Andersen: Ski nirvana blisses my season
The last ski turn I made this season was on the finish line of a sagebrush slalom course at the trailhead to Mt. Sopris. The snow was a loose slush, and my skis pushed up a huge slurpy speckled with mud.
A tongue of snow ended in a fragrant sage meadow where birds were singing, skies were blue and the air was a balmy 60 degrees. Just an hour before, my friend Graeme and I had been standing at the summit of Mt. Sopris, at almost 13,000 feet, in awe of the views laid out before us.
I’m addicted to these views, hooked on the effusive wonder and enchantment of seeing mountain after mountain to the far horizon of the Elk Range. Ragged ridges, precarious rock faces and brilliant, white snow formed on this day a visual feast worthy of slack-jawed amazement.
We had a quick lunch at the breezy, cool summit, where cornices are cantilevered dangerously over the void, then skied a short way down the ridge and entered the very top of the bowl through a gap in a cornice wall.
Dropping onto the southeast face where the snow was softest, we stood at the roofline of a vast cathedral of snow and rock. We gathered ourselves at the verge of a steep pitch leading down to the frozen planes of Thomas Lakes — and launched.
The snow was a mix of winter windpack and spring glaze that made for tentative turns. At that altitude, I could connect five turns before gasping for air. This made it necessary to stop and take in a perspective that was both humbling and expansive.
The sun was intensely beating against the white snow, and the clear sky was cobalt blue — nearly black — bringing the ridgelines and couloirs into dramatic focus. My heart was beating hard not only from exertion, but from heightened awareness of what it means to be alive and able to ski where my legs carry me.
With every few turns, the snow changed texture, gradually morphing into the creamy slush that affords easier skiing. We savored our time in that majestic amphitheater, swooping down to where the highest trees at timberline are the gnarled and elegant bristlecone pines, one of the oldest living things on earth.
The depth of pleasure I felt was both sensually aesthetic and physically demanding, making a ski run down Sopris very pleasing to the soul. Here is a place where I may tap into the ethereal while my feet are right here on Mother Earth.
The day before had been a different kind of peak ski experience. This was on Aspen Mountain, where I spent the last punch on my Classic Pass. The runs were empty, the snow was vanilla yogurt, the sun was high and spring was in the air.
I was on a pair of old Rossignols for which had I paid $30 at the ski swap years ago. I bought them for the G3 tele bindings, but discovered that these skis like to turn, hold an edge hard and fly down the hill.
After a few warmup runs, I let the skis take charge. All I had to do was stand on them and ride. Turning them loose in sweeping curves down Spar with no one else in sight was so liberating that I found myself laughing out loud. It wasn’t ecstasy or edibles, but rather a burst of buoyant bliss.
Skiing became a dance with gravity on a gorgeous, white dance floor in the surreal setting of a mountain ballroom where my shadow was my partner. The runs accrued, the day flew by and solo skiing answered every need and want I had, foremost among them the personal freedom of a turn and a sense of physical grace that infused harmony into every motion.
I’m usually a bit relieved to put my skis away for the season — with no injuries — but I’m already eager for next winter. Meanwhile, I will take pleasure in my internal screensaver as it cycles through beautiful images that I can review at will.
Paul Andersen is writing this from a beach in Mexico. His column appears on Monday, and he can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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