We finished up the La Molina World Cups on Wednesday and Thursday with a pair of slaloms. That's been a good event for me lately, but I had no tangible success in Spain. I had a good first run on Wednesday before skiing over a gate on the second run and getting DQ'd. (I had problems later on in the run anyway, so I would've slipped back from 8th to 10th place.) My first run the next day was shaping up to be my best yet in La Molina, but I skied out in a hairpin toward the bottom of the main steep pitch. This same section claimed perhaps half a dozen others in the men's sitting class, and the total number of DNF's in the class was at least half the field, thanks to the combination of a challenging race hill and a challenging, arrhythmical set.
Ultimately, the tech races at La Molina were a somewhat frustrating experience for me, so being out on the 211 cm downhill skis here at Sestriere today was a welcome change. We went freeskiing today on the race hill, the same piste I notched a fifth-place finish on in the 2006 Torino Paralympic downhill. Believe it or not, this is my first downhill since that race three years ago. Not many downhills get scheduled on the disabled circuit in the first place — too much work to put one on and too much hillspace needed for too many days — and they are often cancelled due to adverse weather. (I missed the one downhill our team ran last year, at Soldier Mountain in Idaho, because I was out with a back injury.)
8:45 a.m. this morning and the sun hasn't yet broken over the jagged peaks, but the lifts are running and there's enough light to see what needs to be seen. The Italian and French and British tourists are still sleeping off the wine and grappa from last night, and the other disabled teams have elected to sleep in after the travel day.
We have the mountain to ourselves.
The downhill course is long, immensely long, ribboned by blue safety fencing on either side, all the way from the windswept and open starthouse, through some long flats, down the steep turns called "Acque Minerale," around the doglegs right and back to the left, all the way down the heart-racing final steep straightaway into the finish corral. The first run is cautious, taken in sections. We feel out edges and bases, remembering and relearning their relationship with the snow. Confidence builds, and speed comes so easily. A slight edgeset produces a clean long arc, and time slows, even as plastic and metal rush faster over frozen crystals. Steeper terrain means the arcs become tighter, the forces making themselves known on the internal organs, but the eyes and brain are steady, flat. Nothing is rushed, and the mountain becomes an ally. The undulations underfoot aren't something to resist but to interpret, be massaged by, conform with. Thousands of vertical meters are erased in a minute or two, sucked up into my stomach where they are like nourishment, like food.
It's great to be back out on a downhill ski again.