I roll out my yoga mat beside the window and gently stretch into my hamstrings as the sun rises. It is the first day of the ski season. Morning creeps in so quiet I hardly notice it's here, until, all at once, I realize that this day is impeccable. Milky coffee, breakfast bagel, dining-table resort views. The early hour's long shadows drape over my neighborhood, but the broad south face of our ski hill receives the sun.
It's the kind of bluebird frigid where you'll crack your windshield if you crank the defrost too high, too fast—as I did, twice, last December. So I turn the heat on low, and dutifully scrape spiderwebs of frost from the windows. Flipping the dial to the local ’80s station, I hope for a song like "Eye of the Tiger," or "We Are the Champions." Today is also my first day back on skis after a blown knee, and I need an auspicious omen. No dice.
On my way up to the hill, I pick up my brother. He waves a tin of my favorite Christmas gingerbread cookies in the air. We nab a parking spot in the close lot, and click into our skis. When I push the heel of my boot into the binding, something delicate inside my knee twinges, a reminder of my weak link. Such a basic motion unsettles.
"Yeah-baby-yeah-baby-yeeeeah-baby!" a young, bearded, tele-skier howls in the liftline. I reach into my pockets, still hoping for a good-luck sign from the universe, maybe some forgotten cash or candy. Not even a tube of Burt’s Bees. The crowd roars as first chair loads. I shuffle forward in line, empty-handed but knowing it is a privilege to be back here.
First run: a trustworthy trail, something uncomplicated, to build confidence. What I find instead is a minefield. "Early-season conditions exist," signs warn. My brother is halfway down before realizing how far behind I am. There is no way I can trust any speed—not with uncharacteristic rollovers, stray rocks, ice chunks, and shin-high brush littering the slope. I can't stomach the prospect of throwing my skis to the side in a hurry, avoiding an obstacle or slamming to a stop, and just… absorbing all that downhill energy. Every turn, all the way to the bottom, is protracted, unconnected. Not mindful, just maddeningly careful.
I had prepared myself to take solo breaks, abstain from hike-to terrain, avoid cliffs, stay out of tight trees, and go home early. All these healthy boundaries would put me on cruisey groomers, keeping it mellow, no problem. This expectation hadn't seemed presumptuous. I feel hot tears well up. Who skis for the feeling of restraint?
My brother and I load up for a second run. The chairlift rises through the crystal veil of frozen airspace. Mountains that are hours away by car appear close enough to touch with the tip of my ski pole. I have nothing nice to say about any of it. My brother is patient and reassuring. I refuse perspective and consolation. The next run is better. The third, worse. After a long break in the summit lodge, we decide on two more runs.
Back at the car, I see the cookie tin. We'd forgotten about it in our morning rush to get moving. Slipping off our ski boots, sun on our backs, and feet in shearling slippers, we share this midday treat on the tailgate. The chocolate glaze is frozen, just enough to make a satisfying crack with every bite. Surprise cookies for lunch are the best omen, I think. I reach for another, and decide to ski again tomorrow.