Whiteout

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The crackle of the fire hypnotizes me.  Flames lick up and consume each piece of chopped birch. It’s been a perfect day: friends converging on the slopes of Snowshoe Mountain.  My trashed quads tell the story of just how hard I played on my skis.

Six inches have already fallen, with eight more expected overnight. It’s as if nature is creating an exclusive playground for us while we sleep, and all we need to do is wake up and clip in to our ski boots.

This experience could not have come at a better time for me. Over the past few months, I have been dealing with one of the most difficult challenges of my life. It started with a headache that lasted for over two weeks straight. I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t focus on work, couldn’t think, couldn’t smile. Finally I broke down and went to the ER. A CT scan uncovered an unfamiliar mass in my brain. It was seven millimeters in diameter, about the size of a fingernail.

It didn’t make sense. I had put so much emphasis on personal fitness and health. Why would this happen to me?

I was flooded with fear. What if my twenties was as far as life would take me?  What would I miss out on?

A visit to the neurologist and an MRI were the next steps. I had recently turned 26 and gone onto my own health insurance plan. The costs were racking up at an alarming rate. Worse still was the uncertainty and mental turmoil as I waited to hear the prognosis.

More MRIs followed and nothing was decided with any certainty. “We need to keep an eye on this over the next few months and see if it grows,” the docs said. As my hopes for a life full of adventure and adrenaline waned, I sunk deeper into despair.

Then I received a call from my sister: “Let’s plan a ski trip together,” she said.

A few weeks later, here I am. I step out onto the porch to grab more firewood, and I am greeted by the profound silence of a winter night. It’s like being in a professional recording studio; it is nature’s audio damping. I stick my tongue out just like I did when I was a kid to catch some flakes in my mouth. The foot of perfect powder on the porch is growing every second.

I throw another log on the fire, and my thoughts extend only to tomorrow and no further. Tomorrow, the powder conditions will be absolutely perfect. The Mumford and Sons song, “White Blank Page,” comes into my head, and I realize that is what we are going to have: a clean slate of powder and the ability to make completely fresh tracks.

I close my eyes and imagine what it will be like tomorrow: one fist punching in front of the other as my poles lead the way, the repetitive loading and releasing of energy through the edges of my skis, back and forth, back and forth—it’s such a simple but addictive motion.

Chris Gragtmans

Sometimes, when skiing powder, I leave the earth. I pick up speed until I silently lift into the air, carried by the mysterious certainties of gravity and physics, down the mountain, airborne over the snow.

Tonight, the falling snow is soothing some sharp emotions inside me.  There are things that I have control over in life, and there are things beyond my influence. I can’t do anything about the mass beneath my skull, but I can do something about the thoughts that flow through my brain. I can make a choice to keep living life to the fullest or allow fear to cripple me.

One thing is certain. I know that I have packed everything that I possibly could have into the quarter century of my existence so far. I don’t want my story to end yet, but if it does, I will close my eyes without a single regret.

I spread the ashes of the fire, take one last look out at the blizzard, and walk to bed. As I drift off to sleep, my last thought is of the rope dropping at the top of my favorite run.  I sprint out in front and carve the first tracks into an immaculate mountain of powder. •

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