6:30am, Colorado time. I roll out of bed and peek through the blinds. It’s been snowing all night. Everything outside looks like a winter wonderland. The sky is totally clear. Looks like it’s going to be what the locals call a bluebird powder day. In this neck of the woods that translates as the world’s best skiing conditions and certainly an experience not to be missed.
I put on some Quaker oats, grope my way to the bathroom, and tentatively begin the morning’s first meditation, one that will require all the awareness I can muster up at this early hour. It is a meditation, done with open eyes, steady hand, and begins by me navigating a very sharp device known as a men’s razor across my face. It effectively removes a new layer of roughness from my face that has mysteriously appeared there overnight. The sleepy-eyed reflection looking back at me in the mirror is saying: “You must be crazy. Are you really doing this? Don’t you realize it is minus 18 degrees outside?” I feel my warm, cozy bed pulling me back like a magnet. Well, it could be worse I tell myself. It could be an hour earlier with me on a bicycle pedaling to Dynamic Meditation. Looked at from any angle this morning, it’s early. Too early! The mind is the mind is the mind …Freshly shaved and in my thermals, I tuck into a bowl of steaming-hot oats. Looking outside my window, I watch the first rays of sun just catching the top of Aspen Mountain. The snow cats have been up there most of the night grooming the slopes, leaving them with a silky-smooth finish called “corduroy”. If I’m lucky, another few inches of snow will have fallen since the grooming. My intuition is telling me this is going to be a very special day.
I kiss my girlfriend goodbye and she mumbles something like, “You must be nuts!” then quickly disappears under the warm covers with our family of stuffed bears. Opening the door to our apartment, I am greeted by the coldest blast of air I have ever felt in my life. Good morning, Mother Nature. Humbled, I find myself in an unusual position: in absolute agreement with my girlfriend. Imust be crazy.
I walk to the base of the mountain, only four short blocks from my house. The air is so cold I can feel the hairs freezing in my nose. The ski lift opens in ten minutes, so I decide to sharpen-up my nervous system with a double espresso in my favorite cafe. Glancing through the local paper, I read where ski-related deaths are up this year, on-track to set a record in Colorado. They happen mostly from people hitting trees, or disappearing in deep snow and avalanches. The Rocky Mountains can be a dangerous and unforgiving place to the unaware. “Can’t be too careful this morning,” I think to myself as I finish-off my coffee.
I board the gondola and prepare for the ride up. Aspen, my home since two years, sits at 7910 feet elevation. When I reach the summit in twenty-minutes, I will be standing over 12,000 feet, literally on top of the world. These mountains are BIG.
This morning, the views on the way up are nothing short of spectacular. The sky is incredibly clear. Perhaps the reflection of light off the snow makes it so blue. To the south, I have an awesome view of Independence Pass which is closed about eight months of the year due to snow and landslides. Two years ago while on tour, we drove over it with the band. While taking a break to stretch our legs, Simant, our keyboard player, had his picture taken by a local photographer. The following day, it made the front page of the Aspen Times with the caption: ‘Mountain Meditation with Swami Anand Simant, Japanese musician living in India’. Later, when I went to the newspaper office to get some copies, they were surprised how many people had been calling in to order the photo. Simant, it seemed, had become something of a local legend. Overnight! I still like to think of him as Osho’s Ambassador to Aspen.
The gondola has arrived at the top and people are putting on their skis. We are few this chilly morning. I think most opted for the cozier, and aruably perhaps saner, option and stayed in bed. My little packs of chemical hand-warmers have kicked in, but they are barely competing with the sub-zero temperatures. My bindings click and lock me onto the long pieces of hi-tech planking which will soon be carrying me down the mountain at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Note: racing skiers in the recent Salt Lake Olympics traveled at speeds up to 90 miles per hour. Personally, I prefer to enjoy this kind of speed watching it on TV. In ski jargon, I am known as a “cruiser”.
I check my boot buckles for tightness. Every little step along the way this morning needs absolute attention. In this sport, a moment’s unawareness can literally mean the difference between life and death. I pause to look at the range of jagged peaks to the west of me. They are covered in a pure white blanket of snow, shadowing what is known as the Conundrum Valley, a wilderness area famous for its natural hot springs at 11,000 feet. In this moment, the beauty of the valley and its surrounding peaks is truly spectacular, a real conundrum, simply too beautiful to comprehend with the mind.
I take a deep breath of the cold, thin air. I feel a big ‘yes’ welling up in me. Another deep breath and I’m letting it all in – all the beauty, all the nature, all the splendor. The words to a song suddenly come to mind: “There is so much magnificence …”.
I am ready now, so with a few kick-outs and a pole push I’m on my way. There is absolutely nobody on the trail. I laugh to myself at its name: ‘Bellissimo’. A unique combination of weather conditions in these high mountains produces a kind of snow extremely soft and light called “champagne powder”. Just as I was hoping for there are a few fresh inches on top of the groomed slopes this morning. The rhythm of my turns starts to create a natural intoxication in me. I’m making “first tracks”, a skier’s dream.
Ecstasy. I glide down the rolling slopes, the sharp edges of my skies cutting perfect arcs in the new snow. There is silence all around me. The landscape looks spectacular with the morning sunlight on the trees. My face is numb and eyes watery from the wind-chill factor. I round a corner and a breath-taking view opens up before my eyes: the entire Sawatch Range to the east, peak after peak over 14,000 feet; and the vast Western Slope to the north. They don’t call this the High Country for nothing. Breathing, opening, letting it all in, so much magnificence. Those words again.
4:00pm. Apres ski. I find myself once again in my favorite cafe, warming-up my weary bones with a cup of hot chocolate. I like to think it is the long day of skiing causing every one of my muscles to ache and not my forty-nine years of age. Whatever. It’s the kind of tiredness that feels really good. My mind wanders back to those magical moments earlier in the day: on top of the world, breathing, opening, letting go, nature filling me up, all that magnificence … I take another sip and close my eyes. It’s all still there, those first tracks, the sound of my edges carving graceful turns, the sunshine, the endlessly clear views, the azure blue sky, and pristine silence all around me. You know? It’s not that I’m all that tired. I’m think I’m just drunk on life.
Waves are coming in, waves are coming in . . .