She liked to go skiing alone. People were always surprised when she told them. Aren’t you afraid? Isn’t it dangerous? Don’t you get lonely? She’d reply that well, you go down the slopes by yourself, don’t you? So in a sense you can only ski alone. Sure, you might meet up with friends for lunch and dinner, share the skilift or the accommodation. But in the end, skiing itself is a solitary endeavour; you can’t hold hands with someone else while you ski, nor talk or even look at each other.
Of course, you are hardly ever alone when skiing, unless you go off-piste (which she didn’t, lacking the skill and confidence); for longer or shorter moments in time, you usually slide along someone with the same speed and skill; you overtake a slower beginner V-plowing large zigzags from one side of the slope to the other, or are overtaken by the advanced arrows that swoosh past you, heading for the bottom almost vertically, no zigzag needed. What she liked best were those moments when it looked like she was alone: when the snow was coming down so hard and/ or the wind was swirling everything up so thoroughly that the white became all encompassing, the earth and sky indistinguishable. Then, she would pull down her beanie, up her neck warmer, wrap her face cover closer, tighten her goggles and slide inside the exhilarating bubble of low visibility, cold, and adrenaline.
One day the snow was so dense and the wind so thick that on Ue-no-Taira (which literally means “the upper plateau”) skiing was more like swimming inside a white-gray cotton ball. Equally quiet, too. There was something liberating in not knowing exactly where she was going, or how steep the slope might be. She’d notice a bump after she’d already jumped over it; when the inclination was not sufficient, the wind would push her — perhaps not always in the desired direction, but still. On the wide plateau, the silence was tense, heavy with some of the fear that she — and maybe others, too — felt while making their invisible way down. Just a little further, though, a narrower slope would start to wind lazily through the fir-trees, to the bottom of the mountain. Not a lot of people took the forest course, because it was long and slow. This meant that she would get the slope all to herself, if she was lucky. Here, the snow was soft, as was the silence; it was all fluff, but also felt thick as cream. She stopped and listened; then tried to pop her ears, thinking the quick descent had messed with her hearing. No pop; just real, actual, creamy silence. She was just about to break it with an excited (and most likely awkward) little cry, when the avalanche gave its first roar a few hundred meters above — triggered, perhaps, by someone else’s excitement, that fatal human inability to contain oneself before of the silence of nature.
“Like the gods, nature too does not speak; as it has no language, no such thing as a face to face discussion is possible, but, even if nature stays silent, humans would [feel the need to] interact with it within this silence.”
Imamura Hitoshi, Homo Communicans: the Anthropology of Gift and Trade 2000 (my translation: IH/ Lightly Literary).