Keeping friendships alive through a distanced winter

Find comfort where you can.
Find comfort where you can.

Tendrils of snow snake down the front side of Rumsey Mountain, interrupted here and there by large brown patches of dirt. Discovery's summit lift looms above, its chairs motionless below a brilliant bluebird sky. A rowdy pack of college students clusters at the base of the lower triple — the only option spinning this early in the season — as Mike leans down to unclip his snowboard binding. We tug our buffs higher over our noses, skate forward and thank the masked liftie as we take our seats.

Over the past few hours, between rock-dodging runs and parking lot brats, Mike and I have caught up on a lot of things. Work, politics, the pandemic, our personal lives. Now, as we gaze at the walls of conifers flanking us, the talk steers to more intimate ground. The past year has worn on everyone in strange ways, and neither of us is an exception. Friends for over a decade, we find comfort and reassurance in opening up about how we've grappled with the slings and arrows of 2020.

In the books I've read and conversations I've had lately, the subject of kinship keeps surfacing with all the suddenness and unpredictability of a trout rising for caddis. One moment I'm skimming a passage about older ways of life, and the next I find myself reflecting on the social tiers we establish to delineate our relationships, or the bonds we form over time and often without intention. It's a path of reflection that has deepened an already strong understanding of how skiing has altered my life.

Up until college, skiing had largely been a family affair. Far-flung trips and casual weekends at our home hill wove my parents, my sister and me ever more tightly together, while at the same time offering us the freedom to move as independent threads. Later, with Mike and Emily and numerous other friends, Montana's slopes became avenues for the shared experience and adventure that classes, bars and board game nights couldn't foster. We've cracked cans on lifts, whooped in unison on powder days, come to each other's aid in times of injury. You simply don't forge those kinds of memories in a single night or over a couple rounds of Cards Against Humanity.

Our social circles have already shrunk this year at the exclusion of many friends and casual acquaintances. As the cold conspires to limit opportunities to hang out in the coming months, we're faced with the demoralizing task of contracting our individual communities even more. But as Mike and I cruise down our last run of the day, headed for a final distanced brat before heading our separate ways, I realize that I've already made the toughest choices without knowing it. A few faces I'll see up close because I can't imagine not. A few others I'll see only behind a balaclava and goggles, not because it's the only option but because, for us, it's the best one. ♦

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