It’s tempting to say that none of us have known such desolation..even the oldest among us..in a century of ongoing human life. But it’s hardly true. At the very least, the global devastation and desolation wrought by the conflict of 1936-45 would have to be taken into account..linked to the unceasing desolation of Stalinist Russia for many years more, the black and desolate decades of fascist tyranny in Spain..and so on. However, we can certainly say that the Covid-19 crisis is pretty bad, in historical terms..tho perhaps nothing comparable to the Justinian plague of the sixth century or the Black Death of the fourteenth century. Even the so-called ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918-19 was much worse. But still..pretty bad, and even if it weren’t for so much death coming untimely to so many, there are so many other reasons why it’s bad. We have seen the structure of our sprawling civilization cut down brutally in a matter of weeks, near total social and economic collapse, and all because of some tiny organism, a microbiological entity that is at best barely alive, competing with us on the world’s stage, rivalling our globe-trotting capacity, taking advantage of our animal strength and ability to move to unleash a ferocious planet-wide assault on the billions of us who populate the Earth. Billions of us..gazillions of them. Maybe we’re not as strong as we thought? Some say that maybe the silver lining within this cloud of desolation is the opportunity we are given to see more clearly the biological reality of life that has in recent centuries been obscured to us by our success as a species. That it may even be a blessing in disguise, permitting us to face other even graver threats to our continuing existence on this planet more intelligently. I hope so. Permit me to be a little pessimistic..
..and selfish. It’s not just the death, the untimeliness of it, the shock to our civilization. Even tho i am beset by all these things in recent weeks and months, i am still the same self-centered human i have always been. I cannot fail to think about the Spring ski-days that i am missing this year. Amid the horrendous figures of death and contagion, the gripping first-person accounts by medical staff from overwhelmed ICUs and ERs, the horror stories of the old being left to die alone in homes and hospitals..i still cannot avoid being distracted by luxurious thoughts of sliding on snow. Yes, we all have our hobby-horses and pet obsessions..but the extent to which i am obsessed by snow and sliding over it on skis .. it’s freakish..bizarre.. what is it that’s so good about skiing?
That’s the question: what is it about skiing..that makes it so so good? ..i mean, really, it’s just sliding down a more or less steep slope..kind of like the joy of kids in the park going down the slide, again and again..sliding down and then running around to climb back up, and down again.. there is an element of primal pleasure to sliding..whether it be on the flat, on ice, water or wheels..or downhill, on a playground slide, on a waterslide, on a sled or on a board, or boards, attached to your feet..skis ..and then there is snow, the wonder of snow, the white element..that magical, transformative substance that seems to exercise such a vast power of seduction on the human brain..that turns grown and hardened men or mature and worldly women into giggling screaming children.. yes, there is the snow..that you slide upon when you ski..varying almost infinitely over myriad conditions that can mean anything from other-worldly bliss to life-threatening danger ..at the high end, the well-nigh indescribable pleasure of floating in deep, cold, low-density, low-humidity, fresh-fallen snow, the ineffable deep powder experience..which some skiers say is better than sex.. then you have the sheer thrill of skiing at high velocity, on whatever suitable crystalline support, a few fingers of new snow, not so new snow lightly compacted by the wind, smooth hardpack, or the creamy freeze-melt snow known to skiers as spring corn ..and then there is the technical thrill of skill applied at speed to the environment, allowing for rapid but controlled transit down snow-covered hillsides..the skier’s movements, subtle or dynamic, flexing and thrusting, the muscular and skeletal forces applied and released, the balance and rhythm transmitted to the slick multi-matter boards which are also sensitive receivers, extended perceptors of the surface on which they slide..all this aggregating to an advanced expression of concord, compenetration between the human body and the high-technology tool for turning that is the ski..and thru skill with the tool achieving a marriage of man and gravity, a union of woman to the fall-line, human bodies not only in harmony with their habitat but also in perfect accord, consonant, with motion, attaining a true synergy of grace ..this is what skiing is about!
..and then, then there are all the delights of varied terrain, from great open sloping fields of snow to tight steep couloirs, from alpine spines to treed slopes, from mellow meadows to narrow gullies or enclosed canyons, from smooth featureless slopes to undulating bumps, dips and pipes.. and then you move into the air, hops and pops, jumps of all sorts, lifting off the snow into a whole new dimension.. so, there is snow that is mild and mellow over which you can cruise insouciant, carefree, on your boards..there is adrenaline-pumping steep snow in wild terrain, which makes you love your edges, and fear for your life.. steep is more often than not stable, but there is also unstable snow, often on the sweetest, most skiable slopes, to make your heart beat faster at each turn.. and then there is snow, or rather there are snows, that will threaten your knees more than your life, heavy, wet, slushy or upside down or crusted, offering a whole series of challenges to your skillset, requiring powerful dynamic movements or subtle capacity to direct or drive your boards downhill, safely home.. and lastly but by no measure least..there is the support which stands behind, above, beneath the snow that supports our skiing..the homely hills, the mighty and sometimes frightening mountains that hoard and store the snow..the magisterial, the magnificent mountains..there is no comparable canvas, not in the depths of sea or desert, or in jungle..there is no landscape, no backdrop, no stage like the telluric theatre of the uplands, the upthrust mountains, the geological high points of our planet.. the place..where we ski
So, there you have it.. a kind of apology of ski, of those who are possessed by mountains, of my idiosyncratic self, of me.
Andrá tutto bene? I’m afraid i have to say i don’t believe that for a second. However. Desolation will never be complete..while there is still the hope, however vague or subdued, however dim or distant, of skiing another day, of being another day in the mountains.