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In my mind, skiing is the closest you can get to flying without actually lifting your feet off the ground. This sentiment was instilled in me very early on, when my parents would drive me and my siblings the two hours to my grandparents' ski condo. They would tug us with their ski poles to the shallowest trail on the mountain, and once there would instruct us on how to slide gracefully down the slope, knees bent, ski tips touching, hands held out to the side for balance. We were young, so there was very little gliding, and much more flopping, tripping, and collapsing, but we would always head back to the condo in fairly good spirits, cold and tired, but happy. Back then, skiing felt more like tired legs and a sore body than the freedom that came with soaring, but that would quickly change.
A few years passed, and I was soon gliding down the hill with ease. Being old enough that I longed to fly down the hill but young enough that my parents wouldn’t let me was frustrating, to say the least. Back then my parents used a device called an Edgie Wedgie (I kid you not) that kept our skis together and prevented us from gaining too much momentum and wiping out. In my mind, the Edgie Wedgies were the one thing preventing me from flying down the hill. As a result of this, I loathed them with a burning passion. Whenever my parents clipped them onto my skis I would gripe and complain, but no matter what happened, they staunchly refused to leave them off until they deemed I was “ready for it”.
I never was.
Until one day, that is, when a stroke of good fortune allowed me to go Edgie Wedgie free so that my younger cousin could use them. After spending what had felt like eons waiting to be rid of those horrid speed-restricting torture devices, you can only imagine my surprise when I realized how lost I was without them. My skis seemed large and clumsy, and it was a struggle to move them across the hard packed snow. My balance felt off, too, but I pushed my discomfort aside. My balance was a small price to pay for finally being free.
The entire ride up the slope, my stomach was twisted in hard knots of excitement. I couldn’t wait to push off down the hill and realize my dreams of flying. Behind me, my grandfather hung on to the the J-bar for the both of us, and I clung on to him in turn. My heavy skis skidded through the powdered snow, threatening to pitch me to the side, and I clutched tighter at his jacket. There was no way I would pitch over and delay our ascent even more.
By the time we reached the top, excitement was practically radiating from my body. Surely everyone could hear my heart already pulsing with adrenaline, see the nervous writhing of my stomach. I pushed off eagerly from the top of the slope, my grandfather hanging behind me to make sure I didn’t lose control. Immediately, I was struck by how different it felt. Without the Edgie Wedgies, the tips of my skis were no longer stuck in the perpetual snow plow position, slowing me down. After I had lined them up parallel to each other, pointing straight down the slope, I dutifully bent my knees and held my arms out for balance as I had been taught. My skis slid gracefully down the mountain, and I was free at last.
The pine trees lining the trail flew by me in a blur of green-brown-yellow as I picked up speed. On the J-bar, those riding up the mountain turned to stare in admiration as I flew down the slope. There was no doubt in my mind that I was the fastest girl they had ever seen grace the trails, so their veneration was only natural.
As I glided by them -haplessly waiting on the stalled lift for yet another fallen passenger- I bent lower over my skis and felt the ground picking up speed beneath me. In my peripheral vision, the green-brown-yellow of the trees blurred into a single unpleasant color, not unlike that of a decaying leaf or a rotting log. The icy wind whistled through my helmet and my skis scraped softly against the snow, breaking the otherwise hushed moment and providing a calming aspect to my exhilarating descent.
My pulse pounded in my throat and I could feel the blood and adrenaline rushing through my veins, encouraging me to go faster, faster. If only I could pick up the speed a little more, I was sure my skis would lift right off the cold ground and carry me into the clouded February sky. Closing my eyes, I lifted my arms out wide and breathed in the moment. In that dark space between my eyelids, I could imagine that I was a bird -a swallow, maybe- soaring through the icy sky, cutting through heavy clouds with my sharp wings, my heart and body light with the feeling of freedom.
The daydream faded and I snapped my eyes back open, lowering my arms and relishing the feeling of the wind whipping through me. It tugged at my ponytail with icy tendrils, snapping at my thick jacket and pants, stinging my face until it was red and raw and I couldn’t be more sure of how alive I was.
In that moment, I felt infinite. The slope and the icy wind seemed to roll and blow on forever, respectively, and the rush of adrenaline seemed to never end. I wouldn’t have minded if the moment hung suspended in time forever, with me flying down the hill for all of eternity.
All good things must come to an end, however, and this was no exception. The base of the hill was rapidly approaching, and my grandfather was starting to caution me to slow down and get myself back to a reasonable pace. The wind in my ears was replaced by the deep timbre of his voice, telling me to pull my skis together to form a snow plow, telling me to slow down, telling me that we would have to stop soon.
As I struggled to pull the tips of my heavy skis together -grudgingly admitting to myself that the Edgie Wedgies might have a purpose, after all- my grandfather’s warnings became more and more frequent, and more and more frantic. He was telling me to slow down, to make a snow plow, but I couldn’t control my skis, couldn’t pull them together the way I knew I was supposed to.
Soon, my grandfather was no longer warning me to slow down -he was yelling at me to stop. My skis skidded back and forth over the powdery snow, causing me to wobble unsteadily. The trees rushed by in a sickening shade of greenbrownyellow, and the unfortunates waiting on the J-bar were still looking at me, only I didn’t think it was out of admiration any more, more like fear, and the wind whipped through my helmet, freezing my face, and my skis skidded over the cold cold snow, and the trees were still rushing by, and I just couldn’t stop, and-
It was at that moment that I noticed the fence.
An emergency call to our dentist (who had been off work for the holidays), a two hour car ride down to see him, an abundance of frozen foods, a few shots of novocaine, and two once-jammed-into-the-back-of-my-skull-but-then-removed teeth later, I was back in my grandparents condo in the mountains. I was short a few teeth and the metallic tang of blood still permeated my mouth, but I had gained a fifty dollar bill from the tooth fairy and decided that things could be much worse.
The very next day, I would go skiing again. (“Like ripping the band-aid off,” my mother explained.)
I would snow plow all the way down the hill, then crawl to a halt at the bottom. I would learn to properly stop myself (again), and by doing so avoid any future run-ins with fences. I would slowly build up my confidence, building up my speed along with it, so that by the time the Edgie Wedgies came off I would be able to fly once more (but this time correctly, so that I would be in control every second of the way).
And, most importantly, I would learn a very valuable lesson: that sometimes in order to fly, you must first learn to fall down.