|Ski like the wind|
the skiing bandito
I grew up on boards (skis), and they became a natural extension of my body. From age 4 onward, I skied every winter.
In my youth, skiing was simply what we (the family) did most winter weekends. For the most part, I skied alone, never really having any significant skiing companions – partially due to the fact that we were always moving and thus I didn't have any close friends, partially because my older brothers didn't want to ski with the "runt" (the nickname they gave me), partially because I didn't want to ski with my parents, and partially because I liked to be on my own. I'm not the competitive type, so I never became a racer, and thus never was a member of a ski team.
While living in Michigan (age 4 to 11) I did not develop a "big head," by thinking I was the best skier – I was only a kid who enjoyed being on the slopes. However, when we moved to North Carolina, that all changed. Yes, there was skiing back then, even in NC! All of the skiers at Blowing Rock were beginners, so at age 11, I became the expert on the hill – at least as good if not a better skier than the head instructor of the ski school. A few of my friends from school also began skiing at that time, which further added to my reputation of being a schuss boomer.
Upon arriving in New Hampshire and in high school, same thing, I was the best skier in my class, and as good as anybody other than a few college-aged guys on ski teams. Skiing conditions in NH were poor (lots of ice, little soft snow), and I skied many times at Cannon Mountain which provided several very challenging runs, which combined to increased my level of expertise. Jean-Claude Killy came to a World Cup race at Cannon in the winter of '68-'69, and swept the gold medals in all three events – slalmon, giant slalmon and downhill. He was skiing at the time on VR-17s which were state of the art fiberglass racing skis, and that winter, I acquired a used pair. I'd sharpen the edges daily before skiing, and began to learn to ski like the wind – very fast, in control, and with graceful movements and precision body control.
At that time in ski history, there were very few ski areas that groomed the trails – I remember only one ski area that groomed, I think it was Sugarbush, but I never skied there, and it was mostly the beginner's area at Sugarbush that got the grooming. All I remember was ice, ice, and more ice! But even in icy conditions, there were small patches of softer snow – mostly in the ruts between moguls. The time was right and the conditions demanded it, so began to learn the technique of mogul skiing Jean-Claude made famous – avalement.
Our family had taken two vacations to Sun Valley, in 1963 and again in 1966, so I had some familiarity with the mountain. I brought my VR-17s from NH, but they were mostly worn out from constantly filing the edges, and by then, there was little left to sharpen. When I moved to Sun Valley in 1970, my oldest brother, Bob, was coaching the Sun Valley Ski Education ski team, and was in contact with ski reps, and picked up a pair of "hand picked" K2s made for Spider Sabich – the signature Red, White and Blue on top and on bottom. They were perhaps the hottest skis I ever turned.
Also that first year full-time in Sun Valley, I bought a pair of Jet-Stixs. These were devices made to attach over the ski boot, which extended the height of the back of the ski boot, giving the user added leverage to balance on the skis when sitting back, à la the avalement technique. Without Jet-Stixs, in order to ski this technique required extremely strong leg muscles and virtually year-round training to maintain the necessary lower-body strength. Jet-Stixs allowed one to "cheat" a little, and stay on top of the skis while sucking up the rut and then extending over the top of the mogul. (See video, HERE, for a visual representation of this technique, although the bumps are small in the video – think two or three times as large as these moguls and you'll have an idea of the challenge of running down Limelight.)
That first year of skiing most every day on Baldy, and with the help of the Jet-Stixs and a pair of hot K2s, I found my thrill skiing the "bumps" on Limelight, a steep, narrow and long ski slope. It also had a double (two person) chairlift running up the middle of the slope, thus the fitting name, Limelight. I haven't been able to locate a photo of Limelight, but THIS photo is a close approximation. Although the photo has a quad (four person) chair lift and the slope is about three times as wide as Limelight, overall, it's a good enough to get the picture. Also note, this chairlift is not running down the center of the run as the chairlift on Limelight was positioned, but the bumps in that photo are large, as they usually were on Limelight. THIS photo and THIS photo are even closer to what my then favorite run looked like.
Elsewhere on this website, I've written more than a few words about my motive for searching out for the psychological system known as the Fourth Way. However, in that that article is restricted to members, I'll recount a few of the significant factors related to the beginning of my practice of the ideas contained within the "system";
On the last Saturday of October, 1970, I was in New Hampshire preparing for the final stage of my six month long effort to become a CO (Conscientious Objector). The final step was an interview, in person, at my local draft board in Concord, NH. At the time, I was a little bit surprised that my application had made it that far, without being rejected prior to this final step.
I was divided over whether I truly had a chance of getting the CO, and whether I should approach the interview with the belief that I may be given a CO, or whether it was all simply a farce, and that I had no chance in convincing the six old, ex-military men who were the members of my local board in Concord. Prior to my interview, I had never met them, but from my study about the Selective Service System, I was of the opinion that they would be very conservative and firm in their beliefs about their personal justification for the necessity of the war in Vietnam. Therefore, I was divided about my approach to this interview – should I go in looking as clean-cut and non-confrontational as possible with the hope that I would receive a CO, and in other ways more or less, kiss their ass; or should I be true to my principles, and go as the revolutionary counter-culture person that I felt myself to be. Be true to myself, or kiss their ass (intentional insincerity)?
