Peter Shelton seeking the turn
in the San Juans
Mt. Bachelor January 9, 2020
I don’t believe perfect exists. I have about as much success wrapping my brain around the concept of perfect as I do grasping the notion of infinity, say.
Perfection is a human construct, something theoretical, ideal; it doesn’t exist in nature. What I do think exist are perfect evanescent moments, perfectly carved turns, perfect hours on the mountain – philosophically impossible, maybe, but nevertheless flawless exceptions that prove the rule.
Today was one of those days. The objective markers tell some of the story. Four inches of new snow overnight, delivered with little wind, groomed judiciously on the main boulevards. And that snow was very low density, extremely low for the Oregon Cascades, maybe six or seven percent water, I’m guessing, where typical “Cascades Cream” is more like 10-12 percent, and the driest Colorado snow (also rare) comes in at about four percent water. The point being, this was dandelion fluff, light whipped cream atop a smooth ice-creamy under layer, snow so insubstantial that skis, boots, shins experienced only a feathery resistance. Temperature: high teens, not even a hint of warming or melting snow. Sky like a gin-clear lake, shrinking the distance to Broken Top and South Sister, all of the mountains, like Bachelor, almost completely white: rimed white trees, lava flows, summit snowfields, the whole white-washed world under a cerulean blue with a low January sun making shadows of every twig, every wind ripple, every curving, new-moon ski track. By mid-morning Carnival run was a virtual Jackson Pollack of overlain scythings, if, instead of endless layers of dripped paint Jackson Pollack had been into gouging perfectly round lines.
There’s that word perfect again. Our old friend and fellow ski schooler, Dick Dorworth, wrote a wonderful short story called “The Perfect Turn,” about an aging ski instructor thinking back on his quest for the perfect turn. It’s one of the best pieces of ski fiction out there. And it cuts very close to Dick’s own (and mine, and many skiers’) pursuit of an aesthetic ideal, on skis. A perfect turn will be different for everyone, but it will feel the same to each of us.
In my case, the turn will be etched into the snow the way a silversmith carves an image in soft metal. The two curved blades on my feet will slice parallel arcs through the snow without throwing any spray, without going sideways at all. Railroad tracks, some people call them. This perfect turn will not live in isolation, of course; it will be part of a continuum. It will have its beginning in the perfect end of the previous turn – the weightless, perfectly positioned setup (“the love spot,” in the perfectly apt phrase of guru John Clendenin), and it will likewise extend into the perfect beginning of the next turn. It’s a continuous flow. Where does the petal’s edge stop and the next thing, the not rose petal, begin?
This turn feels as if it takes no muscle power to complete. My center of mass, my hips, my head, are so placed inside the arc I have but to stand against the snow, easy as leaning against a lamppost. The snow is turning me.
Stringing a couple of these perfect semi-circles together, sine waves, sends me into raptures. It can’t be maintained for an entire run, or a whole day, or lord knows a whole mountain. But these peeks inside the monastery, these glimpses of mathematical, musical even (music of the spheres!) symmetries are enough.
Spoiler alert: Dorworth’s hero had to cross over from one reality into another in order to achieve his perfect turn. Today felt a little bit like stealing fire from the gods. Perfect turns (or close approximations) and the godlike feeling of drawing continuous lines, strings of crescent moons across the volcano’s furrows… Well, it doesn’t get much closer to heaven than that.
A response from a fellow perfectionist of the Turn
Hi Peter !!! The search is a topic close and deep to my heart.
Like Robert Johnson, P. Lev at the crossroads
Spotted Eagle. Can’t Have Him Fly. . . No Fly List For Sure !
Although he was very successful as a Daimyo Matsudaira Fumai is remembered today as an eccentric tea master, an aesthete, and connoisseur of tea utensils, wares and artifacts. As he was an authority on all aspects of tea, people would also ask him for advice, for example on how to prepare the break (Nakadachi) in the procedure of a formal tea gathering. And as probably always the most important bit comes to the very end:
“How to prepare the Nakadachi-pause? It depends on the length of Roji-path. With a long path, prepare the pause right after the meal is withdrawn. We water the garden and path. If there is a bench inside of a Nakaguri-gate, the outside pathway does not need to be watered. We water until the bench. If the bench is outside, the whole pathway needs to be watered. If there are leaves scattered around the garden and look unpleasant, sweep them under a tree. All the bamboos and stepping-stones in the view need to be watered. We keep in mind that in summer we water the trees, in winter water the stones. But most important is not to waste time.”
Monument 6″ @ 0.55″
Red Mountain Pass 5″ @ 0.4″
Molas Pass 4″ @ 0.4″
Coal Bank Pass 6″ @ 0.6″
Peter Lev, rŌbert, Bill Liske
photo credit, Bill Liske
When Ridgway’s Lisa Issenberg first got into metal work, it was mostly jewelry and small sculptures. Then she was asked to make awards for Telluride’s Mountainfilm, and she’s been hooked ever since.
“It’s the most rewarding. There is something about being a part of recognitions,” Issenberg said. “Awards are like gifts with great honor, and you are part of that gratitude. Even if you are the unknown person behind the gift, it still feels good.”
Issenberg, who operates through her company, Kiitella — Finnish for “to thank, applaud, praise” — has had plenty of clients over the years, hand-making awards for The North Face, American Alpine Club, the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races at Beaver Creek and even Aspen Skiing Co. Since 2013, she’s designed the Aspen Power of Four medals and will make her biggest medal contribution to Aspen athletics this week with X Games.
“It’s a big one. I was pretty excited to get the call,” Issenberg said.
Working with ESPN’s Brian Kerr, the associate director of competition for X Games, Issenberg was commissioned to make this year’s medals for X Games Aspen. The first-, second- and third-place finishers in each of the contests will receive one of the roughly 90 medals Issenberg handcrafted out of her Ridgway studio.
This is the second year in a row ESPN has sought out an external artist to make its medals, with Portland-based artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham having had the honors in 2019.
“Lisa and I talked through a couple of different concepts of what we wanted to see and she came up with a spectacular piece for us,” Kerr said. “As we thought through it, it’s not just another award for these action sports phenoms — our podium athletes are actually getting a piece of X Games artwork around their necks. And that’s really cool.”
Ski racing stars such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety have all taken home awards made by Issenberg, and beginning Thursday she’ll be able to add some of the world’s best snowboarders and freeskiers to the list, not to mention the motorsport athletes.
Issenberg’s X Games medals are relatively simple. Round like a coin and meant to be worn around the neck, they feature a large X Games logo with a space at the top cut out in the shape of a mountain range. Issenberg said the mountain design is meant to represent the Maroon Bells, using her own artistic license.
The simplicity, typography and angles all draw inspiration from Herbert Bayer’s Bauhaus design. Bayer lived in Aspen from 1946 until 1975 and his influence can still be found around the city.
The metal comes from at least 90% to sometimes 100% recycled content, and all waste is recycled as well.