Last month I had the dubious experience of waking up several hours before the crack of dawn (on a Saturday morning too. Oh the injustice!). The dark overcast sky was incredibly glum and disorienting, clouding my mood further – annoyed at having to be up and ready, and deeply resentful of 3-Weeks-Ago Pooja who signed up for the grad school ski trip to Vermont with such thoughtless enthusiasm. After staggering onto the bus along with all the other sleep-deprived students, I promptly fell asleep for the next five hours or so.
I opened my eyes to find myself on what looked like a whole other planet. Everything around me was a blinding sheet of white. Fresh and crisp, I found myself in completely foreign untouched terrain. There were alternating patterns of ice and snow, gleaming under the dazzling sunlight. Every few minutes, the wind would kick up, creating swirly little dust devils out of icy snowflakes. And the temperatures! I have never dealt with such unbearable cold – it was negative Fahrenheit. I was pretty convinced they had accidentally switched the scales to Celsius because seriously … below zero Fahrenheit?! That should be the new absolute zero! Did it even exist outside textbooks? And does life actually thrive in such harsh conditions?
Turns out there is a pretty strange species which has adapted to the adverse climate of this hostile new world. The natives are vaguely humanoid figures clunking around in a rather amusing fashion, carefully pressing the heels of their boot on the ground and then leaning their weight deliberately on the toes – looking like waddling penguins or just some sort of strutting dance performers – I’d count off a quick beat in my head every time one of them went clomping across the food court in their uncomfortable footwear. Additionally, they wore clunky gray helmets and over-sized goggles. Half the times you couldn’t see their faces or their eyes, and then … they’d strap on two long pieces of fiberglass and zoom down snow-covered slopes with incredible velocity. Why would anyone hurtle down such a risky terrain, braving frigid temperatures? (After having signed waivers saying they won’t sue in case they sustain any injury or death. Yes, hurry up and let me sign that.) Have you ever carried around skis? They are heavy and unwieldy and my arms were nearly pulled out of their sockets lugging them around.
However, the reason people take such risks became apparent very soon, because the moment you strap on a pair (of skis :P) and whiz down the slopes yourself, it hits you. The crazy crazy adrenaline rush! The wind whistling past you, light bouncing off the white snow, the undulating terrain, navigating the bumps and turns and whatever other technical terms they use for it. You’re moving, fast, so very fast … your heart is pounding away, your fingers are ten blocks of ice encased in mittens which are clearly not up to the task, your breath is hot and panting, fogging up the goggles, the bare trees lining either side of the slope, and it’s all beautiful, so beautiful, but you just have a split second to register it because you’re still hurtling down at speeds you’re not sure you are actually controlling – you try to take wider and wider turns to cut down on your momentum and you know you’re maybe, barely in control, at this very second, but unless the ground evens out a bit it might be a better option to sort of lower yourself on your skis and just brake by plopping yourself to the ground! I’m guessing professional skiers view all this with icy (pun intended) aloof disdain, and are not very vocal with their thoughts whilst on the slopes, but I am the kind of amateur who keeps alternating between exuberant woohooing, cursing, and singing Let It Gooooo! depending on how fast I am going.
Oh boy, bring it on! As long as after every run, I can painstakingly unhook my skis and hobble over into the warmth of the lodge to thaw and eat warm sugar-coated waffles or just wrap my fingers around steaming mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows bobbing around – I am ready to become an native. Welcome to this new world!