On a warm winter day, riding the chairlift can be enjoyable. My daughter and I like to watch skiers and snowboarders as they come down the slope. We're always looking for the familiar coats and helmets of our own crew. "Hey, that's Shaggy Hair Boy coming down the headwall," my daughter will say. "He boards as if he's out to kill someone." We'll watch him hit jumps as he carves down the mountain at top speed. Boy in Black and Older Neighbor Boy are almost always together, traveling at speeds that make me nervous, calling to each other and joking as they go.
The beginner skiers go back and forth, weaving down the slope in the slowest possible way. You can tell the instructors from the coats they wear. And we'll see beginning boarders, too, nervously heel sliding down the steep parts because they are afraid to turn. I am always comforted when I see someone who seems less experienced than I am. "He needs to put more weight on his front leg," I'll say to my daughter, and we'll nod to each other sagely.
On warm days, my daughter and I talk on the chairlift, a time for bonding. But yesterday, the temperatures had dropped into the single digits, with gale force winds, and the chairlift seemed more like an instrument of torture than anything else. Despite my polypropylene long underwear, my thick fleece, and my winter coat, not to mention a whole layer of flesh and bodily organs, that chilly wind touched my bones.
My daughter, shivering in the seat next to me, her mittened hands up in front of her face to protect it from the wind, kept muttering over and over again: "This is terrible. This is horrible. This is terrible. This is horrible." I would add occasionally, like a chorus: "This is fucking cold."
Of course, even despite the icy wind that kept finding patches of skin whenever my goggles or helmet or neck gaiter shifted, I couldn't help admire how clear the air was, how blue the sky. We don't get blue sky here often enough for it to be a cliche: our sky is often grey and filled with clouds. Extremely cold temperatures give the sky a depth of colour and make the snow sparkly. From the chairlift, we could look out over the valley of white snow, surrounded by pine trees and bare hardwood trees and big stretches of snowy ski slopes. I've been reading a book about meditation that talks about being present for the moment, and really, there's nothing like bitter coldness to keep a person in the moment.
Daughter and I have been perfecting our getting-off-the-chairlift technique, which still needs a bit of work. We've figured out how to turn sideways and step off, but then as we go boarding down the ramp, which has been icy and fast, we are only inches away from each other. My self-defensive snowboarding instinct is apparently stronger than my maternal instinct because every time, without even being conscious that I'm doing it, I reach out with both hands and shove my daughter out of the way. "Your own daughter!" Drama Niece said in mock horror, the first time she watched us. Even readers who know nothing about snowboarding can probably grasp that shoving the other person to the ground as you get off violates chairlift etiquette.
Traveling up through the frigid temperatures to get to the top of the mountain was worth it. The snow was hard-packed, with some powder on top, the wind swirling the fine grains of white into patterns. As I get more experienced, I am losing my fear, which means I actually relaxed and enjoyed myself as I boarded down the slope. And of course the other benefit of the weather is that there were no lines at the lift.
By lunch time, we had all gathered inside to warm up. We'd picked the two picnic tables by the south windows, and the sun on my back felt wonderful as I ate a sandwich, some juice, and french fries with hot sauce. On icy cold days, lunch takes longer, because everyone needs time for their feet to thaw. The teenagers joked and jostled each other and told stories about what had happened on the slopes. DramaNiece, who had joined us for the weekend and was zipping around on skis, came in with a bright red face, saying in her dramatic fashion: "That wind is like barbed splinters of ice jabbing my face."
By late afternoon, we were ready to return to a warm house with flames crackling in the fireplace and spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Spending the day snowboarding in an icy wind made me feel alive and awake — and exhausted as well. My husband and I had planned to go to the movies, but we decided instead to cuddle under a down quilt and watch a DVD on his laptop computer rather than go back outside into the cold.