My breath wet the mask through which it passed, quickly freezing and collecting flakes from the densely falling snow, glued even harder by the rushing air of my descents. Even while my face numbed against these cold gusts, the inside of my coat heated up like a furnace due to the exertion of moving around in heavy gear. This unpleasantness, however, existed only as long as the lines for the lifts; all discomfort faded from my senses as I plummeted from the crest of each slope, cutting through the powder and fighting to maintain control against the icy and uneven terrain. In their stead, these annoyances were replaced by an adrenaline fed euphoria, unattainable by the power of our bodies alone. Skiing is addictive because it makes us feel like super-humans, accomplishing feats of speed and control without the distancing aid of machinery. Many extreme sports may boast to instill similar feelings, but not with the same safe accessibility that skiing can.
Such an overly philosophic take on this common sport requires an excess of time over which to reflect—and time I had. I have just spent the entirety of the past week at the largest ski resort in Slovakia, Jasná, which translates to “clear” or “sunny”. Well, that adjective… it was not. Snow fell heavily for days on the dozens of slopes crisscrossing the powder-laden conifers of the Low Tatras, just above the city of Liptovský Mikuláš. This made for lovely skiing conditions and aided my education to no end, yet I couldn’t help but lament that the weather was too harsh to expose my camera to. I clung to hope, though, that one day—at the very least!—would allow me to capture the beauty of this mountain resort. The unobstructed view of one early sunrise through the window of my room foretold of such a days arrival.
Awaking that Thursday morning, turquoise light filtered in and touched my sight the first time in what felt like weeks. Downstairs, I threw open the dining room curtains, where all of us students met for breakfast, and gazed upon the monolith of Chopok, the resorts highest peak. A few sparse clouds hovered around it, but otherwise the sky was perfectly clear. We all gathered our gear—and I my camera—for a morning outing to the mountaintop. The maze of interconnecting lifts slowly, but eventually, brought my group and I to our destination, where a sea of clouds made it seem like snow had buried all but the highest of the surrounding mountains.
The alpine air atop Chopok was frigid and once we left, I packed my camera again and stuffed my hands deep into the pockets of my coat. The rest of the day was spent skiing as usual, though I captured this shot of a man going down a trick slope next to the Slovak Olympic banner over lunch.
Rotary completed our schedule with a few evening events. The highlight of which was certainly our trip to the aqua-park Tatralandia. Its carefree atmosphere, slides, thermal pools and lovely fresh crepes provided a beautiful environment in which to ease the aching muscles which days of skiing had worn out. Refreshed, our group then headed to the main square of Liptovský Mikuláš. Given two hours of free time, everyone quickly fanned out to cafes and bars across the city. With over seventy of us turned loose across one small square, being the only exchange students in any specific establishment was certainly unlikely. However, a dear friend of mine who currently lives in the Czech Republic (from Ohio) and I discovered a peaceful and artsy cafe in the city’s Cultural Center. Here we were alone and enjoyed lovely chats on so many different topics. It is rare these days that I get to speak at a full intellectual gait, most of my friends not quite skilled enough in English to keep up.
Otherwise, out evenings were filled with movies, sledding and one night’s Carnaval party for the Brazilians. I also spent as much of my time as I could keeping up with the Olympics! I really don’t want to miss this opportunity which only comes every two years! I must say, though, watching so many pro skiers may have encouraged me to ski a bit faster and more recklessly than advisable. Though, only twice did I have falls of any consequence. The first twisted my knee, pain which only bugged me the afternoon of the final day, and the second saw me swerve to avoid hitting a girl in front of me, break free of my skis and slide with some speed across the powder on my back. A dome of flying snow was created as I plowed ever deeper into the ground, yet I found this scene to be pretty and the utter lack of any sort of pain resulted in me actually quite enjoying the experience. Though I do wonder what the woman who helped me collect my skis thought of the chuckling snow-covered boy who had wiped out just in front of her.
All around, ski week was a wonderful trip and I will long remember traversing the long, wooded trails of the resort and the quality time I was able to spend with my friends. I look forward now to Euro-tour, when I will see everyone once more.