On December 13, 2023

Livin’ the Dream: Sing with all the colors of the mountain

By Merisa Sherman

You can see the stars overhead, twinkling against the shimmering clouds in the night sky. There are moments of clear, but this is Vermont. The clouds move about as they will, blocking different constellations throughout the evening. Almost as if by drawing your focus to different moments in the night sky, they are creating their own story and introducing you to different characters along the way.

Chances are that although the sky is alluring, your attention is more focused on the snow at your bases as you glide forward and upward. Or the pine trees laden with the weight of snow that glistens in the moonlight. In fact, as your eyes adjust, the entire world seems lit up in the darkness. Your whole existence changes and you become nocturnal.

Unless you’re at the resort or on a multiuse trail, there’s no need for a headlamp. As Mother Nature lights up the snow through reflections, you change with it and the experience can be slightly overwhelming. Your ears, once focused on the constant buzzing of modern life, now hear the howls of wolves in the distance, the movement of snow in the trees just beyond and perhaps the rustling of leafless bushes just ahead.

You are merely an animal now, maneuvering through the woods just like any other. A part of the natural experience, rather than a human projecting your will onto it. Whatever nature has in store for you this evening, that is what you will experience. You are, in fact, surrendering your human advantage. Your eyes and ears have not developed for a pure night existence. But you can adapt. You can submit to nature and you can learn.

It is humbling, to walk through the woods at night. To let Nature guide you on a path of her choosing. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have your technological advancements like a map, compass and headlamp in your backpack, but take a moment to put them away. You can always find yourself later. Take a well known path and experience it at night without science and learn to trust yourself and listen to your surroundings.

Get to know the nature around you and feel the earth moving underneath you. Really feel the green mountains rolling underneath you, the small nuances of the hills beneath your feet. The world was not created flat and smooth, it is filled with such small nuances that it almost seems unreal. How can something that looks so smooth from a distance be so variable? Let yourself feel the earth through your skis, or split board or drift boards or snowshoes or yak tracks or microspikes or even your bare feet.

Listen to the earth through your feet. Feel the variable terrain underneath you, connect with the world. It tells a story. A tree rotted and left a hole centuries ago and it has been gradually filling in over time. Perhaps a rock got pushed by the root of a tree and is only now coming to the surface. A new bush is starting to grow and the ground is pimpling above it, waiting to pop. And all this is covered in snow. Can you feel what is underneath it?

If you cannot do it at the slow pace of walking or skinning, how do you expect to feel and adjust to those micro changes while you are skiing or snowboarding? If you cannot stand in the lift line and feel the variable terrain how will you make the adjustments when you are moving? One of the reasons I love skinning so terribly much, is that it helps develop a deeper relationship with my equipment and the mountain underneath me. If you cannot feel, how can you react?

Anyone can ski fast. It’s what I tell my young athletes all the time. The speed numbs your feet, preventing you from dealing with the intricacies of the terrain. Instead of dancing with the mountain, you are merely skimming over it. Missing it. Chances are, your skis aren’t even really touching the snow and you haven’t noticed a single detail of the world underneath you. You are blind, you are unfeeling, you are numb.

But if you slow down and actually accept the challenge that the mountain has laid at your feet, if you can adjust to all the variables that are presented to you — you will find the dance, you will develop a relationship with the mountain and you will become fast through efficiency and skill. 

As I tell my young athletes, only a truly good skier can ski slowly, manipulating their equipment in collaboration with the snow underneath. Only a truly good skier or snowboarder can have a conversation with the mountain, can listen to what is being said and react accordingly. Only a truly good skier can dance with the mountain. Only a truly good skier can sing with all the voices of the mountain.

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