Peter Shelton

Future Perfect

Posted in Life in Central Oregon, Ski evolution by pshelton on January 10, 2020

Mt. Bachelor January 9, 2020

I don’t believe perfect exists. I have about as much success wrapping my brain around the concept of perfect as I do grasping the notion of infinity, say.

Perfection is a human construct, something theoretical, ideal; it doesn’t exist in nature. What I do think exist are perfect evanescent moments, perfectly carved turns, perfect hours on the mountain – philosophically impossible, maybe, but nevertheless flawless exceptions that prove the rule.

Today was one of those days. The objective markers tell some of the story. Four inches of new snow overnight, delivered with little wind, groomed judiciously on the main boulevards. And that snow was very low density, extremely low for the Oregon Cascades, maybe six or seven percent water, I’m guessing, where typical “Cascades Cream” is more like 10-12 percent, and the driest Colorado snow (also rare) comes in at about four percent water. The point being, this was dandelion fluff, light whipped cream atop a smooth ice-creamy under layer, snow so insubstantial that skis, boots, shins experienced only a feathery resistance. Temperature: high teens, not even a hint of warming or melting snow. Sky like a gin-clear lake, shrinking the distance to Broken Top and South Sister, all of the mountains, like Bachelor, almost completely white: rimed white trees, lava flows, summit snowfields, the whole white-washed world under a cerulean blue with a low January sun making shadows of every twig, every wind ripple, every curving, new-moon ski track. By mid-morning Carnival run was a virtual Jackson Pollack of overlain scythings, if, instead of endless layers of dripped paint Jackson Pollack had been into gouging perfectly round lines.

There’s that word perfect again. Our old friend and fellow ski schooler, Dick Dorworth, wrote a wonderful short story called “The Perfect Turn,” about an aging ski instructor thinking back on his quest for the perfect turn. It’s one of the best pieces of ski fiction out there. And it cuts very close to Dick’s own (and mine, and many skiers’) pursuit of an aesthetic ideal, on skis. A perfect turn will be different for everyone, but it will feel the same to each of us.

In my case, the turn will be etched into the snow the way a silversmith carves an image in soft metal. The two curved blades on my feet will slice parallel arcs through the snow without throwing any spray, without going sideways at all. Railroad tracks, some people call them. This perfect turn will not live in isolation, of course; it will be part of a continuum. It will have its beginning in the perfect end of the previous turn – the weightless, perfectly positioned setup (“the love spot,” in the perfectly apt phrase of guru John Clendenin), and it will likewise extend into the perfect beginning of the next turn. It’s a continuous flow. Where does the petal’s edge stop and the next thing, the not rose petal, begin?

This turn feels as if it takes no muscle power to complete. My center of mass, my hips, my head, are so placed inside the arc I have but to stand against the snow, easy as leaning against a lamppost. The snow is turning me.

Stringing a couple of these perfect semi-circles together, sine waves, sends me into raptures. It can’t be maintained for an entire run, or a whole day, or lord knows a whole mountain. But these peeks inside the monastery, these glimpses of mathematical, musical even (music of the spheres!) symmetries are enough.

Spoiler alert: Dorworth’s hero had to cross over from one reality into another in order to achieve his perfect turn. Today felt a little bit like stealing fire from the gods. Perfect turns (or close approximations) and the godlike feeling of drawing continuous lines, strings of crescent moons across the volcano’s furrows… Well, it doesn’t get much closer to heaven than that.

There’s No Place Like Home

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on January 4, 2020

Mt. Bachelor January 4, 2020

When I walked into the West Village Lodge, done for the day, I stopped a couple of paces inside the doors and clicked my boots together to remove at least some of the fine powder snow caught in the buckles and packed onto boot soles after the short, powdery trek from the ski rack.

As is my habit, I rocked back on my heels to click the toes together, then tilted onto my toes to click the heels. Mid-ritual, one of the volunteer host guys behind the desk called out, “You gotta click your heels!” I was too slow-witted, too besotted by the spectacular morning to grasp his deeper meaning, and so replied, dumbly, “I do both.”

Sitting back, enjoying a coffee, it came to me that he was referring to ruby slippers and “The Wizard of Oz.” So, on my way back out, I stopped, caught his eye, and clicked my heels together. Without further prompting the two of us quoted, simultaneously, “There’s no place like home.”

That’s what it felt like out there on the mountain today after weeks of a meager snowpack and day-after-day no new snow. A series of small storms to start 2020 and the six inches of blown-cold, mid-density snow that came in last night changed everything. It was like coming home.

Adding to the euphoria was the fact that I finally felt better, after two weeks with a tenacious cold. The virus and the un-Oregon like weather kept me on the couch through the holidays.

I’m a terrible sickie. I feel so sorry for myself. Nothing will ever be good again. My brain will never again find pleasure in the moment. This clogged-ears, snot-stuffed headache is one and the same with lurking depression. Life has no meaning. It’s not snowing. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. I’m not skiing. Woe is me.

So, the contrast from the low-so-low to the high-so-high, was even greater than it might have been had I been in the pink of health.

It was one of those days when everything worked: The boots fit like a glove, the skis felt light and floaty and practically friction free, a serendipitous match of wax to snow temperature and texture. It felt, in fact, like those things attached at the ends of my legs had disappeared. Disappeared into pure action. Eyes see a line – slice between those two mini treetops, bank right through that gravy-boat hollow… The brain judges what might be needed to achieve the line and signals the muscles, the soles of the feet, the balancing hands, the centering hips. And then somehow, alchemy: muscle memory, imagination, faith. The skis bend and arc; the snow pushes back sweetly, like cake flour. And the eyes are out front again, scouting next curves. While inside, in the same way that a whole person, body and brain, merges with campfire flames, or a special piece of music, the only thing to do is melt.

You can go home again. I’d been wandering in the wilderness, but today I rediscovered that seat of ecstatic movement, drawing lines down a mountain of rock transformed, made accessible, cathartic, made sexy by a blanket of new snow.