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.

On The Brink

Posted in Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on March 18, 2010

Last week I mentioned our old ski school director at Bear Valley, Peter Brinkman. I was writing about Hollywood connections, and I referenced Peter as the brother-in-law of actress Jeanne Crain (“State Fair”). And I threw in the fact that he had dated a Playboy Playmate. All true. But only a fraction of the story. Peter deserves more.

Ellen and I liked him the minute we met. He was tall and animated, with an uninhibited high giggle for a laugh. I wouldn’t say he had classic, movie-star good looks—he was too goofy for that. But he was magnetic, broad-shouldered (he played football at the University of Washington), and the Bear Valley web site is not wrong to have described him as “one of the country’s hunkiest ski instructors.” (more…)