By Nick Paumgarten
If, as people often say, skiing is like sex, then the run-out that follows a great run—that breezy pole-and-glide along a logging road, stream, or moraine back to the lift, hut, truck, or bar—is the cigarette in bed. It’s the coda that never gets credit. No one snaps pictures of it. It barely even has a name. Run-out will have to do.
But—you are feeling sleepy, very sleepy—picture yourself in a narrow valley. You have just skied a couloir you’ve been eyeing for years. The powdery glades afterwards were a happy surprise. You are now gently poling along a creek. It is day’s end, and the light is dim and blue. You can see the sun on the rocky ridge you came from, 3,000 feet overhead, and the crease that hints at your way down. You keep looking back and shaking your head, smile still affixed. Endorphins slackening, sweat cooling, scenery drifting past, you have a fleeting and blasphemous thought that the run-out can be almost as sweet as the run itself. It’s not just that you’re basking in accomplishment and relief (scalp obtained, calamity averted), or that you’re that much closer to cold beer and the bliss of removing your boots. The activity itself is sublime. You are covering ground on skis—which, after all, is what the planks were conceived to do. It beats walking, to say nothing of sitting at a desk. This is as true in the woods of Vermont as it is in the Dolomites or the Arlberg.
When you’re a kid, a run-out is a cat track—a chance to race, play roller derby, or pull dumb flat-landing air. Maybe that’s how the run-out insinuates itself. When you’re older, horsing around is maybe holding both poles in one hand as you glide, like a guide in the Alps—one hand free for a Muratti Ambassador—or letting momentum carry you up onto your friend’s tails.
Your knee-jerk thought is that you’d rather ski right to a tram or helicopter. That’s porno, skiing right to the chopper. But it isn’t really skiing. It’s all wham and bam, with none of the thank you, ma’am. You don’t miss a run-out until you’ve savored a fine one. It’s the opposite of, and bookend to, the hairy traverse. To smell the pines is to smell the roses.
Nick Paumgarten is a staff writer at The New Yorker.
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