One insight that skiing bestowed on me arrived courtesy of a young Scandinavian Valkyrie named Sigrid.

She taught me “an athletic stance”—my body weight evenly divided between balls of my feet and my heels, legs set shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, pelvis tilted somewhat up, my overall posture aimed at embodying (and thus nurturing) a calm confidence.

But my path toward adopting her stance hit a rough patch.

In my first attempt to stand upright and unmoving on cross-country skis, I’d leaned too far forward. I over-compensated on my next try by tilting my body too far back. Both efforts resulted in ungainly flops that tangled my limbs, poles and skis in a flailing knot, lightly frosted by sprinkles of churned-up snow.

Sigrid didn’t laugh, thank Odin. However, she could not hide a smile. Now, some four decades on, I myself am able to both smile and laugh about such a humiliating start. Whereas, way back when, all I could do was blush with embarrassment while muttering cuss words under my breath.

Since then, I’ve come to understand that skiing’s sweet spot is staying focused on the present moment. Avidly. To lean too far forward is like being too concerned about the future. Leaning too far back is like being captivated by the past. A full presence in the present is required to find your balance. That’s your starting point to win any true success at this sport.

In other words, the athletic posture is also a psychological one.


I most recently skied on the morning of February 28 at Kirkwood in the Sierra Nevada range. Temperature was in the mid-20s, the air was dead calm, the great arch of the vast sky glowed a deep sapphire blue, and I stood third in line as a lift at the Cornice Express chair tugged back the rope barrier and beckoned us forward.

As I floated uphill on this lift, I saw that the black-diamond Zachary Run had been freshly groomed all the way up to the 9,000-foot summit ridge, and I mentally mapped out the line I intended to take. I had on new boots, helmet, goggles and socks. My skis were old Fischer Big Stix, but they’d been freshly tuned by Helm of Sun Valley techs in San Mateo. I slid off the chair, then off the lip of the run, and proceeded to sashay at high speed all the way back down to the base.

On my next run, I duplicated those turns but flopped their pattern over to complete my carve of a long string of figure-8s into the steep, groomed surface. This created what a friend of mine dubs, “squiggles for giggles”—which, if they’re executed with any reasonable precision— resemble a blueprint for DNA molecules. It’s a way to tag a signature on a slope.

Of course, such artwork naturally gets erased within minutes, if not seconds, by tracks of a mob of other skiers. Yet for a while the graffitum says: Kilroy Was Here.

Then I happily completed the remainder of my outing, methodically circling the mountain till I reached the Sunrise lift and Kirkwood’s fabulous back side. After 2.5 hours of ceaseless scooting, my thighs informed me they felt toasted quite adequately, thanks so much. Skis upon my shoulder, I toddled back to my lodging. I ate a hot soup lunch, indulged in a nap. After I got up, I spent all the rest of that afternoon and evening working on my writing.

I believe a bout of great exercise can often lead to a fairly decent round of mental exertion. Looking for a good writing tip? There you go.


My ski career has caromed all the heck over the place. Favorite episodes include several nordic (cross-country) ski races, efforts at hucking off cornices and other high points, ski mountaineering from and to summits such as the peaks of Lassen and Shasta, devising lengthy snow-camping expeditions, and achieving a pair of ski treks across the Sierra.

A prolonged drive to attain fresh skills also took me off-piste to forested glades, down chutes and into terrain parks. However, that was way back then and this is now.

As mentioned, once on skis, one had best live in a present moment. And my present level of physicality bears scant resemblance to a prior roster of more robust assets. Rather than seek fresh horizons and push myself toward any greater level of skill, a main aim now is: to lose my capability somewhat more slowly than I might’ve otherwise.

In other words, my top goal in any ski foray today is to forestall or delay my long march into decrepitude. Oh, upon occasion, I might still try to see if I can match or exceed the speed and technique of another skier. Yet, “at my back I always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” And that’s the marvelous competitor I’m actually trying to keep ahead of.

So, I now longer charge at the hard stuff. With such ability as I retain, I seek to spin my wisps of straw into gold on steep groomers. The very last thing I wish to do is inflict some fresh trauma on my already long-suffering body. Nowadays, it just takes too effen bloody long to heal. And once healing lurches underway, I won’t be able to ski, or surf, or run, or hunt, or kayak, or whatever. And I simply don’t have much time on tap to loiter around, hoping that capability shall, once again, magically reappear.

Thus, I don’t go for big jumps to see if I’m able to land them; and I no longer try to master crappy conditions just to prove that I can.

Instead, on bluebird days, I try to tour mountain slopes as soon as they open, and chase the warming sunlight from run to run, hunting for untouched surfaces that embrace my ski edges with a compliant whisper, that enable smooth, nearly frictionless turns, and transform any run into a phenom resembling flight.

When that works, it’s like riding a high-performance motorcycle through the twisties of a mountain canyon road, yet with no muttering machine between my legs required. Or soaring through clouds without the bothersome encumbrance of an airplane. In fact, when done right, your skis and boots and poles vanish and all that remains is simply vision, thought, and freedom of movement…through a snow-bleached arena…past a still and watching forest…in the cold, spicy air…on and ever onward into a pure exhilaration.


But at the same time, whilst joyously zooming along at warp speed, you must stay aware of the possibility that everything could turn to total shit in about half a heartbeat.

