For the unchurched among us, finding sacredness in the everyday means not caring about tomorrow.
FOR A CERTAIN BREED of self-absorbed thinker, the latest news from Banff’s Sunshine Village resort is mixed, at best. For the 2015–16 season, its vintage 1978 TeePee Town chair is being replaced. Gone is that fixed-double from hell, notorious for cresting impossibly slowly into a perma-storm where the spindrift has already crossed the Continental Divide three times before painting goggle lines frostbite white. In its place comes a state-of-the-art Doppelmayr: swift, bubble-covered, softly upholstered and, surprisingly, for the first time in Canada, its seats will be heated.
In other words, they’re wrecking our shit.
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you know how a skier’s mind works, particularly among the young and, for want of a better word, secular. You see, in the absence of some overarching and eternal notion of the sacred, we tend to bestow our deepest adoration on the places and things that bring us the most joy. Surf breaks, swimming holes and cherished ski zones fall into this category; places that you like so much, where you travel so far or spend all that money, year in and year out, that somehow it makes you think you own them. In this case the fount of preciousness comes from being one of the resort’s rare steep, northeast aspects, a place of reliable blow-in and exacting test pieces. But now that the gnarliest sit in skiing is turning into its pussiest, the obvious next step is both crowds and groomers turning up where they never dared go before. Hell, meet handbasket.
Fortunately, while I am hardly immune to such knee-jerk NIMBYism, I have at least reached an age where I’m unwilling to let change—in all its ruthless inevitability—spoil my day. I’ve come to realize that there’s something terribly futile about cultivating any sense that the past was awesome but the near-future sucks. Time and perspective have enabled me to see that the sites I deem divine may wax and wane in their relevance, but there is no upper limit on how many more I may yet discover.
THERE’S SOMETHING TERRIBLY FUTILE ABOUT CULTIVATING ANY SENSE THAT THE PAST WAS AWESOME BUT THE NEAR-FUTURE SUCKS.
I recently experienced a prime example of emergent sacredness. I live near the Bow River in Calgary, and it’s always been a source of joy. Not many big cities have glacier-fed, Peyto-blue waters tumbling through their downtown core, supremely suitable for long days of rafting and fly-fishing. But in my mind, everything changed a while back, not long after I took up stand-up paddleboarding. Whereas I had previously sought out flatwater spots to paddle, and even frequented the Bow’s gentler sister, the Elbow, somehow I had ignored the river that runs right through me.
All that changed one September day when I made the 10-minute walk to a likely put-in. Clambering down the rocky rip-rap, I launched my inflatable SUP into a gentle eddy and discovered the ease with which I could paddle upstream and ferry from shore to shore. Indeed, I am now intimately acquainted with a 500-metre stretch of gem-like river that, except for the odd passing canoe or raft, I have all to myself. It matters not that the vista consists primarily of skyscrapers, nor that the selfieclicking tourists on the iconic Peace Bridge appear to enjoy backgrounding their photos with the solitary kook in mid-stream who is content to paddle hard but go nowhere. To me it’s my very own mecca, a feeling only amplified by living so nearby.
It’s not even the only sacred spot in the area. Where channels converge at my upstream limit, I can just peer into the lineup at what has become a popular river-surfing wave. That spot, too, was a recent revelation. It re-emerged only after the flood of 2013 and has quickly morphed into Calgary’s Malibu—holy as heck, I presume, though likewise crowded.
Meanwhile, the obstacles I fight are any that prevent me from appreciating the transient moment. I am so occupied with enjoying the now it’s almost as if I’m nostalgic for a thing at the very moment I’m doing it. Not to diminish the term, but this implies that something becomes holy to me only if and when I notice and celebrate it.
I don’t suspect the new TeePee Town chair will be difficult to restore to that status. After all, my old ass can get very cold, and I no longer see frozen skin as a badge of courage. I’m reasonably confident that I will eke out as much fun as ever there and that, come late May, my ski pals and I will once again convene at our special spot above Sunshine Meadows for our annual tribute to season’s end. As rituals go it will be slightly less formal than a biker pouring a 40 onto a curb for a fallen bro. But it’s as close as we come to religion.