RealSkiers: On Roundness
Gad Valley, Snowbird. (Realskiers)
In the White World of the mountains, every line is a curve. The innocents who proudly announce that they straight-lined such-and-such a slope fail to observe that every inch of their descent described an arc through space. (Through time as well, but let's not complicate matters any further for now.) Once atop a mountain, the instant you step into gravity's stream you go from standing on a dot to standing on a curve.
The awareness that you move in a universe defined by curvature should influence your movements. As you respond to the rhythm of roundness that is the pulse of the mountain, you become the curvature you create. Being and doing dissolve into one another when you occupy the still center of the curve.
Once you learn to balance in the center of the arc, your mind no longer needs to fret about line or trajectory or edge angle as all are determined below the level of consciousness. Now your mental mischief-maker can absorb the advantages of the mountain's rare air, a clarity it won't find in the un-White World, a refreshing absence of clutter, a filter over the static that normally preoccupies the mind. The air at 8,000 feet isn't thin, it's rich, it's the elixir, the invisible tonic that drops scales from the eyes and unchains shackles from possibility.
We would add that the air is also free, but it's not. Yes, it's just air and you won't get a bill for it, but you will have to earn it. The air alone won't free a preoccupied mind that is buzzing with the everyday interference that keeps us from accessing our best selves. It has to enter more than just your lungs; it has to infuse all of you, and for that to happen you must disappear into the moment where doing and being meld.
To pass through the portal where roundness hangs its hat, you have to leave your baggage behind. Remember the primacy of the idea: as long as you think about something you draw power to it, just as it pulls power from you. But your mind can't be in two places at once when you really need it to be no place at all. All distractions need to be dumped in a sealed compartment so the blank mind can focus on the path ahead. Your body will perform amazing feats if given a chance, but it has no chance if you aren't centered, calm and, in a way, empty-minded. When you're the calm center, you'll have all the time and space you need to stay round.
The antipode to roundness is the right angle, the square, the grid; all iconic shapes of the un-White World. We have to leave the world of boxes behind if we are to step into the natural, cyclic flow of the White World, where gravity's stream roars silently. In the White World, the inflexible formality of the square is replaced with the ineffable fractals -the indefinable edges - of trees and snowflakes. You are in the world of curvature.
Roundness is never rounder than when it's a funnel, the continuous swirl we ride as we carve down the mountain. The swirl is Yin and Yang in motion, a vortex that echoes every significant cycle in nature, from the growth pattern of leaves to the emanations of light itself. When water vapor refracting in the air allows us to see the energy streaming from the sun, the image that we see is a circle, the indivisible, geometric manifestation of light's perfection. The rainbow also serves to remind us that light follows the path of the vortex, the turn without end.
Wherever we are on the mountain, whenever we step into gravity's stream, we open a portal into the continuous flow of the vortex. The motions of galaxies, hurricanes and whirlpools obey the same mathematics that we engage when we join the stream, following where the current leads. To truly become part of a stream, you, too, must be liquid; then you and the cadence of the mountain will be one. Its power will be yours, the power of feeling an incorruptible connection with the vortex, of being not just in the flow, like a rock in the stream, but of the flow, a minute section of the larger circle.
Stepping into the flow doesn't mean you must descend with the acceleration of a particle in a cyclotron. To manage speed while still finding the flow, change your frequency to a faster beat, tighten your wavelength until you again attain equilibrium with the current. You'll know you're there when the sensation of gravity disappears and you become inseparable from the stream. Like a small craft in a powerful river, the shore flies by, but in relation to the rushing water, you're still.
When we float silently in the stream, we move with its rhythm, following the geometry of the mountain. As students of cymatics know, geometry and music are intrinsically bound: every elemental structure in nature knows its own note, just as all notes are the shapes they generate. When we ski, with each curve we cut, we make a note; with each run, a musical passage. We become the crystals that seek and find the shape of a particular vibration.
To make music, a fiddler needs a violin, and a skier needs a ski. A ski is a remarkable instrument, created with its own innate sense of curvature. The ski's contribution to a carved turn - locked within its sidecut - can only be released by the skier's application of edge angle on one axis and sufficient pressure to bend the ski along a perpendicular axis. The resulting turn shape can be altered within the more-than-sufficient 0-to-90 degree range of ski edge angle to the snow available to the skier. If you know your ski, you should be able to make any kind of music you want.
To coin a fresh oxymoron, the point of roundness is the more complete the arc, the more the ski sings. By holding onto the curvature, loading the ski up with pressure in the belly of the turn redirects lateral forces and drives your boards forward on an unwavering arc. Try not to blur the notes: don't let gravity's force leak to the side but stick it on the line, the pure note of your trajectory. When you bury the ski in the belly of the turn, you load the arrow, filling the ski with the energy to rip the bottom of the turn and carry you effortlessly into the next.
We ride a curved tool on a curved slope as part of a larger cycle that feeds us to the top of the gravity stream so we can ride it down, in essence filling our gravity account with every ascent and draining it with every splurge downhill. To find our favorite forms of gravity-fed roundness we often resort to those shallow curves we call traverses, and so we shall, as we head off to Mineral Basin and the Sunday Cliffs.
As you travel along the Path to Paradise, maintain your momentum and keep an eye out to your right just after you pass the first entry to White Diamonds. A sudden, upwards diagonal track marks the start of the Bookends Traverse, which you will follow all the way to the short uphill jag known as the Hillary Step. Now you're looking into The Bookends, which sounds like the end of the trail, but just beyond lies the sweet, low-angle pitch of the Sunday Cliffs where, after a northwest storm has deposited a 10-inch blanket of fluffulescence, roundness resides.
Before you push off, align your skis with the fall line, sticking your tails in the snow behind you to hold you in place in gravity's stream. Feel the cadence of the hill ahead and let it infuse you. See yourself at the bottom; time travel a few moments ahead to when you are roundness, your self synonymous with your trajectory. See roundness informed by flow in your mind, hit your trigger and go.
To instantly find your roundness, maintain a quiet core, the center of a pendulum that swings your feet side to side. You'll know your inner metronome is connected to the mountain when time expands, when the moment becomes elastic and you disappear into the spaces between notes. There is no turn to fight, for you are the turn, its geometry and its music. While there is an effort tax for achieving such transcendence, it's minimal compared to the tariff for fighting the flow.
The only demerits to a descent down Sunday Cliffs are that the pitch declines too soon, and if you chase the last ounce of energy you'll be looking up at your only way out. So we advise that you milk each moment, elongate the present, luxuriate in the life force you were somehow blessed to receive. The vanity of ego evaporates as feeling supplants thinking in the wheelhouse that governs intent. All thought of skiing itself, any chattering, internal babble about mechanics, are muffled by the ecstasy of a moment that stretches far enough to touch the eternal.
In the silence of the White World, you can hear the call of your inner voice. Presence in the moment provides the sanctuary where being can hear a chord of purpose that was struck at birth and perhaps not heard since. When you join the flow on the Sunday Cliffs, you'll discover that with awareness comes joy. Indeed, every time you open the door to gravity's stream, you have a fresh opportunity to find the cadence of the hill, to re-create while you recreate, to match action and transcendence in an energy field where the shortest distance between two points is a curve.