With a flick of her thumb, the lighter catches. Flame creases around the small stick of P-tex, reflecting dimly off the bubbles of wax pooled on the workbench. And as the stick catches its own sphere of the fire, the whole end glowing blue, a drop begins to ebb, swirl, and slide down. She lowers her hand to the gouged base, the smoke a kind of incense tracing her movements, the drops then flowing from fire to ski on the bench.
It’s only the most recent addition to the base of the ski. Clean orange was the start, save for the intrusion of a logo. But then, the choked chute entrance was a little too boney at Alta. There was a momentary snag, then the drag underfoot that registered more in the flats as a corkscrew of plastic sheared apart from the rest. So the ski ended up on the bench: trim, fill, plane it down, wax. Back out for more.
And yet more came. The thin traverses at Bridger, dodging the limestone. Billy goating at Taos. Missing the edge of the glacier on Hood to find a bit of crumbly volcano embedded and riding along. Each black streak a distinct sort of a scar; the thin spots of a season making their crude brushstrokes on the canvas of her bases.
With this slot filled, she blows out the flame. The florescent lights above the bench glint off clean plastic in the corner: a fresh pair, yet unmounted—still safe, with so much potential waiting beneath that shrink wrap. They look innocent, unscarred. Unmarked by the abuse that comes standard with the ups and the downs, only the very beginning of a story yet to be written.
And as she knows, there’s joy in new gear. Shop wall or cardboard box or under the Christmas tree: the wait that builds into excitement. Mounting up a pair of fresh boards, or watching the wax sink into the base. All the effort of driving and waiting coming down to those first few turns, then a few more until the rhythm becomes perfect, natural, the sidecut an extension of the body and the tip of each ski the clean, piercing edge of her mind.
But this is skiing, and skiing is not perfection. It is not mown grass or poured concrete. There is a time when logs lurk, when the sharks wend grimly through the shallow snowpack of early December. She remembers imperfections, the troughs in the bumps showing through to the dirt. Skiing has its time when the parking lot might float a raft and the lifties carry squeegees in gloves soaked by the rain. When the melt suddenly freezes, or when the hill has simply run out of ponchos. Skiing doesn’t happen in places where they can close the dome and keep the field dry.
And so she goes out in the kind of rain that ends baseball games. She loads chairs when the mercury drops so low as to freeze coffee. She wanders out too soon, in October or November, scavenging snow from ice rinks and skinning through the bushes. Because this isn’t tennis, where nobody brings their beater shoes to play on a chipped up court. It’s not golf on a manicured green below a flag waiving in a lazy breeze.
For her, it’s the deep mud. The tight trees. The sharp rocks. An experience that takes pieces from gear and bodies, those badges of honor. Skiing, and skiers, are people who know that the distance between the experience we want and the conditions out there, right now, today, is small enough to be filled with simple things: a flame, glowing blue above the workbench, and the drops flowing down from its base.