Make Every Slope Count
I’ve tried to avoid thinking about writing during this holiday. But today I failed and the day on the ski slopes sparked an idea about making the simple moments in life count.
You can imagine a ski resort as a giant park. The paths and trails that go down the mountain are the runs the skiers ski. There are also paths up the mountain, chairlifts and gondolas, which skiers ride to their next run.
The runs have different levels of difficulty. Green runs are the easiest, blue and red runs are harder, black runs harder still, and double-black runs are for experts only. Most skiers pick runs according to their skill level.
But sometimes, to get from one place to another, you have to ski a run you wouldn’t normally take. Today, for example, to get from where I was skiing in the morning, on the back views of Iwatake, to lunch from my favourite Soup Stock outlet, I had to ski two very easy green runs.
Sometimes you see advanced skiers doing this, and they aren’t really trying. I’ve done it as well. Just head straight down the hill, avoiding the beginners, both poles in one hand, like a commuter making their way through a busy train station.
You Don’t Ski The Slopes Every Day
But the thing about skiing is you never really get to do much of it. Most skiers measure their opportunity to ski every year in hours and days.
If you met someone who jogged or went to the gym 15 times a year, you probably wouldn’t think of them as gym junkies or jogging freaks. But someone who manages to ski 15 days a year is certainly a ski bunny. Few skiers make it to 20 days a year.
You get only a few runs a day and a few days a year. That makes each run precious. And yet so many skiers waste runs.
Lately, I’ve taken to watching the really good skiers who don’t waste runs. Sometimes they use the gentler slope to practise their technique. Maybe they make big, wide, carving turns, or short technical turns. It can be harder to maintain momentum skiing slowly on a gentle slope. Or they do one-legged turns, which are great for honing your feel for the skis.
They don’t waste the run.
Making Time To Play
A few years ago, I had a lesson with a French instructor called Alexis. We were working on skiing the kind of bumpy, inconsistent conditions you sometimes get a few days after fresh soft snow has been skied over multiple times. We were on a mountain where the most challenging runs for this were connected by a couple of fairly easy slopes. What Alexi got me to do was ski along the very edge of the those runs, the ridges between the slope and the trees. That area is often a real mix of conditions, a prefect warm-up practice for the kind of thing we were looking to ski. And skiing the ridge also limits your options, narrowing the line, forcing you to deal with whatever comes, and make quick decisions.
But most importantly of all, he encouraged me to ski the ridge playfully, to enjoy the challenge, to treat it like juggling a ball, or playing it a yo-yo, to make it fun.
I did that today between the fast intermediate run I skied I the morning and the black diamond run I was going to ski to take me down to the carpark before heading home. The beginner slopes had untracked powder on either side and were a perfect playground to warm up for more challenging ungroomed run I would end the day with.
I’m Not Saying Hustle And Grind
You can probably guess where we’re going here. Life is short. Sometimes we’re tempted to just phone it in. Get something done. And, in doing so, we might waste the opportunity to challenge our skills or savour the moment.
I get it. Sometimes we just have to assemble a meal even if doesn’t turn out all that special. Or we just have to make it to the bus stop in time and can’t stop to smell the flowers or take in the sunset.
Sometimes we just ski down the run to get to the next place.
I don’t want to set impossible standards. We can hurt ourselves by trying to maximise every experience. Living that way, there’s a lot of pressure and potential for anxiety. For ourselves and those around us.
My yearly theme in 2023 was “savour”. It was a helpful idea to explore. But I couldn’t savour every moment. Some things life throws at us are not tasty. Some experiences we just have to survive.
We all know the tendency in the world of creativity, productivity, and self-help to promote an ideal of maximising life. Creators desperate to feed the content machine push out articles and videos about their hyper-complex morning routines, or their super intricate note-taking systems, or just the way they seem to live every moment of life looking and feeling perfect.
Those aren’t ideals I want to promote.
Make Wise Choices
Thankfully, it’s not an either/or proposition. You can try to make the most of every run while acknowledging that sometimes it might be best to just ski quickly to the next connection.
The key is wisdom and reflection. Giving yourself a moment, and maybe just a moment, to ask the question. Can you make this task deeper? More rewarding or fulfilling? More of a chance to grow? Or do you just get on and do it?
Often, we convince ourselves we can’t pause to consider the question. We’re so busy, or swamped. We’re buried at work, our hands are full, our schedule is packed, or our life is just crazy right now.
This leads us to overlook mundane experiences as gateways to self-improvement. We look at things like chores as having trivial significance. In fact, chores can be training for the kind of focus we need in supposedly more important creative tasks.
Let Simplicity Guide You
For the past 20 years, I’ve been trying to embody simplicity as a core feature of my life. What this journey keeps bringing me back to is the value of being fully present to many of life’s more menial moments. It’s fashionable to ritualise the sensuality of making coffee. But that same kind of experience is available in many routine tasks.
The joy of ink flowing onto a page isn’t available to us just in the flow of creative writing. It’s also there waiting for us when we make a shopping list.
Sometimes, I wonder if the thing that bugs us is the obligation. The having to do something. Maybe that’s what gets those skiers down, when they feel forced to ski the easy run to get to where they want to be.
But we can always remember that we have some choice as to how banal those moments feel. We can choose to seize them as an opportunity to grow, to experience – or simply, as Alexis taught me all those years ago, to play.