Roger Marolt: When life offers you a Crap Chute, take it!
Somebody takes a fall on the mountain and you tell them not to worry. It happens to everyone. You, yourself fell twice. To this remarkable admission, they usually remark hopefully, “Really?” You pause thoughtfully. “Yes,” you say humbly. “I believe the first time was in 1969. And, then again in ’82, if my memory serves correctly.”
It’s the oldest joke in skiing; that and the one where you reveal that evidence proves almost all blown knees occur on the last run of the day. I have actually known people to seriously contemplate calling it an early afternoon after hearing this indisputable and cautionary claim. Although there have never been scientific studies done or data gathered to prove it, it does make you think.
The dust and crust were blown off both of the old jokes last weekend as I lay in a heap in the deep snow that had accumulated not so gradually over the previous 10 or so days. I wasn’t hurt; the soft snow cushioning each landing in a head-over-heels, rag-doll tumble down the steep slope. It is the risk you take skiing unfamiliar terrain; steep and narrow between rock outcroppings turned to billowy tufts by a historical snowfall.
We were in the Crap Chutes on Aspen Mountain; you know, those nasty little drops off Schiller Road, just uphill from Piss Gully. You’re excused if the names are unfamiliar to you. They are the exotic fruit of inbounds skiing that ripen enough for harvesting only once a decade.
My condition just described notwithstanding — my goggles packed with snow and icy runoff from my collar trickling down the back of the inside of my jacket — The Chutes seemed easier now than the last time I skied them, which was probably before I started seeing visions of my father in the mirror when I shave. I don’t think fat skis had yet been invented on those previous forays into that challenging terrain. It has been awhile.
This last storm cycle was truly remarkable. The new snow was deep, but it also was laden with moisture so that it clung to steep, rocky slopes instead of sloughing easily away as it does when it is colder and drier. The inbounds turns were easy, if you got to it fairly untracked, but set up quickly once it was turned over a few times. We saw what happened in the high peaks where eventually the slopes could no longer hold this accumulating load and huge avalanches ran their courses long and wide in volumes that nobody now alive has ever seen.
Yet, I don’t think water content alone is what made that latest storm cycle incredible. The snow fell so fast and furiously that it covered hidden nooks and crannies we never notice right next to the stuff we usually ski. We were able to ski terrain that we haven’t skied in a long, long time, if ever. That’s what was extraordinary to me. I spent most of the storm on Aspen Mountain as the powder piled up. As it did so, it felt like the ski area grew by 30 percent. I am sure the other mountains expanded similarly.
Not only could you ski runs like S1, T1 and Anaconda from top dead center without destroying your skis on the normal rock fields in the starting zones, thin paths through the trees between regular runs blossomed into boulevards of powder for the taking. The usually narrow runnels of the Cone Dumps were joined like block parties in adjacent cul de sacs into one gigantic expanse of snow for exploring. There were new lines in Bingo Glades that I had never considered. Uncle Wiggly’s gave us a preview of what the Entrance to Aspen might be like if we went from the S-curves to a straight-shot configuration. Who knew Niagara could be such a pleasant challenge when you don’t have to concentrate on dodging bare spots and protruding obstacles? The usually bare, southern-exposed wall off of Lift Six was awesome. Power Line, Silver Queen Ridge — the list goes on.
Alas, it was nearly heartbreaking to see the mid-March sun break through the clouds near the end of this incredible weather phenomenon. No snowpack, no matter how deep, is a match for its radiant heat this time of year. The powder is gone. Narrow-waisted skis are in vogue again. Those magical ski corridors of color and variety are disappearing like pleasant dreams always do. Did it really happen? Of course. But, we really won’t remember how good it was until the next time the atmospheric river overflows its banks. What we learned is that chutes on the side of a ski mountain in a big storm are like cigarettes in a foxhole during a war — smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Roger Marolt is content enough now to carve a last few easy turns into summer. Email at email@example.com.
“2023 predicted to be the Vintage of a Lifetime in Napa Valley,” proclaimed the headline this week in a press release sent out by the Napa Valley Vintners, the trade organization that represents the growers and producers in America’s most famed wine region. If there is anyone more optimistic than winemakers, it is the group that represents them.