Andersen: Eight sweet turns
I was at the top of a small glade, hemmed in by a dark wall of tall spruce and fir. The untouched glistening snow was too inviting to pass up, so I turned my skis down the slope.
You know when something is special because it’s finite. It’s not about volume, scale or quantity. You value what is small and intimate because of quality and uniqueness.
Drink one glass of good wine or one cold, flavorful beer and really taste it. Eat a fine meal of small portions and savor every bite. Have just one of something special and it means more.
This snowy glade was special because there wasn’t anyone within five miles. I can visualize it now as a private little gift of nature, as a reward for personal effort during a solo, backcountry ski tour.
This glade was radiant with the low January sun and sparkling with zillions of hoar frost crystals the size of my thumbnail. The air was as still as life can be — no wind, no motion other than an occasional evergreen dumping its limb load with a thump, followed by the sigh of snow sifting softly through branches.
I tracked past it on the uphill and filed it away for later. I was immediately excited for the return down the broken ski track.
What a luxury it is tracking through the wilderness alone — no talk, no distractions, everything quiet, nothing but the deep, demanding presence of the forest and the mountains, all covered with sound-absorbing snow.
It took me three and a half hours to crest the ridge. I had been meandering about in the thick timber when the saddle appeared as a notch of blue sky. I followed a narrow corridor between black evergreens that led to a big clearing where a panorama of the Elks stood far off to the west in winter white — Hayden, Pyramid, the Bells.
I had my lunch there — PB&J and chocolate — sitting on my skis, skins still stretched on the bottoms. I listened.
A jet flew over now and then, but between the interruptions there was quiet — enough to hear the faint chirp of nuthatches, just a faint, high-pitched peeping coming from invisible perches in the deep forest. The birds were my only company that day.
After lunch I stripped off the skins, clamped down the cable bindings on my old, worn out boots, put on enough clothes for the downhill and kicked and glided back across the meadow on blue wax over a crystal carpet of incredible uniformity. These snow crystals were not the hoar frost of the valley, but a mature, consolidated crystal that’s seen some sun and cold.
Dropping back down the trail the trees were tight, and the pitch was a little steep. My turns were not very graceful, but they served well enough to keep me upright and avoid tree stumps and skewering myself on the sharp stubs of broken branches.
When I came upon that glade, all white and virginal, my skis made the decision for me. They cut right, off the trail and toward the middle of that mellow, welcoming pitch. It was low angle, no avalanche risk, dotted with a few evergreens, dropping down then sweeping to the left.
Eight turns was all there were. Eight sweet, arcing turns through seething granules on a consistent, solid base that supported enough edge pressure to lean into the turns and make the skis carve.
I fell into that memorized rhythm and angulation, riding my skis down the glade into a small drainage. At the bottom I cut back to the left, into the woods, looking for a contour back up to the trail that would suit my blue kicker.
Eight turns isn’t like doing laps in the Bowl or getting face shots on the Wall or counting vertical feet on the gondola. Eight turns isn’t much.
But those turns were with me when I went to bed that night, tired and happy. Just before dropping off to sleep, I thought about that beautiful, quiet glade in the sparkling sun on a special Sunday in mid-January.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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