And I don’t care if I ever do again.
It was a bluebird ski day at the top of Loveland Pass. Blue sky, white snow, the normal top-of-the-Rookies-breeze, and sunshine. As usual, I was a bit nervous about dismounting the chair lift, the most difficult move in skiing, but successfully stood up and skied out of the way of the boarders behind me. I adjusted my boots, gloves, and poles, and chose a direction and run to ski down.
But rather than push off toward a slope, I stood and gazed at the view, the best part of skiing, and let the contrast of sky and mountains fill my mind and heart. There was a time that I skipped this moment, instead heading quickly toward the most challenging runs, a musical theme playing in my mind as I rocked through bumps and moguls, down steep heart-pounding slopes. I would repeat this until my knees were weak and I could not keep my skis from crossing at the tips. Then I would take my last run down and pack it up for the day.
Skiing like a demon takes committing too many long days on the slopes, gym workouts, and a certain perspective. All this shifted for me in the past few years. The view means more than the bumps, and graceful moves are more enjoyable than the difficulty of the slope. Truthfully, I rarely enjoyed speed but was proud of my ability to conquer the difficult terrain and keep up with my ski-patrol friends. But pride is not the same as joy. At times I realized I was pushing myself from a sense of guilt; I can, so I should.
This litany haunted me through many adventures, in fact, everything I engaged in. I rode horses with French dressage teachers, though I only wanted to learn to ride trails. I pushed myself to enter triathlons and was encouraged to compete with my dog in nose trials. The list continues through my career, though I was wise enough to know my limits.
In the last few years, I stopped skiing hard and spent more time waltzing down gentler slopes, stopping to breathe in the mountains and sky. I skied less, enjoyed it more, and realized this was a powerful life lesson. Accomplishments are wonderful, but only if the path is joyful, and if the end feels fulfilling. In a society obsessed with improvement and achievement and measures happiness by a resume filled with triumphs we often forget that a trophy is not the best reward.
Each of us is unique, and for some bombing down a ski slope is joyful and enlivening. It was for a time and might be again at some point. But there is a sense of freedom and liberation in choosing joy.