Ski tunes

I know it’s almost 2007, but I just entered the new millennium. That’s right, I got an Ipod for Christmas. OK, so I actually got it last Christmas. But it’s taken me this long to figure out how the damn thing works. And all I can say is, thank god for teen-aged babysitters. If it weren’t for them, I’d still be trying to decipher what the hell “ripping” and “burning” meant.

Anyway, this tiny rectangle of electronic circuitry has been a huge step for me. See, when it comes to technological gadgetry, I’m a hopeless loser. I wouldn’t know an X Box from a Kleenex box, which is a good thing. Any video game more complicated than “Asteroids” makes me anxious and irritable. Plus, they only serve to point out my utter and complete lack of hand-eye coordination. Then there’s the whole digital camera thing. Somehow, I’ve become a master of the backs of people’s heads, closed eyes and blurry profiles. And don’t even ask about cell phones. That’s right, I’m probably the only person left in the free world who doesn’t own one. This wasn’t always the case. A few years back, when the birth of my first child was imminent, my husband thought it prudent to get me my very own cell, in case I went into labor in downtown rush-hour traffic and couldn’t bike the three blocks home. Only problem was, in order for such a contraption to work, the battery had to be charged, which entailed knowing where the charger was and actually remembering to use it. Naturally, this begetted knowing where the phone was. Sure, you can always call the phone to try to locate it, but this is nearly impossible when you haven’t the foggiest what the number is. So, needless to say, my foray into cell phonedom was doomed from the get go. I was soon declared an unfit phone owner, and my contract was terminated. Basically, my microwave oven is about as technologically advanced as I have come in my 30-something years. Even my car is a stick shift.

Needless to say, when I first unwrapped that package to reveal the shiny, black Ipod box, I was a little apprehensive. For the first few weeks, I curiously tiptoed past it, eyeing it with a mix of trepidation and disdain. But soon, those little white buds wormed their way into my ears, and a lasting relationship blossomed. For the first time probably since I discovered the beauty of the mix tape, I felt cool. Nevermind that I was listening to Prince’s “Purple Rain” or Journey’s greatest hits, no one had to know I hadn’t bought a CD since “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.” The fact was, I looked hip.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you, I was rocking out to my Ipod,” I’d call out to frustrated passersby on the trail who had been trying to get my attention over the wail of David Lee Roth and “Jamie’s Cryin.’”

Soon, my sleek little Nano became an indispensable part of my daily routine. To venture into the outdoors without it became unthinkable. I even went so far as to get a waterproof case so I could swim laps in the company of The Ramones and Johnny Cash. But then disaster struck. Thanks to a pair of curious little hands, my Nano took an unscheduled deep-sea adventure. Although I was able to revive it a few weeks later, it remained on life support for a few months until I decided to pull the plug and send it in for repairs.

“Here, take mine,” my husband offered on a recent ski outing. I took him up on the generous offer, tucked the head phones under my hat, stuffed the Ipod into my jacket and took off. As I made my way through the bumps serenaded by Michael Franti, I had reached some sort of personalized, rhythmic nirvana. Johnny Moseley had nothing on me.

But when I loaded the chair for my next run, my bliss prematurely faded. As I sat down to join my chair mates, I became acutely aware of the annoying din of my headphones spilling over into the solace of a perfect winter day. Suddenly, I felt very uncool. Maybe it was the cell-phone flailing, joystick-fumbling luddite in me, but I couldn’t help feel as if I was being rude. As the chair took off, I reached inside my jacket and quietly turned off the tunes. I removed the headphones and stashed them into a pocket – where they stayed for the remainder of my day.

And strangely enough, I never missed them. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that an Ipod is a convenient excuse to remove oneself from undesirable chairlift conversations in which “dude” or “y’all” comprise the main verbage. But, by the same token, it’s also a good way to alienate oneself from the rest of skiingkind. I mean, where else can you talk with somebody who actually owns a pair of Scotty Bobs or discuss the pros and cons of high-speed quads or compare knee surgeries. Then there’s the completely random stuff you don’t get anywhere else but on a chairlift, like in-depth discussions on the Swedish supergroup, Abba, or horror stories from the job site (“It was a clean cut. They sewed it back on.”)

But all this pales in comparison to what can be heard off the chair – or not heard. There’s something to be said of the deafening silence of an empty mountainside, where the only noise is the muffled carving of skis on snow. OK, maybe there’s a little heavy breathing going on, too, depending on one’s level of fitness (or excitement). But that’s it. Just mano y montaña. See, sometimes, in order to tune in, one first has to tune out.

– Missy Votel