The Deceleration Sensation

The euphoria of speed and the relief of stopping on a dime

Gabe Schroder, known as “Super G,” is a longtime resident of Ketchum, Idaho, where he has perfected the art of the high-speed groomer faceshot. This essay originally ran in the Morpheme department of the September 2015 issue (441.). PHOTO: Nic Alegre

There is a sense of calm on top of the mountain. Sunny skies allow me to see peaks nearly 100 miles away. The lack of wind complements the serene scene. I push off and let my skis accept the fall line, creating the feeling we all crave as skiers—the smooth sensation of sliding over snow. As my speed picks up, the smile on my face widens, a telltale sign of the chemistry happening in my body that produces euphoria, elevated focus, and an electric buzz so powerful it makes everything else in life temporarily vanish. Focusing solely on this exact moment, I welcome this cocktail of natural chemicals surging through my veins.

With a perfect pitch of groomed snow beneath me, I am able to keep my straightline intact, embracing the acceleration despite the inherent dangers. The peaceful experience I enjoyed on the summit moments ago still dominates my vibe, but now I notice the deafening roar of wind in my ears as my velocity increases. Processing the slope 100 yards ahead, I also detect the noise of my baggy jacket flapping in the wind. Its ability to temper my speed is paled by the pitch of the mountain and my commitment to keep my skis pinned down the steep fall line.

As my speed picks up, the smile on my face widens, a telltale sign of the chemistry happening in my body that produces euphoria.

Humming along at close to 60 mph, my brain whirs, processing dozens of calculations per second. Everything is perfectly calm as I keep my head on a swivel, giving plenty of room as I overtake a random skier, recognizing subtleties in the terrain, all while enjoying this high-speed dance with the mountain. I am operating in a high state of awareness, where despite the blazing speed, everything makes sense and my vision is in slow-mo.

As I crest a roller that sends the groomed slope down the north side of the mountain, I attack the transition with a big right-footer, laying down a trench that accelerates my speed. I readjust my vision to the pitch below to see the shady slope dotted with people. Now my heightened awareness and adrenalized focus transition into a blurry state of fear. The sunny and empty slope behind me is replaced with flat light, two ski school groups, and dozens of other skiers and snowboarders traversing in no predictable manner. At these speeds, I am no longer able to calmly process the scene before me, instead reverting to a tunnel vision that continues to narrow. Stress builds as I speed toward this crowded mass of people.

Below me, a ski instructor looks up in horror as I barrel down on her class. At this rate, I will be on her group in a second or two, and the crowded slope doesn’t offer me an exit to either side. Another jolt of adrenaline releases from my glands, a final call to action. Before she can raise her arms or blurt out a warning, I pull the ripcord and end this thrilling ride. I throw my skis sideways and feather my uphill edges into the snow, gently at first, but once each edge is set a split second later, I dig in with all my might. Ready for the compression, I strengthen my quads and push even harder onto the snow, paying attention to how my toes press the inside of my boots.

Instantly, my velocity is transferred to a spray of snow shooting off my angled bases, creating a 30-foot-high plume of powder that engulfs half the run and me. Despite my vision being completely obscured by this billowing, self-served maelstrom, everything in my brain slows back down as I continue to focus on the strength and technique required to stop on a dime.

Once again, I feel in control, this time enjoying the abrupt yet fun forces of rapid deceleration on my brain—a g-force induced high, similar to the feeling of arcing turns. This sensation is enhanced by the elimination of stress from not speeding through a crowded area, creating a hormonal cascade of pure fight-or-flight emotion combined with relaxation and relief. Deep in the white room with blower still erupting all around me, I point my skis back into the fall line and emerge traveling just 5 mph. Licking my chops, I slowly creep by the ski instructor and her class, proudly displaying the snow caked onto my face, plastered into my zippers, and still swirling behind me.

Skiing As Craft: Essays on the details, written by skiers for skiers. Read more here.