THE WINTER OF 2020, I QUIT MY JOB AND MOVED TO SALT LAKE TO TEACH CROSS COUNTRY SKIING.
MY TIME THERE REFRAMED A LOT OF MY THINKING AND UNDERSTANDING OF LIFE.
THE FOLLOWING WRITING IS MY BUILDING OF A PHILOSOPHY ON THE PURSUIT, RECOGNITION AND UNDERSTANDING OF JOY, THROUGH THE LENS OF A SKIER.
Intro: What is a bluebird day?
Bluebird days come from ski vernacular. It’s a descriptor that means: denoting or relating to a period of time characterized by sunny, cloudless weather, typically after a night of snowfall.
It’s a sunny day on the mountain with a fresh coat of powder. It’s perfect for carving. It promises soft landings and 100% visibility– a perfect day.
But I don’t think it’s the weather that makes a bluebird day. Rather, it’s the attitude with which you seize it. A bluebird day is about recognizing the opportunity for joy, and giving everything to that pursuit. It is about seeing, and doing.
Chapter 1: Pick Your Own Pace
There exists a spectrum of skier types. There are those who bomb hills, diving headfirst into mountain passes with no thought to turning or speed control. These skiers measure the success of their day with how many laps they run, how much distance their skis take in a day.
Then there are the skiers who measure their success in how their skis meet the mountain. They don’t care how far they go, as long as their routes are met with intention. These are not slowpokes, but craftsmen.
There are things to be gained from each approach. There can be a balance struck between the careless, emotion-driven thrill ride and the scientific precision of the latter. Whichever is chosen is moot. Whatever the day calls for: pick your own pace.
Chapter 2: Identify Your Lines
A mountain is like an open book. Within the white, there are lines. It’s got a story to tell, if you’re willing to read it.
Nick, a friend of mine, doesn’t just read books. He studies them.
Whereas some skiers I know will bomb a mountain pass at breakneck speed, skiing with Nick is more stop-and-go. At the crest of every ridge, Nick stops and takes a moment to pause. He reflects on the last pass, and then examines the next. He studies the terrain, the curvature of the slope, identifies his desired lines, and then executes upon them as best as he can.
Not every turn goes exactly as predicted. Sometimes instinct has to take over; sometimes improvisation happens. But there has to be a plan to get there. There has to be intention. That’s what craft is.
Chapter 3: Tabula Rasa
There’s nothing like a bluebird day to level the playing field between novice and expert skiers.
Tabula Rasa is a latin phrase. It means clean slate. It’s easy to draw a comparison between that and a day of fresh snow. When there’s fresh snow, the world gets to start over. Start fresh. And so does everyone on the mountain. Everyone gets to be a learner again. Everyone gets to draw fresh lines.
Chapter 4: Chase Sunsets
You know, we get a sunset every day. But when was the last time you actually watched as the sky lit up? It’s not always going to open up to you with a perfect view. The timing is not always going to be right (I mean, the timing changes every day). But you can track it down if you want. You can seek out that perfect vista. Turn around. Clear the view. Sometimes the seeking makes it that much better.
Chapter 5: Soul Shredding
Soul shredding is a ritual of the bluebird day. It’s performed alone, except for the skier and the mountain. Everything is given to the slope. Nothing is left out on the mountain side. It is an expression of feeling and instinct. It is emotive. It is freeform.
Soul shredding is an understanding that bluebird days are not just about seeking; they are also about letting go. When you climb up that canyon, you better leave everything of the valley in the valley. Nothing can hold you back when you take nothing with you.
Soul shredding is exactly what it sounds like. It shreds you down to your very essence, so that you may become whole again. Baptism by frozen water.
Chapter 6: Hatchback Beer
Pro tip for winter drivers: always keep a sixer in the trunk of your hatchback. The cold days will keep the brews chilled, and usually the temp won’t go low enough to freeze your supply (especially if your nights are spent below the canyon.
You’ll find the chilled beer is particularly rewarding after a heavy work out on the slopes, downhill or cross country. Sometimes water isn’t enough to quench the thirst of a high altitude workout. You need electrolytes, and Gatorade isn’t natural.
You’ll always be particularly glad if you bring or find a buddy on the mountain. Talk on the mountain is never good mid run; it’s best left for the chairlift or the lot after you’ve actually accomplished something to be proud of. Or, don’t talk. There’s nothing like enjoying a cold one, sitting on the stoop of your hatchback, watching the sunset or a light flurry of fresh powder snow.
Chapter 7: Make Friends with Ski Patrol
It’s not just about knowing who will save you. It’s also about knowing the people who know the mountain best. They can lead you out of disaster. But they can also lead you to where you’d never imagine to go.
Chapter 8: You Just Have to Finish It
Just say yes. Locals say yes to what’s beyond the gate– to what’s beyond the flags that say “experts only.” And who doesn’t want to be a local?
It doesn’t matter how you do it. Just summon all of your “send it” energy and don’t think twice. If you skied a double black diamond, you skied a double black diamond. Next time can always be better.
Chapter 9: One Season Is Never Enough
In the attic above our little cross country ski lodge lived two avalanche technicians. They didn’t give us much attention. To them, anyone who was on their first season on the mountain was more than likely on their last season on the mountain (goes to show). But occasionally they’d come down and tell us the exact date and time of the next month’s snowfalls (all of them), and by gum they were always right.
The mountain is something with which you can build a relationship. After 50 years these technicians knew all of her moods, inclinations and tendencies. They could read her and move with her. One season is never enough.
Chapter 10: Chairlift Meditation
Downhill skiing might be the sport best opportune for meditation and reflection. At the end of every run, you have to stop, rest, and wait, while the chairlift carries you back up to the top of the mountain. What will you reflect on the way back to the top? Your previous run? Your intentions for the next? Or something else entirely?
Chapter 11: Snow Tracks
Pro tip for winter drivers: even if conditions force you to turn back with your two-wheel drive Pontiac Vibe on account of forgetting your snow chains, still stop to look around before retracing the tracks of your wheels. The snow reveals as much as it hides: a young bull moose hoping to catch a snowflake on its tongue, an owl painting the white with the red of a fresh kill, or just a baby bobcat, brave with the cover of falling white. (Yes, I did see all of these things).
Anyone can make an impression in the snow: footprints, tracks, or even a snow angel. Take a moment and let the snow make an impression on you too.
Chapter 12: Blues
Some days aren’t for the birds. Some days are just for the blues.
Some days are for mistakes. Some days are for failure. The point of a bluebird day is the try. And when it doesn’t work out, you learn from it. Whoever learned a thing being happy anyway?