The Mountain Times

°F Mon, April 21, 2014

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Praying for Snow

I'm not what you'd call a religious man, but I'll pray for snow.

For most people living in the United States today, the weather is a topic of conversation and not much more. It is no longer central to our lives, no longer the major determinant of our fates. We won't freeze, and we won't starve. We can go to Alaska in January and still buy fresh kiwis and pineapples.

We live in homes with heating and (sometimes) air conditioning; most of us work indoors. Many Americans touch fresh air only for a few moments each day, between home and car, car and office. We don't live in the world so much as we live inside ourselves - a modern state of affairs that does get shattered from time to time, usually by the jolting force of a natural disaster.

In an awfully frivolous way, being a skier can return you to a more primitive relationship with the world. What happens in the atmosphere matters again. The sport sends us back to a time when all we could do was look up at the sky and say: please, please, please.

I know that skiing is just another unimportant, fun activity that privileged people get to do. I just think it's interesting how, among all the sports I play, skiing is the only one capable of reminding me that there's an entire earth out there, beyond my brain, my body, my laptop, my home, my neighborhood. There is a planet performing spectacular feats: wind, fog, snow, sleet, rain (preferably not), stuff my ancestors experienced.

I don't want this to be another one of those articles typed in the warming glow of a computer screen by a writer bent on convincing people that contemporary life is somehow inauthentic and that we should "get back to nature" by purchasing expensive recreational experiences or whatever. I like contemporary life (of which skiing, if we're really lucky, is a part), and besides, it's all we've got; whatever else there once was can't truly be retrieved. I like not having to worry that if the potato crop dies, so will my family. I like my self-centered electronic universe.

But we all need the occasional interruption. Snow is such a nice interruption.
We've seen or performed jokey snow dances, but in reality, there's nothing we can do to make it happen. We can only hope. This sense of helplessness is, I think, one of the essential human feelings, and probably the one that people today are least inclined to accept. After all, we run this planet, right? Where there's a will, there's a way; where there's a problem, there's a technology, current or forthcoming, to fix it. Impotence doesn't fit into our worldview.
And, well, yes, there's manmade snow, and the better ski resorts will craft an acceptable product even without any blizzards to help them out - though, still, the snow guns don't work unless the temperature is low enough. So we're still dependent on Mother Nature. We don't control it. And it's for this reason that the problem of snow - will it come? - is both intensely irritating and vaguely purifying: we can acknowledge that we're powerless, throw up our hands, and just hope for something good.

There is, I believe, a natural urge in us to do this, as evidenced by (for example) professional sports, where, as fans, we deliberately hitch our dreams to something completely outside ourselves, a series of events upon whose outcome we can have no effect whatsoever, unless we somehow buy the team, or - to return mid-sentence to the previous issue - singlehandedly stop all further carbon emissions, which obviously isn't going to happen.

We want to have a reason to pray.

Snow is not a reward for hard work or merit. It's just a blessing, randomly bestowed, without meaning. It's one of those things that have nothing to do with me or you. These are the things - more than anything we've earned or deserve - that, I suspect, make life good. It's the stuff we want when we're tired and humble and asking for the right things. I just want snow. Please, please, please.