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  • Writer's pictureJessica McQuistin

The Bittersweet Bliss of Falling in Love With a Seasonal Sport (Cross-Country Skiing)

Do you see beauty in heartbreak? I am beginning to see loss as a revelatory force, opening our eyes to the depths of passion that lay hidden in our hearts, too powerful to be felt on a regular basis.

Am I being dramatic? Well, yes...But I'm also being completely honest. I think our day-to-day lives could use a little more romance. More longing. More moments of exuberant bliss. And with that comes inevitable heartbreak when what we love passes away, as everything eventually does...Yet, to live fully, perhaps we ought to fall in love as often as humanly possible!

I'm not referring to romantic love between two people necessarily, but rather falling in love with life itself and its various elements.

You see, this winter I rediscovered a long-lost joy that I will never ever spend another winter without (at least not until my body refuses to cooperate). And that is: cross-country skiing.

So as I look out the window and witness the melting of the snow, the gradual reappearance of sidewalks and brownish grass and puddles, it occurs to me that every season has its fall. Winter is falling away right before my eyes and I can't help feeling like I never got the chance to say goodbye.

I'm trying to recall the last time I skied this season, not knowing it would be my last ski of the season. With Mother Nature, you can never really know at what precise moment she's going to turn on her heels. She holds the cards; and the mystery of it all reminds me that there are forces far beyond my control. Beyond all of our control. I find this immensely comforting and welcome these reminders: the snow days, the heat waves, the torrential downpours...How wonderful to be so small and powerless in the face of nature.

As a farewell and "until we meet again" to my beloved skis, here are a few of the things I have learned from and appreciated the most from my skiing adventures this winter.

1. Beginner's Mind

I really fumbled in some of my first attempts at skiing! One day I tried to ski around the neighbourhood in very deep fresh snow and let's just say I learned why snowshoes were invented. I also learned that wax works better when it's not frozen stiff, that there are right- and left-foot skis, and wipe-outs are usually worth it, though they can often be avoided by respecting the terrain you're skiing on and your limitations as a newbie skier. Even when I was having a pretty horrible experience on my skis, I was filled with giddiness at all the discoveries I was making along the way!

2. The Seasonality of Skiing

Having only a short window of time in which to enjoy this activity, and only so many decent weather days (not too freezing cold, enough snow no the ground, etc.), I was highly motivated to get out and ski whenever I could. The scarcity of good skiing days only made each one more precious.

3. The Ever-Changing Conditions

I had wildly different experiences on different days, even though I was often returning to the same trail with the same pair of skis. The weather conditions changed everything! Powdery snow cushioned the ground so that I could experiment and get comfortable going down bigger hills somewhat safely, whereas super slippery days gave me an opportunity to work on my balance, sticking to flatter terrain.

4. Effort, Ease and Exhilaration

From moments of working up a sweat as I laboriously clomped up a giant hill, to moments of sheer exhilaration as I sped downward, unable to suppress a "Woohoo!", to moments of effortless gliding through the forest that left me speechless, skiing showed me the beauty of the contrast between effort, ease and exhilaration. In life, I am quite familiar with effort but I will continue looking for more opportunities for both exhilaration and ease.

5. Quadrupedal Movement

There is something empowering about moving quadrupedally (using all four limbs). The first few times I went skiing, it was as if I was discovering my arms for the first time! My ski poles gave me ape arms and for once, my arms were as much of a power source as my legs, propelling me forward and helping me not to slip backwards when negotiating tricky up-hill climbs. Tapping into and building my upper-body strength has brought me a sense of full-body balance, as I tend to favour using my lower body strength. I will try to incorporate more upper-body exercises going forward but I can't imagine that any of them will be as rewarding as skiing!

6. Winter Wonderland

I always feel most at peace, most energized and most myself when I'm in nature and skiing gave me a wonderful reason to get outside and into the forest more often this winter. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

7. Family Connections

A highlight of this winter was skiing with my mom, who I used to ski with frequently a few decades ago, back when we lived near a golf course with ski trails in Lively, Ontario. Also, knowing that both of my grandmothers enjoyed cross-country skiing, this activity makes me feel somehow closer to them or like I'm carrying on a family tradition. What can I say? I was born to ski!

Though I'm sad to hang up my skis until next year, I'm deeply grateful to have found this activity that made me fall in love with winter all over again. And who knows...In an attempt to fall as deeply in love with spring, maybe, just maybe, this will be the year that I learn to ride a bike!

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