The biting wind burns my cheeks, butterflies dance in my tummy and adrenaline courses through my veins as I dig in my edges to stop and catch my breath. I’ve just made my way down the beginning of Le Grand Couloir, one of the most notorious black runs in the heart of The Three Valleys in France; the largest ski area in the world. I’ve attempted to snow plough down the initial stretch, a narrow ridge flanked by two equally hair raising drops on either side. My legs ache from maintaining the huge pizza slice shape of a wide snow plough. My upper body is twisted upwards to face the mountain in an effort to waylay the descent, and ensure that the ensuing fall is more likely to be up than down.
Le Grand Couloir is a piste that strikes fear into the heart of many skiers and boarders, and I am no exception. The clue is in the name as to the nature of this slope: Having completed the approach, a narrow, steep and ungroomed corridor of moguls stretches out before me. The only way is down. I take a deep breath and, clutching my poles, horizontally traverse the slope as far as I can. Being ungroomed, the moguls are the size of small minivans and I end up clumsily side slipping over them to avoid turning. When I finally steel myself for the inevitable turn I find myself lurching clumsily from one mogul to the next, my legs aching from trying desperately to regain control before beginning the whole fiasco again.
I used to prefer the smoother blue, green and red runs, where I could cruise along the crisp white snow, taking in the stunning alpine vistas and enjoying the clean mountain air. Or I’d glide down pretty alpine paths, surrounded by snow-clad pine trees and the hush of deep winter – or simply enjoy the adrenaline rush of speed. Black runs are hard work, a challenge to overcome the fear and an affront to my technique.
I take a break where I join the red run Combe Saulire and look back to admire the steep, seemingly indominatable narrow couloir of moguls I have finally descended. My legs shake like jelly from the exertion. I know I will feel the aches in my body later. But I am elated that I’ve actually made it. This elation ignites in me a passion for skiing Le Grand Couloir and its like, but also a desire to descend these challenging runs with more elegance and grace. I recognise I need a teacher to help me improve my technique and ski moguls with more aplomb.
The next time this fiendishly difficult black run stretches out before me I’m apprehensive but full of hope that my instructor will impart some insights to help my descent become slightly more elegant. He suggests that I look at the mogul field and follow the way that water would go. I survey the piste in front of me and see the first few turns in my mind’s eye that the water would take. I proceed to take my turns as I imagined, my skis now pointing downhill, my turns closer together. I only do a couple of turns before coming to a halt but soon realise that it’s easier to keep the flow going, no matter how slow. I find myself enjoying the challenge of following the flow of water and begin to approach my turns with joyful anticipation rather than apprehension.
The imagery of this technique is enormously useful to me; not only for skiing, but also in life. Instead of water, I think of love. What way would love choose? Of course I recognise that ‘I’ don’t know what way love would choose. That is a ridiculous suggestion, for ‘I’ am not love. I acknowledge that I am a jumble of emotional, mental, physical and soul bodies, all vying for attention.
But I do aspire to be love.
I am so graced to feel this divine presence inside me which is love, and when I ask my inner Beloved the way, well, the way often becomes clear. Or at least less hazy. I make it sound easy, but I don’t find it so. I have a terrible tendency to forget to ask, and then my mind attempts to choose the ‘right’ way and I find myself in a pickle of indecision. But I so love it when I do remember and the ‘true’ way becomes more apparent. Much like taking a smoother turn on a black run, it’s an easier ride.
Often when I ask, an obvious way doesn’t appear. This can be frustrating. I’m coming to learn that, much like snow melt blocked by a rock may have to wait for a greater volume of water to join it before bursting over the top or having the force to go round; I need to reach in to my Beloved and connect with more love for the way to appear.
A tingle of excitement shivers through my body as I survey the corridor of moguls that is Le Grand Couloir. I breathe deeply and ask my inner Beloved to help me see and feel the flow as I descend. Seeing the first turn ahead of me in my mind’s eye I glide slowly towards my chosen mogul and complete my turn as smoothly as possible. I have an idea of where my second turn will be but I recognise that this may change as I try to keep the flow. I’m loving the sense of fluidity, the feeling of being fully present to the needs of the current movement, yet primed for the next. My heart bursts with gratitude for being gifted the opportunity to feel this awesome sensation.
Now, I’m not deluded. My technique has vast room for improvement and I’m still far from being a pro. I aspire to ski with so much more grace and flow. However I do feel my style is becoming more fluid, my movements a touch more graceful and that using this imagery, I continue to improve.
As the pull of gravity lures water down that black mogul field, into rivulets, streams and rivers towards the sea, my Beloved is also luring me. I am beginning to find that when I partake in this game of catching the love and following the flow, this black mogul field called life, becomes so much more fun.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. I look forward to hearing your feedback. Thank you!