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An Unusual Vision

My vision sucks. If I’d had the bad luck to have been born 30,000 years ago, a saber-toothed tiger or other beast that I couldn’t see would have hunted, chased, caught, and eaten me, snuffing out my line of defective genes before I had a chance to breed. Fortunately for my as-yet-unborn descendants, if not the rest of humanity, I exist in the age of contact lenses, and I can generally make my way around the world with little danger to myself or others.

Still, even with contacts, my vision sucks. I just don’t see things as well as other people. Distant peaks, subtle ripples in the snow indicating where to turn—they’re often lost to me. And while I agree in some ways with my friend and competition Jackson Hogen (who should be declared legally blind, if he isn’t already) that vision is a crutch, it’s a crutch I’ve come to like and depend on. I don’t know what it is, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s just something about being able to see that makes life so much more enjoyable.

Take having a good goggle day. There’s nothing like it. To go through a whole, dumping day, sweating, chilling, venting, falling, in the snow, under the snow, screaming at 40 mph over the snow, and having your goggles stay clear and unfogged as the day they were bought. No, there’s nothing like a good goggle day, especially when everyone around you is having a bad one.

I had one of those days last winter, early in the season. The temperature was a few degrees below zero, with 18 inches of new and light snow still falling. We had a ratpack going, everyone a good skier, but it was early in the year so people were still getting their ski legs, and everyone was sweating, sweating and cursing their steaming, fogged goggles. Whoever I rode the lift with fussed with their goggles, wiping them off, waving them in the air, or just plain bitching. Mine stayed clear as could be, but I didn’t say a word; like a pitcher throwing what could turn out to be a no-hitter, I knew if I said anything it would break the spell and I’d be fogged.

The whole day felt charmed. Rocks, trees, bumps, dropoffs—everything stood out in relatively sharp relief. Where my comrades struggled to see terrain variations, I slipped through with ease. There was something about being able to see when others couldn’t that seemed to enhance my vision, and I started using all the tips I’d heard about looking ahead two, three, or four turns. I remembered something Doug Coombs had said about staying in the fall line by lining up his descent with trees on the valley floor, and I tried it. For someone who has a bad habit of watching his tips and only his tips, it was a struggle. All day, I forced myself to look as far ahead as I could, keeping my eyes on where I wanted to go, not where I didn’t.

It worked. Hallelujah, brother! For once in my life, I saw the spaces, not the trees; the lines, not the obstacles. You do go where you look. Everything I’d heard was true. OK, I believe. Sign me up.

Quite a few of the stories in this issue have something to do with vision, some in overt ways, some in ways that perhaps only I can see. You know me—I dig “skiing as life” metaphors, so I’m probably looking deeper than I should. But, what the hell, they’re only ski stories; enjoy them on whatever level you want. Just remember: When you’re skiing this winter, look where you’re going…and then some.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.3, November 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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