe that's why you can't describe the indescribable....because each person's experience is as unique as they are.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Unlikely Heroes

Everyone has a fascinating story. Their trials, successes, choices; everyone goes through life on a different path, under different circumstances, and with different attitudes. Three very different people inspired me tonight and made my mind start churning at an hour which it shouldn't have been. I felt the urge to share their stories and messages...

Klaus Obermeyer. This legend of a man just recently turned 91 and, until tonight, I didn't know much about him other than the fact that he started the "Obermeyer" ski-clothing company ( . As I was flipping around on the TV, I came across a local station that was airing an interview with Klaus. The interview was really terrible. The guy interviewing Klaus seemed rude and unaware of the tone and ignorance he was obviously showing to Klaus, but I kept watching. Because although the interviewer was infuriating me, Klaus didn't seem to notice or care. At 91 years old, he was no "new kid on the block." He knew exactly what was going on, and it didn't phase him one bit.

Klaus is an honest, pure man that grew up climbing mountains and "hand-fishing" in rivers throughout what was then called Bavaria. Klaus taught himself to ski down mountains with his friends by first learning how to climb them. "We didn't have lifts! When we didn't want to climb, we built jumps!...There's something amazing about that zero-g feeling!" While Klaus told stories, his infectious smile and laugh would almost interrupt him like he had no control over his happiness. He seems to be truly "over-flowing" with glee. At 91, he's still skiing, still laughing, still smiling, and still yodeling. We can all learn a lesson or two from such a "rich" man.

Next up, thanks to my sister, is one of my favorite musicians of all time, Stevie Wonder. Stevie's hits like "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and "Superstition," are loved by all, but for me, his influence goes beyond just a top-selling album. His views on world peace, famine, and love are what really makes him so influential to me. When Larry King asked him, "Will you ever run out of things to sing or write about?" Stevie replied, "As long as there is war...or spirits without love, I will always have something to write about."

The last of the 3 inspirational figures from this evening is more out of place than you could ever guess. Gene Simmons, the legendary rock-star from the band, "KISS." Yes, he's ridiculous. Yes, he's boned more groupies than you can imagine. Yes, he has another "reality" show to add to the mix, but did you know that he was born in Haifa, Israel? Did you know that his mother is a holocaust survivor?

I really gained a lot of respect for Gene after learning these things. About how his father left him and his mother in Israel, and his mother's story in enduring the holocaust at 14 years old. Her story was amazing and in thinking about all of the holocaust survivors that I've had the privilege to hear from, a strong thought and emotion took over in my head:

The fact that the generation that endured the holocaust will soon be gone from this earth is a scary thought. The fact that it will be up to us to carry on their stories is frightening to say the least. How many stories have we lost already? How many stories were never even told? How many grandchildren never had the chance to sit down with their grandparents to ask them, "What was life like when...?"

Do yourself and our future generations a favor:

Take a moment out of your busy life, listen to someone's story, and find your Unlikely Heroes.