Skiing, Lanes & False Memories cover image

Skiing, Lanes & False Memories

Skiing never came easy to me. My older brother was a phenomenal skier. It came naturally to him, or at least he made it appear so. Either way, it made my lack of talent even more evident and painful. And I do mean painful. My parents were relentless in their insistence I learn to ski, despite coming home from full-day classes with more bruises and fat lips than I can count.

Things I hated about skiing: Cold mornings. Walking in ski boots. The apparel options. Chair lifts. The stink and sweat that invariably came as the day warmed. The only things about skiing I truly enjoyed were the events immediately following the slopes.

The only sensation I've encountered that rivals removing ski boots after a long day is a soul-defining, time-stopping orgasm. I still quiver thinking about it. To a lesser degree, that feeling was also realized by cozying into a warm recliner, snuggled up in a blanket with a wood-burning fireplace nearby, consuming a warm bowl of fresh chili immediately upon the return to our lodging.

After many years of being horrible, I finally got to a point where I was comfortable navigating ski runs. I found my lane, and I was happy there. Skiing became enjoyable as long as I didn't take on anything too steep, crowded, cold, or powdery. A well-groomed intermediate slope is all I needed to be happy.

I have only experienced one truly blissful day of skiing. My brother and I drove up into mountains rising out of the desert, accompanied by a few others I didn't know well. The nearest ski resort was at least 50 miles away, and we had only found this spot because we flew over it in a small Cessna not long before.

We reached a gate with a forest service symbol indicating the single-lane dirt road was closed for the season. We parked the car at a school near the gate, got out, suited up with our skis and poles, hopped the fence, and trekked up into the mountain. The snow was amazingly thick, rivaling any powder day you've ever seen in pictures or ski movies.

We continued climbing until we reached a fork in the road. The path to the right led to steep terrain with sizable cliffs and trees. The snow was untouched, and I could see my brother and those with him salivating at the thought of skiing this never before touched slope. The sun illuminated that side of the mountain. I also saw that there was no way out of the valley at the bottom of the slope, and it would require a long hike out after just one short run. That was not the route for me.

It was getting late into the afternoon, and the sun was getting lower. I knew I wasn't skilled enough to ski the steep sunny slopes to the right. I also couldn't see very far up the trail to the left as it quickly turned a corner into the shady side of the mountain. I ventured into the shadows.
Not long after I decided to head left, I began feeling very grateful for my choice. The terrain wasn't nearly as steep, and there were far fewer trees. The snow was more abundant as it never encountered direct sunlight. I could see a couple of animal tracks in a large opening ahead of me, informing me the deep powder hid no surprises.

The slope circled a bend in the range, prohibiting me from seeing where it led. I figured I had to either hike down the way I came or hike down from a lower spot on the mountain. I might as well enjoy a run before I have to hike back. I found a perch at the top of the slope and spent a good twenty minutes planning my line.

I dropped in. It was the first time I had ever enjoyed skiing in powder, and It was the first time I ever remember making tracks in the powder. A rich powder controlled my speed and ensured a comfortable pace regardless of the incline.

The run went on for what felt like an hour before I reached the bend that previously limited my view. As I began skiing through the bend, I saw what lay ahead of me: more of the same. The gentle grade, covered in thick powder, with almost no trees, was the closest thing to heaven I had yet experienced in my life. In the distance, I could see the outline of a single-story building near a road.

Twilight was setting in, preventing me from immediately recognizing the school where we had parked the car. After another 20 minutes of skiing, I could see the school clearly, and that the line I was on would allow me, quite literally, to ski into the parking lot. It was magical.

I reached the Jeep, took off my ski boots (ahhhhhhh), and went to grab some food from a nearby food joint. I knew I had time as it would have taken my brother and his friends several hours to climb out of the valley at the bottom of their run. As I was driving back to the parking lot, I could see them hiking down the trail near the closed fence. I picked them up, and we shared our stories of excellent runs.

My brother and I were busy people, and we lived in different parts of the country. Time and distance prevented us from returning to this spot. I've honestly forgotten where this spot even was, which is a shame because I would have loved for him to ski the slope that was so amazingly perfect.

It was the most incredible day of skiing I'd ever experienced. It was perfect. It also never happened.

If you had asked me yesterday about the best day of skiing ever, I would have told you this story knowing that it was true. Last night, my subconscious decided I no longer needed this false memory, this beautiful dream, to endure or thrive.

I suppose I'm not surprised learning the truth as the experience that I had cherished for so many years was so amazing it could only have been a dream.

The memory/illusion/dream was created to address the trauma experienced during my sophomore year in high school on a school ski trip to Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe. All of the key elements were present:

  • My brother was with others, and I followed them up into a slope I would have never dared attempt on my own.
  • He and his crew cut over to the right into the sun, I couldn't keep up, and it was beyond my skill level.
  • I chose to ski the run to the left, in the shady part of the mountain.
  • It did take almost an hour to get down, and I was right back in the parking lot.

The only difference between the memory and the trauma was the severity of the slope. On the actual slope, one knee sat 18 inches below the other, I was standing upright, and my knees and shoulder simultaneously touched the slope. I should have died, but I didn't. I suppose those years of lessons paid off as I traversed my way down a slope better skiers would fly over.

I am sad I didn't experience that miraculous ski day. I'm still not sure it didn't happen. It was that real to me. I am also grateful for the dream version that became my reality for so long. It's a false memory, but it's a false memory with purpose. I believe all false memories serve a similar purpose: making sense of a world that lacks it.

Symbolism filled the dream. I did choose a path not apparent to others, and it has brought me incredible peace and joy. It always leads back home, where I enjoy the comforts of connection. I've grown comfortable with my brother taking on extremes and basking the sunlight shining on him. It's a path many aspire to and which few find success. It's a path I tried to navigate for years, only to realize it wasn't my lane, and like a fish out of water, I swam so much better in the ocean.

The memory serves as a reminder of what I value the most: my individuality, pace, and people. That false memory has helped me stay in my lane, and it has done it in a way that has kept me safe. It has also taught me which those in the sunlit steeps seldom recognize - their version of success with not unilaterally recognized as meaningful.

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