We did not want to miss a moment of the pregame festivities this year, so we pulled into the parking lot around 8 a.m. Barely able to sleep, we were there two hours before the lifts were scheduled to start. But we were not the only ones with our eyes on the prize, unable to sleep another minute longer. We watched as car after car arrived, filled with friendly faces. As we slowly went through our pre-game absolutions, others jumped out of their cars and ran to the lifeline as if it were a powder day.
Only it wasn’t a powder day. Honestly, it is something better. The first day, opening day, day one. Whatever you want to call it, the first day of the season has a magical quality about it that is often hard to pinpoint. You can hear shouts of “Happy Winter” echoing across the trail, lifeline and parking lot as we all move forward to give those awkward hugs. You know, the ones where we’re holding poles in one hand, our skis resting on our armpits while we try and wrap our arm around a good friend who is also holding skis? Yeah, that’s an art form.
Because on opening day, we are not just here to go skiing and riding, we are here to celebrate everything that this sport has given us. The techniques we have learned over the years from variable and challenging terrain, the inconsistent Vermont weather and the advancements in technology have transformed our lives. The peace that comes from floating down the mountain with boards strapped to your feet transforms our souls, from the inside out and we become the people that we have always dreamt of becoming. The gratitude that fills us as chairlift rides with strangers become lifelong friends and the friendships that have turned into family. Our ski family. Our mountain family. Our Killington family.
Skiing and riding make us better people. Here, on the mountain with the snow beneath our feet, we find the best versions of ourselves. I know that this is my favorite version of myself. There’s an honesty to skiing and riding that we don’t have in real life — the instantaneous feedback when your feet get too far ahead of you and you end up in the backseat holding on for dear life or that harsh chatter when your edge angle is too high for the given terrain. You know when you suck and when you don’t.
Skiing and riding make you see yourself for who you really are. Your reaction time is relayed with brutal honesty; your body will let you know at the end of the day how in shape you really are and your emotional reactions to those physical truths are a microcosm as to how you deal with adversity in real life. Having been off-snow for a few months, opening day is a testament of how far you have come over the summer and over your life.
I have had opening days where I felt just broken, days where happiness felt unachievable. My first opening day without my dad in 2013, I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it down the stairway without bursting into tears. My heart was so empty and my soul so heavy that I thought I might need to pull over on the side of the trail to empty my stomach. But that’s not what happened at all. Each turn brought more and more joy and slowly, run by run, I could feel myself getting lighter. I could feel my dad skiing beside me and I finally began to heal.
There is something about being lost in the rhythm of your turns, the comfort in the movement of your legs swinging underneath you all while you float along the top of some frozen water that just seems to put my soul at peace. Maybe it is the repetition, the patterns, the variable consistency that puts our bodies at ease similar to a meditation where we focus on our breathing. Maybe it’s the colder weather, forcing our bodies to focus more on survival and reducing life to the simple task of timing our breath to our turns. Maybe it is the grace and beauty that come from sliding down a mountain, the nurturing glissé that is this beautiful sport.
The question of what makes skiing and riding so wonderfully amazing will always be at the heart of what we are doing. There is something magical about skiing and riding that shows itself over the first weekend of the season, a unique aura that encompasses all of us blessed enough to make the journey to the snow. We might not know exactly what it is, but we can be grateful for all it brings. The joy, the community, the peace. Words cannot express how utterly magical it is to float down a mountain covered in snow. You just have to try it.
Merisa Sherman is a long-time Killington resident. She can be reached at email@example.com.