Late Sunday night I went to post a short recap of my trip up to the mountain, complete with a little snippet of video as a teaser of more to come, but ran into technical issues after uploading the clip. The file said 100% complete, but when I clicked on the link, I just got a black frame with white text that said, “Processing…” which was entirely underwhelming but also a rather fitting metaphor for my mental state after a day that was such an onslaught to the senses and emotions; where it wasn’t a matter of facing one of your demons – more like how many and how quickly.
The day began with so many open-ended questions. Would we even make it up the mountain with the late-season cold front dropping tons of snow on the pass? How would my family and I handle the emotions of reliving the horrific events from a decade earlier? Would I be able to tolerate the cold temperatures? Would I fit in the bi-ski properly after struggling with a couple of test fittings? How much control would I really have out there on the slopes? Could I avoid a dreaded pressure sore sitting on a makeshift cushion of foam pads and gel packs?
And then there was the one question burning so deep in the back of my mind that I probably couldn’t have articulated it. Would it be enough? Enough in the sense that it wouldn’t feel insulting to the old me. Because despite the last 10 years of immobility, I am still, at my core, the same thrillseeker my dad unleashed on that very mountain 30 years ago, so the last thing I wanted was for it to be some sort of patronizing push around the parking lot in a makeshift sled, more symbolic than it would be adventurous. The answers to all of those and many more came in the form of two simple words: we’ll see.
What followed was a series of trust-falls on a level like I have never experienced, which is saying something, since life with paralysis is a constant exercise of placing your life in other peoples’ hands. But this was different, probably because it was a bunch of foreign situations stacked so closely together that you didn’t even have time to catch your breath from one thing to the next, let alone make sense of it all.
Transferring into the ski was a little rough and it took a good minute to get all strapped in, but then it was out the door and up the hill with a couple of volunteers I’d met only minutes prior. A couple of quick practice runs from the rope tow and we were off to the ski lift, the first of the major unknowns I hadn’t even attempted to speculate about. A quick 1-2-3 and a pop from the guys and it was over before I knew it. The dismount at the top was a tad bit creepier, feeling like I was going to land flat on my face when they lurched the ski forward and down the ramp. That brought the moment of truth – the first trip down the hill.
A quick push from my spotter sent me down the hill at a pace I was entirely unprepared for and it took a moment for the slack in the tethers he used to help guide my turns and control my speed to tighten. My heart raced and the adrenaline flowed as we weaved a path between fellow skiers and boarders and within seconds we were at the bottom of the hill approaching the crowd of friends and family. But instead of stopping for a breather, we sailed right past them and back in line for another round.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. It took three or four laps up and down the mountain for my nerves to settle enough so that I could take in the gravity of the moment, which came in stunning clarity on one of the last trips up the chair lift.
As the chair glided smoothly into the air, it was as if I was transported back 20 years to one of the countless weekends I’d spent on the mountain with my family. It was just as I remembered it, right down to that clunk-clunk-clunk noise the chair made as the cable slid through the stabilizing wheels of each tower we passed, the crisp air freeze-drying my nose hairs with the smell of pine needles and chapstick and snowflakes stinging my cheeks. We crested the hill, giving me a birds eye view of the landscape filtered through the familiar tint of amber goggles and I caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye of my dad, sister and oldest niece carving turns on the fresh snow below. In that moment, it was as if we’d never left.
When the two-hour lesson finally came to an end, my brain was on overload. People rushed towards me to get my reaction, but there was no way I could put my feelings about it all into words. At first, they took my inability to respond as a sign that it wasn’t a good experience, which I assure you is not the case. It was just… surreal.
Even two days later, now that the video is finally done processing (you can watch it below), my mind and heart most definitely are not. Good thing I signed up for a three-week session, so I’ve got the next two Sundays to explore it all with a little further depth.