Last week, I cleaned out my locker at ski school and returned my uniform. Yesterday, the mountain closed to the public for the year. Today was Employee Appreciation Day: the employees get the mountain to ourselves for the morning, and then there is a barbecue, and then we all leave and don't come back until next year.
Everywhere else in the world, the coming of spring is a time of celebration. The grays and browns of winter give way to spring's profusion of colors. Leaves return to the trees. We put away the long-sleeved shirts and bring out the t-shirts and revel in the feeling of the sun on our arms. When I lived in the Northeast, when spring finally came, people went insane.
In a mountain town, spring's arrival is bittersweet. It's always a little sad when the lifts stop spinning. All winter long, I revel in the cold. Now it is warm, and the snow is melting, and soon all the other local mountains will close, and I will put the skis and boards away for the summer, stash the jackets and gloves, and go do other things. Every year, the person on the other side of those actions feels a bit foreign to the person I was in the winter. It's like, a couple of moment's ago, I was the guy bundled in the green jacket, wearing a balaclava and tight hard plastic boots. I was that guy almost every single day. Now, I'm not. So who am I?
Perhaps oddly, I don't particularly feel this way when my other sports' seasons come to an end. I don't clean off my mountain bike after the last ride of the year and feel like some part of me has ceased to be. I wonder what the difference is. A guess: there is no feeling quite like being on the mountain in winter. A snow-covered mountain is least hospitable to human visitation, asks for our presence the least, and so is at its most powerful. Sure, with our ski-lifts and technical clothing and of course the boards we strap to our feet that allow us to slide, we have largely overcome the mountain's resistance to our presence, but still. When I stand on a winter mountain, covered against the cold, the sun low-angled to the south, the shadows long and diffuse in the wan light of winter, I feel my nostrils sting as I breathe in the cold air, and when I breathe, I breathe in the mountain's power, and I am humbled.