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The Power of a Face Shot

Dolores LaChappelle, quoting the Zen-masters, called it “the fullness of the void.” Countless sports psychologists refer to it as “the zone.” Lately, I’ve been thinking of it as a state of grace.

I’m referring, of course to that moment in time (or space-time, if you prefer) when you feel at one with the universe, when time and thought lose their context and meaning and the only thing that matters is sensation. When the internal gyroscope is humming. When you’re exactly where you need to be and the concept of someplace else doesn’t even exist.

Grace. For some it’s a spiritual concept, for others not at all. I don’t know much about God or Allah or Mother Nature or Gaia or Zen, and if I thought I did I certainly wouldn’t bring it up here. Nevertheless, there’s something about the idea of grace in both the spiritual sense of being at one with your maker and in the physical sense of purity, efficiency, and aesthetics that seems to me to describe that slice of time with incredible accuracy. It’s a feeling of being connected to both large and small and knowing you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

There are many ways to feel grace in skiing, but for me the purest is when I’m powder skiing. Specifically, when I’m deep powder skiing, and even more specifically when I’m just reaching the bottom of a turn and the snow has billowed over my head in a curtain of white and gray and I’m protected by a neck gaiter pulled up over my mouth and fog-free goggles over my eyes and I’m completely beyond thought or cares. I’ve made my subtle leg motion to roll the skis from one direction to the next, and now I’m just following them deeper and deeper into the snow, almost weightless, muscles relaxed, waiting quietly for the resistance of snow to build beneath the skis. Sight and sound have become irrelevant and I know where I’m going and what I’m doing with my whole body like having one giant sense instead of five.

It took a lot of travel and countless hours of dreaming before I finally experienced skiing like that, skiing in snow so deep, light, and soft that it was truly bottomless, and when I at last felt it, it changed my skiing forever. I’ll always judge snow—and skiing—by that standard. Furthermore, where I was once only mildly rabid about powder, I am now obsessed with finding more of those beautiful, transcendent, deep-snow moments.

When you consider how rare and fleeting those moments, it’s funny, or maybe ironic, how much time I spend chasing after them. The days, weeks, months spent thinking, talking, and writing about powder skiing…and all for something that at its best can be measured in minutes. And yet, that’s testament to the power of powder, of the deepest powder: that a face shot can last a second, but the thrill can last a lifetime

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.2, October 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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