By: Jackson Hogen
Published: December 11, 2018
As the Pontiff of Powder, I have a sacrosanct duty to bestow spiritual enrichment upon my flock. The spirit guide I have co-authored for this express purpose is Snowbird Secrets, from which On Sensuality has been excerpted. While it is a fallacy to believe, as some overly zealous converts do, that mere ownership of a copy assures a peaceful afterlife, it can’t hurt. It’s like getting a good recommendation letter: it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the job, but without it you have no shot. I’m sure there’s someone you love who could use all the help he or she can get. Why not pop over to Amazon and get them a copy for Christmas? I’ll bless it from afar. – The Pontiff
Skiing is not like other forms of exercise. It’s a physically demanding activity, as beginners in particular can attest, but it isn’t anything like working out. It’s a public display that’s intrinsically private, a mental game requiring physical expertise, a form of self-expression not just performed on the medium of snow but in it. Like all moments when we surrender to bliss, skiing involves a disappearing act, a submersion in the moment, a letting go of identity that accompanies the most intense feelings of being alive.
The essence of sensuality is touching, contact between our bodies and the world that reassures us we are really here. In the White World, touch isn’t limited to our fingertips; we feel the snow from the soles of our feet to the patches on our cheeks that bear the brunt of face shots. We feel snow in a way football players don’t feel the field, or figure skaters experience ice or skydivers interact with the air. Snow isn’t like anything else. It begins as an idea within the most undifferentiated of media – water – every molecule monotonously identical, and turns it into an unrivaled celebration of individuality. What could be more like us, essentially all the same yet no two samples alike? Little wonder the snow knows how to please us.
Our rapport with the snow parallels the pas de deux of human relationships. We want it to embrace us but not confine us, let us run but hold us back, and most of all to caress us, to gently but firmly define the limits of our beings. When weightless Wasatch white washes up the inner thigh, the intention of intimacy is unmistakable. What more does a mountain have to do to get our attention?
Sensuality is both a reward and a state of being in which every sensory gateway is flung wide open. The inbound flood of sensations triggers the joy factories in the brain to double their output. When dropping from turn to turn on a steep powder run, the cycle of rise, float, fall and finish is accompanied by the sound of skis blasting through the essence, ripping the snow into the air and forming it into a funnel that trails behind us like glory. In that moment we become the center of a universe of one, more a presence than a person, a vessel through which energy flows with the speed of light. Our internal clocks slow down. Our bodies move freely, unimpeded by supervision, our busy minds having grown quiet. When we hit the apron and gravity’s stream turns to a trickle, the tide of elation takes minutes to subside.
The unpleasant sensation that the air seems suddenly out of oxygen serves as a reminder that for the last couple of minutes we’ve been so marinated in the moment we forgot to breathe. Exhaustion and ecstasy compete for our attention. This is the customary coda to sex, to which skiing is often favorably compared. Certainly skiing is less messy, both literally and metaphorically. Skiing also offers greater variety without complications and higher frequency without pills. And skiing will never break your heart.
Sensuality is a two-way street, both touching and being touched. The snow, the air, the chill; all touch us everywhere with everything they’ve got. When we touch back, it’s mostly with our feet, not usually our preferred appendage for applying a light stroke. That distinction belongs to our hands, our most versatile sensuality delivery system. What are these normally active players up to while we ski?
Our hands conduct the music of our descent, finding a melody in the ether the rest of the body can dance to. They also help to point us forward and hold us in overall balance, just as they do for the tightrope walker. To provide both balance and beat, hands have to be held in an arc between our hips and our hearts. When they operate near our center of power they keep us unshakably on course. The streams we ride on big mountains aren’t placid canals; they’re raging torrents driven by the energy of the vortex and convoluted by writhing variations in the terrain. It takes calm, temperate hands to conduct your concerto in this tempest.
The momentary amnesia induced by our surrender to sensuality is the payoff for our relationship with the mountain. For a period of time we can never accurately measure, we stop mediating experience and become what we are doing. We are sensation without judgment, joy without restraint, energy without boundaries. The snow is our lover of a thousand hands, lifting us up, bathing us gently, wrapping us in its cool coils of coruscating confetti. We are compelled to see her again and again, like an addiction.
The Goo encoiled in rings of fluffulescence.
Sensuality bestows presence, the rare combination of focus on the now, or where we stand in time, wedded to a keen awareness of where we stand in space. To savor the succulence of presence, let’s envision a run on a powder morning that won’t attract the crazed crowd in the overflowing Tram line. Slink the other way, over the bridge and up to the access road that leads to the Wilbere lift, where only a handful of folks wait for it to open. The ride up is painfully slow, providing ample opportunity to peruse the lines through the trees looker’s right of the lift line, with the aspens on the west-facing aspects appearing particularly promising. As you get off the lift, you’ll see the groomed promenade of Wilbere Ridge to your right and to your left, wide-open fields of dreams filled with two hours’ worth of uncut snow crystals.
The only feature that will interrupt your downhill indulgence is the Bass Highway cat-track that cuts the fall line in two. To integrate this hiccup into the sensuous flow of your run, anticipate your arrival at the road so you come off the pitch in the middle of a turn. Let your skis drift a bit to absorb this kink in your kinetics, then shift your weight forward so you drop off the road just as you drop into your next arc. Being smooth through a rough transition is all about timing and feeling, the underlying mechanics of sensuality.
Sensuality is sensation raised to the level of rapture. It’s there for us to experience every time we step into gravity’s stream, re-establishing our relationship with the mountain. The attainment of sensuality that allows our conscious selves to evaporate under the spell of the moment depends on the pure intentions of both partners. Ideally, we give in to the flow of the mountain and the mountain, accepting our surrender, allows us to caress her with our turns.