On that Saturday night before my Monday morning interview, an old friend from high school came to the place that I was staying while in NH (I had moved to Idaho the previous June, and only made the journey to NH for the purpose of this interview). Without going into the details of what actually happened that night, it is sufficient to say that I had a very bad experience in which I thought I was losing my mind. Fortunately, I came back from the abyss, and later that night recovered my sense of self, but the experience was at times terrifying, and something I remember to this day.
I was given a very powerful lesson in the power of Identification, however at the time, I had no idea what that meant, or even that there was a word (Identification) to describe the experience. All I knew was that feelings of inadequacy and thoughts of self-deprecation had taken over within my mind, and became a force over which I had little to no control. In essence, I had forgotten who I was, and was temporarily trapped in a downward spiral of negativity and darkness.
Following my interview at the draft board, I returned to Ketchum (Sun Valley) and went to work part-time for Bob, my oldest brother. I was notified in when back in Idaho that I had passed the test, and in my spare time, I was either reading or skiing. In January of '71, after thoroughly scouring the bookstores for something that would help me to understand what had occurred, I came upon a book called, The Fourth Way, which from about page one began to help me to make sense of what had been a very great unknown for me.
Two words were introduced into my vocabulary – Identification and Inner Considering (ok, maybe that's 3 words, but inner considering is a single thought). And from these two words began to form an understanding of the mechanics of how I had nearly lost my mind. Inner considering was the spark which set me off, and identification was the force which made it almost unstoppable. The book was simply, just what the doctor ordered!
All throughout my childhood I was the youngest and smallest boy in the class, I also had a baby face and looked younger than my age. In addition, my parents moved from city to city, state to state and I was always the "new kid" in class. All of which (and other unnamed factors) made me very shy and somewhat insecure with a bit of an inferiority complex. Skiing was one thing that I excelled at, and as such I began to think more and more about how good I was and internally considering whether people were watching me as I was skiing, and in fact starting in North Carolina, this internal considering began to become much of what was in my mind whenever skiing
By the time I found myself with Jet-Stixs and rocket skis blasting down the near ultimate ski run, this internal dialogue was about the totality of my skiing experience -- was this person watching me, did that girl see me go by, etc. Having the double chair immediately overhead only compounded the effect. I'd even go so far as to stop sometimes and wait for empty seats on the chairlift to pass before starting off again downhill once the upcoming chairs were populated with people. Fortunately I did not have to waste too many ski days in this frame of mind, because sometime in January of 1971, I began reading the Fourth Way, and began learning to quiet my mind and pay attention to the movement of my body. And, of course, by doing this my skiing began to dramatically improve -- both the internal experience and the external manifestation.
Diversion of mental awareness from the mindless automatic associations within my mind and focusing attention to the mechanics of movement, the techniques of the skiing masters and the art of body control transformed my skiing from a crude bump banger to a refined and graceful flow of movement descending through the mogul field. It also opened my awareness to the natural beauty that surrounded me – the deep blue sky, green-brown trees contrasted upon the pure white snow – it put a permanent smile on my face -- and gave me the awareness of the non-stop, ever-changing transition of individual moments into a flow of continuous time.
In the spring of 1973, I left Ketchum to live in the backwoods of eastern Washington. Upon my return to Ketchum in 1980, the skiing scene at Sun Valley had changed with the addition of groomed slopes. A welcome change for my body as speed skiing on freshly groomed slopes required far less physical strength and eliminated much physical stress on joints, muscles and ligaments. Also, Sony had come out with the Walkman a few years previous, so now I was able to ski to music – an addition that lasted throughout the remainder of my skiing career.
I would program the tapes with beautiful music with the best beat and rhythm to ski with, put on my headphones and leave the chatter of the external world. I bought a pair of downhill skis – longer and wider than conventional skis, built specifically for going fast on snow. As the grooming would mostly be done at night, the early mornings offered the flattest, smoothest conditions and fewer skiers to have to contend with, thus allowing me to speed ski. Riding those big boards still required a lot of effort, especially when combined with my desire for non-stop skiing from top to bottom.
Usually by the time that the slopes began to fill up with other skiers, I'd had my quota of runs, my legs were becoming fatigued and my survival instinct would indicate it was time to call it a day. Even with a helmet on (which I wore for many years), hitting a tree at high speed would be a life-threatening event and the combination of weak and fatigued muscles, many skiers on the slope and high speed increased the possibility of an accidental encounter with a tree. Fortunately, I knew when to quit, and never met such a fate.
From the I Ching: "The penetrating quality of the wind depends upon its ceaselessness. This is what makes it so powerful; time is its instrument. . . . In nature it is the wind that disperses the gathering clouds, leaving the sky clear and serene."
The mountain became a sanctuary from the struggle and tumult of individual beings, the restless ego and the difficulties in achieving a quiet heart. The Walkman's tuning out the outside world, combined with the constant reminder of the unworldly nature on the mountain – from the sight of all beings dressed in brightly colored and somewhat clownish skiing outfits and each person supported with ski poles in each hand, moon boots attached to long boards on their feet – all this and more gave me the presence of mind to understand that "True quiet (of the restless heart) means keeping still when the time has come to keep still, and going forward when the time has come to go forward."
This short treatise does not recount all of the elements and events surrounding the 40+ years of skiing and its effects upon my life, however it is a brief glimpse into why skiing is the #2 reason I've been able to escape from the clutches of the Matrix.