Just as entrepreneur, showman, and politician (back then, a rare mix) Sonny Bono found out when he skied headlong into a tree at the top of the Orion run at Heavenly Mountain Resort on January 5, 1998.

I’ve studied that very tree. In fact, I once recommended to a marketing exec of the resort that they bolt a bronze memorial plaque permanently onto its trunk. He lifted both eyebrows while informing me that that was an utterly ridiculous idea.

For those who might require a further cluing-in, Sonny Bono made most of his fame performing with a 2nd wife (out of a bevy of 4), Cherilyn Sarkisian, otherwise known as Cher, in a TV show that won a pair of short runs: one before and another after they got divorced. Sonny’s main theatrical schtick was playing an inept nebish. Her job was acting like a shrewd and neutering harpy. Might’ve been type-casting in both cases, but Sonny appeared to be a particularly snug fit for his role.

After Sonny’s death, it was revealed he’d suffered for years from a major pain-pill popping prob—with oxycontin. A resultant case of mental fog might help to explain how he managed to nail that innocent tree, standing so passive and still at a fork in his path. “Umm… go left… no, right… um, wait … WHAP!”

As Hamlet might’ve said, “’Tis a consummation devoutly to be unwished.”

Which is why, whenever I’m out skiing, if any thought of poor ol’ Sonny’s fate happens to cross my mind, I don’t dismiss it out of hand. Particularly if I’m in hot pursuit of those last ribbons of untouched snow that tend to linger to either side of a groomed run. Most skiers tend to shy away from these last groovy strips, since they might tempt one to go far too fast a bit too close to the trees. I don’t shy away; I head right at ‘em. Yet with consummate care.

I have a pair of maxims that guide me in any activity that offers an element of risk. The first is: I don’t wish my last thought to be, “Boy, that sure was dumb…” And the second is like unto it: “The edge is where you put it.”

To explain the latter motto: I hope to own a second or two to recover from some unexpected jolt due to an icy clot or a snagged ski or a skid on slush or any other temporary dip in control. I don’t ski those ribands as absolutely hard or fast as I can. Meaning, I slot my performing edge a certain distance back from the actual edge. I award myself a chance to respond to surprises.

Even so. No matter how much harmless fun you seem to think you’re having, somehow, somewhere, a piper always awaits—perhaps in the shadows behind a tree—to collect his due. And right here for you now is another writing or storytelling tip. You might hide a Bogeyman, but you’ll never be able to eliminate him.


I’m aware that every act in my giddy snow play occurs within an overall context of a warming planet, of vanishing glaciers, of crumbling ice sheets, starving polar bears, bizarre weather disasters, shrinking and shifting and vanishing habitats, widening deserts, threatened famines, increasingly endangered species (including us), etc.

Look around, and sometimes it seems as if the snow globes of our future shall hold nothing but a heap of pale ashes.

All the carbon I burn to ascend to the slopes—and fuel that groomers burn to make smooth my path—inflicts direct harm on the very winter wonderland that I drive all the way up here to enjoy. The word “irony” doesn’t seem to quite cover it. However, “hypocrisy” just might.

In my own threadbare defense, I can claim I’ve curtailed much of my driving and done other things to shrink my personal carbon footprint. For example, after running the Grand Canyon for my 50th birthday, I hung up my whitewater paddle—feeling I could no longer justify the long drives required to venture down lovely wild rivers. Instead, I turned my paddling urges toward sea kayak racing on nearby waters of San Francisco Bay.

I’m also aware that many ski areas and companies have announced “carbon-neutral” programs, investing in supposedly green remedies to balance their energy consumption. And if you believe that solves our problem, then I have some cybercurrency options I’d like to sell you. They’re called BSBytes. During capitalism’s late phase, they ought to end up being coin of the realm.

What we truly need is wholesale reduction of non-critical carbon-burning in general. Perhaps elimination of carbon-based rec activity in particular would be a fine place to start. Why automobile and powerboat and snowmobile races thrash on unabated is way past my ken. Let alone, vehicle demolition derbies or smog-belching tractor-pulls…

Perhaps we’ve been so opiated by deluges of advertising and fantasy films, as well as pointless, idiotic and ungrounded narratives, that we’re no longer keen about staying awake to our true situation? Is most of human civilization now engaged in making a Bono-headed move? Are we like small, self-obsessed dinosaurs lounging on a sundeck, sipping our cocktails by the hellish light of an incoming asteroid?

All excellent questions to ponder.

Do I consider such things while I soar down a slope, savor cool alpine air, and admire the elastic response of my shapely thighs? No, I assure you, I do not. Before and after, yes, but certainly not during. And in that way, I’m a fine fit with many of my fellows. Why be a sour old prude? Everyone needs a little Vitamin F—i.e. Fun—in life. What if we just take care of ourselves, while letting the future take care of itself, eh?

 And as is so often true, it’s all a bunch more fun if you don’t think too hard about what you’re really up to.

I offer this as a final writing tip in the column. Call it a character-building exercise. Nope, strike that. We should call it a character-constructing one. Please allow me to ask: How well do you set up your characters with blinders, helping them to conceal portions of their truth? Meaning, of course, those characters you write about. Not you, yourself. Or me. Certainly not!