Well, as you have heard from our friend Paul, the snow is hitting the fan here in the northwest. My story begins early last week when I talked to Paul about coming up to visit. His report was glowing and I was a little jealous. I was also slightly bummed, because while we had over a foot of new snow, the wind was howling and no lifts could be run. That was last Tuesday, the last day I felt normal.
On Wednesday, I got up early and dropped the kids off at school, with my ski stuff on. They let me have it.
"Doing much work today Dad??"
I slowed the car down just enough to avoid serious injury, and pushed the little (adorable) brats out the door, then peeled out of there on two wheels and got up that hill. At moments like this I question my mental health. An overwhelming anxiety takes over as the anticipation becomes unbearable. What kind of snow will we have? How many people will show on a Wednesday? How many first tracks will I get? A thousand questions run through the mind in an instant. Everything becomes a contest - I need to get there before first chair, I need to get to my favorite lines first. The emotion is intense but at the same time its pleasing as you ponder the possibilities. Its like the 10 year old kid on the night before Christmas. The groom just before his bachelor party. The bride as the music starts in the church. Nervous but raring to go.
I was fortunate enough to spot my father-in-law near the front of the now prodigious lift line before the opening bell. A quick call, a smooth slide through the line and I was in. On the ride up, my own personal tension was palpable. The small talk centered on my Fat skis (what does that swallow-tail do, anyway). At the top, I slid off the chair and giggled like a 5 year old. When was the last time you giggled like that?
The first run was insane. The wind and enormous snow load had filled in the mountain to a perfectly smooth surface. An unblemished canvas waiting to be painted. Lets call it wind-groomed. The surface was not grabby, not crusty, it was smooth, buttery, pleasingly compliant. The first turn is burned in my memory, the second was a dream. The speed increased quickly but controllably. There was no faltering, no surprises, just pure momentum. I felt a glow come over me like a new, higher level of consciousness. The mountain had been renewed, the past had been erased. It was a fresh start, a mid winter epiphany, and with it a new start for me, a new opportunity. I jumped off my favorite rock and time stopped, I was flying, not falling. I thought "I should have landed by now" but was not sure and felt the need to look down to determine exactly what surface I was on. Air, snow, gravity seamlessly connected in some crazy euphoric dance.
When I reached the bottom and scampered through the line to quickly reload, I knew it was going to be a big day. I set my altimeter, which I have not done all year, to keep a tally of vertical feet on this day February 21, 2007. I never stopped skiing this day and was never on a groomed trail. By 11 my watch indicated over 25,000 vertical feet. I wasn't even tired. At noon, I was tired and my lower back hurt. I kept ripping. By 2, I had to leave and be home for the kids, and grudgingly pulled myself away. My watch said 38,620 vertical feet and 28 runs (many of these were from midway to the top - a steep intense shot of less than 1,000 feet). It had been a big day.
The next day I was exhausted and sore. My back and legs and shoulders ached. Then it started snowing. All day and all night.
Friday morning I dropped the kids off on the fly and charged up for some more fun. Seven new inches over night. This day was different. If Wednesday was about speed, Friday was about fluff. Soft blower pow just like in the movies. It was endless, bottomless. Speed just fell away as the substance gently resisted the forces. Face shots, soft landings, gentle bumps, hidden tree stashes. It was glorious, exhilarating. I skied till 330, when I just could not go any more.
Three more inches overnight. I dropped the kids off at their ski class and went on my way, a little dazed and not sure where to go next. It was fun but I was tired. I had been everywhere on the mountain in the past few days and could think of nothing new. I thought about going into the lodge and just resting until the kids were done.
Then I met John. He's a ripper from Alaska who has been skiing Schweitzer for a while but never really explored it, since he skis by himself. I said two words "Follow Me!". Off we went, exploring, sharing my playground with a new friend. He had no idea this place had so many secrets. It was invigorating to share this bliss with one who could appreciate it. This was yet a different kind of feeling, charitable, compassionate, satisfying. We hucked the cliffs, darted through the forbidden forests, and shredded the hidden steeps.
By the end of the day, I literally could not go any further. I started to make mistakes, lazy errors, skipping turns, linked recoveries. I needed rest. On Sunday it snowed 7-inches and I stayed home. I felt ashamed, and it grieves me to share this personal weakness with you. Monday morning - 5 new inches. I was back out there again, but was still recovering. I stayed on the backside where the lifts are slower, forcing me to rest a little. This day would be all about quality. I made each run count, sometimes I even stopped and just took it all in. Today's glory was on a different level, a different buzz altogether, somehow I felt a little older and wiser, having experienced a literal rainbow of emotions.
Today is Tuesday and I have a ton of work to do, so I will rest and work. I hurt pretty much everywhere. Its a good hurt, a small satisfying sacrifice of flesh and pain. The memories, they will last far longer than these ephemeral infirmities.
This season has been one like no other, a harmonic convergence of conditions, ability, and attitude. I owe much of my confidence to you B-team. You have pushed me to new heights and picked me up when I faltered. This crazy thing that we do defies competent description. It is constantly changing and goes far deeper than the physical world, if you allow yourself to recognize it. When you can share this deep spectral experience with someone that can appreciate it, you are obliged to do so. I thank you for letting me share it with you.
May the snow find you, and keep you in peace.