Life in Taos seems to be strewn with fascinating serendipitous and synchronous moments, as well as tremendous opportunities for adventure. Lately, it seems as if all of it has been occurring with great frequency, and today was no exception.
I’ve been working with a particularly talented skier named Christopher over the past 6-7 years who’s soon getting ready to graduate high school. He has quite a demanding academic workload, so today was our first day riding together all season.
On a chairlift ride, I asked him what schools he’s applied to and what he intends to study. After sharing names of several schools in the local region, he named a handful of Ivy League schools, including Dartmouth, my step-father’s alma mater, to study medicine. Upon hearing this, I told him about a family friend I have here in Taos, Lloyd, who’s a medical researcher at Dartmouth and that I’d love to introduce them. While we took a lap in the steeps of West Basin, I wondered how I’d ever find myself in a position to actually make that happen.
Following our lap, back at chair #2, as we slowed our way through the lanes, I saw Lloyd working his way through to catch a chair up. We all rode together to the top. Christopher and Lloyd were able to have their introduction and share a conversation. It was a completely unexpected and unplanned meeting that happened with ease just moments after initially pondering the possibility; it seemed entirely intended to be.
Upon our goodbyes, Christopher and I proceeded to hike up and traverse across the steep rim of West Basin, sidestepping and digging in some herringbone steps to a spine line we call Bamboo. It’s a rather technical descent and the snow was punchy, thick, and sticky. Christopher’s one of the few students I work with who I trust to be able to navigate such terrain and conditions competently since it requires a high level of physical skill, focus, and intelligence, especially to ski it well. We patiently but rapidly hoped and steered from turn to turn to the middle of the spine until we came to the crest of a rather large rock ledge overlooking the gully of T-bird.
We studied the landing for a moment, judging it to be 20-25 feet down, thinking we’d save it for another time. But then, a sense came to Christopher, that he should probably do the leap now since another opportunity might not come since the snow can change so rapidly. I thought I’d ski down and set up to take photos and rest an aching hip, but then came to the sense myself that I should follow suit and leap it, realizing the landing would be fairly cushioned. We both dropped it, one after another, hooting and hollering with exhilarated joy before tracking some bouncy turns down through the lower aprons extending out of T-Bird and Cuervo.
Despite my relatively seasoned experience, I still get some butterflies in the pit of my stomach before I huck a rock or cliff or ski a steep, tight, technical line at speed. But I breathe in and out slowly, relax my body, and look out around me, taking in the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. I visually line up and intuitively feel out my take off and landing spots, back up to create some space in which to push off and skate for some speed, prep my body to anticipate the dynamics of shifting alignment from launch to landing, and say a brief prayer. This takes all of 5-10 seconds and then just go for it and do it without further thought.
There’s a moment when I’m beginning my leap that I ask myself, “what in the world am I getting myself into?” But that thought quickly evaporates and becomes a dualistic out-of-body experience balanced with full-body presence in which trained instincts kick in. While the experience happens almost instantaneously, with repetition and experience, the strange and scary sensation of falling at a high rate of speed and expectation of a pounding thump seemingly shifts to a sensation of floating with the sense of time slowing down with anticipation of moving forward into fast flowing turns upon impact.
I feel fortunate for the abilities to be able to experience life in this way, and I'm grateful to be able to work with such a young talent and a kindhearted, good, quality young man. Sharing experiences with him like those today remind me of the joy in shared experience. And it's through those shared experiences that I most often feel gifted with moments of serendipity and adventure. They make for beautiful and ecstatic experiences and I’m grateful for them in my life.