For me, Vermont actually has three skiing seasons. Each one provides me with different joys and different challenges.
Season 1 begins at the end of November when the resorts open with man made snow on a few trails. You can see the trails from afar. They look like white ribbons flowing down the mountain. The trail choices are somewhat limited and certainly very obvious. You know where you, and everybody else for that matter, will ski long before you step into the lift line. This season lasts until the end of January. By then, there generally is enough natural snow cover to open up a vast terrain in the trees, the glades, the side country. This defines the beginning of season 2.
Season 2 is my favorite season where the whole mountain turns into one big play ground. Skiers find "secret stashes" of untouched powder and new entrances to the magical forests and glades. Some of the more popular tree trails have playful and slightly mysterious names like "The Kitchenwall," "Stew's chute," "The Bench,"or "The Birthday bowl." There are no signs that point to the trails, let alone indicate the difficulty of a trail. You just have to know the terrain and your skier self.
Season 3 begins once the spring sun has melted most of the snow and, once again, only the obvious trails with a thick snow cover are skiable. The thicker snow cover is due to the mounds of manmade snow that obviously takes much longer to melt than the thinner layer of natural snow. By now, most lifts will be closed and it's time to skin and hike up the snowy trails to then ski down. Skiable terrain stands out, just like in the beginning of the first season in November, by its white bands and patches, surrounded by green.
During each of the three ski seasons I have to adjust my inner lens according to the choices and challenges each season offers. During the first season, I am challenged by bowing to the lack of trail choices and in finding freedom within a narrow band of snow that often is crowded by many skiers. Going with the flock isn't my strength.
I have learned to enjoy this first episode of winter by focusing on my technique, playing with various tempos, shifting intentions and by practicing beginner's mind. I find variety in testing different equipment and otherwise making narrow turns at the edge of the trail where most people stay away since it is, well, the edge of the trail. My biggest challenge during this time is to keep my mind engaged in the obvious, to find mystery in the ordinary and to find my own path amongst the masses.
During the second season I need to ski with a wider lens in order to find the trees in the forrest and, more importantly, the space between the trees. This is where I most notice how my brain can turn into many frolicking puppies who prefer to bounce in many different directions. I am challenged to pick a line. Where is my path between the trees? Where do I see a rhythm? Where do I start and how long can I stay in my rhythm without loosing trust in my skill and focus? How long can I keep up the mental stamina needed for reigning in and aligning my little "brain-puppies" to enjoy the free flowing rhythm of subtle weight shifts that carry me down the trail between the trees?
In addition, I need to embrace (only figuratively please:) the trees, who in their relentless and rooted stillness truly are my friends and supporters rather than a threat of potential disastrous injury. My mind wants to pull me to my inner disaster zone, telling me "watch out" "your are crazy" "what if you slip now??" and so on. Obviously these thoughts of warning questioning aren't helpful at all. The pull of these thoughts takes me out of my zone, breaks my rhythm, throws me out of my line.
The moment I give attention to these disruptive thoughts they become self-fulfilling prophecies. I loose focus and fall. This experience then supports that visualization and intentionality truly do guide your actions.
In order to embrace the joy these trees give me and not the pain they can cause in their non compromising stillness, my intention of play and rhythm needs to be louder, stronger and clearer than the image of warning and disaster.
The huge change in my skiing that is caused by a subtle weight shift of my body is mirrored in the play of my mind. A subtle shift in one direction changes my experience completely. Once I realized that, I understood that I can apply this experience of skiing trees in my life off the mountain: Writing, painting, teaching, navigating complex logistical schedules and emotional dynamics. Once I see the space between, pick my line and keep my rhythm and intention I am good to play.
Another challenge tree skiing, literally and figuratively, poses, is the needed balance of soft gentle focus with a wide-angle lens that reminds me of where I am in the context of the larger terrain, that keeps me in the context of the bigger picture. You don't want to get lost in the forrest. Each of these mystical trails has a point of entry and one of exit that reconnects you to the lifts or the parking lot. The challenge is to find it and not get lost in your inner figurative as well as outer literal forrest.
During the third season, nature chooses your line. The skiable terrain is visible and accessible. I can widen my focus to take in the scenery, the warmer air and the new growth of spring. Once again, I can relax my mind and body into each single step, and smooth gliding turn. I know I can't get lost, the terrain is obvious, I know the trees will stay put in the forrest that now is bubbling with spring, with no room for skiing.
With all the ease and comfort that seasons one and three offer, I love the challenge and complexity of the second season. Balancing risks and choices, training my mind in alignment with my body and being humbled by the complexity of play. I want to run away from and into the forrest all at the same time. Knowing that the days of snowy forrest stashes are numbered I breath deeply to gather my courage. I feel the adrenaline pumping, my knees getting wobbly and my heart pounding and disappear in the space between the trees. Do I really have a choice?