32 Degrees: Pi and the Lifelong Pursuit of Perfection
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2023 Issue of 32 Degrees magazine. You can read the entire issue here.
Last winter, a young student asked me why I have the mathematical symbol Pi (π) on my skis. While I didn’t quiz her on whether she knew that Pi is an irrational number – a constant that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter – she knew the decimal value of Pi, 3.14.
I asked her what it would mean if she added another digit – i.e., 1, to make it 3.141. She answered, “It is more precise.” She was right. If I add more digits, the number gets closer and closer to the precise definition of Pi, but it will never reach an end and the sequence of digits will never repeat. I could add a million digits and still not reach the end.
I explained to her that this embodies my philosophy of skiing and teaching. Every run, day, week, season, or year makes my skiing and teaching better, but the process of improvement will never reach an end – in the same way there is no end to Pi.
My Lifelong Passion
I mentally add a digit to my personal “Pi” every time I ski a run or teach a lesson. When I add a digit, it can be a 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9. I may have a small increment of progress (1) or make a very large step (9). Every digit I add is different, depending on my physical and mental conditions at that moment, as well as the weather conditions, snow conditions, etc.
It also depends on the student. Each student comes with a different background and capability, and I must adjust my teaching approach for them. There is no same experience. Every lesson is different; every student is different. I live for those lessons when I’m in total sync with my students’ needs and learning styles, when I can add an 8 or even 9 to my Pi. Through these experiences I expand my methodology and become a better skier and instructor.
As I get older, I may lose strength, agility, flexibility, balance, etc., and I’ll need to ski and teach with more efficiency and finesse. I’ll learn to move more accurately with fewer wasted steps. Combining experience and practice, I will add digits even though I may incur deficiencies along the way.
This approach can feel random, and the experience results in different digits every time. But the one thing that has been consistent is my pursuit of adding more digits. This is my lifelong passion. I don’t know how many digits I’ve accumulated since I started skiing and teaching many years ago, but I know I will never stop adding more. I feel I am a better skier and teacher after every run, day, clinic, trip, or season and I hope to always keep improving and enjoying my love of this sport.
In the end, I know this mission will never be completed, but I am getting much closer to the perfect “Pi.”
Or, I may be a completely “irrational” person.
Takashi Tsukamaki is an Alpine Level III-certified instructor with a Children’s Specialist 1 credential in Northwest region. He’s been a PSIA-AASI member for 49 years, teaching in Seattle-area ski schools.