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Paul Andersen: Taking a powder at Snowmass

Paul Andersen

The unblinking eye of the computer screen glared at me on Thursday afternoon. Its gaze was defiant and accusatory. “You haven’t written a thing of merit all day, you slacker!” it intoned. “I defy your every effort.”

My computer does not often harass me like this. Usually, it appears more compliant, even generous. Letters fill the screen and form into words that encourage me to keep working. It even corrects misspellings and underscores bad grammar.

Computers have been my friends ever since I came to Aspen 20 years ago and learned the intricacies of the typesetting system at The Aspen Times. Before then, I had punched out my copy on typewriters, a veritable Stone Age tool compared with today’s word processors.

That’s not to say that the Times had much of a computer system in the mid-’80s. We typed from our terminals and fed our stories, plus long strings of intricate codes, into a huge central computer. This grinding, groaning behemoth was patched into a mega printer that spit out our formatted news copy ready for paste-up.

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Today’s computers have so facilitated the writing process that everyone who owns one ought to be able to write like an artist. On Thursday, however, my computer showed the daunting gap between technology and talent. I shut it down feeling morose and dejected.

Then it snowed. The storm turned the air white with wind-driven flakes as gusts roared up the Fryingpan Valley and buffeted my house. My wife asked me for a ski date on Friday, but since the computer and I were in a power struggle, I told her not to count on me.

The next morning, I looked out and saw about an inch of new snow on the ground. Just for grins, I called the snow report. Twelve inches had fallen at Snowmass. I glanced at the dead, cold computer and thought about switching it on, then I thought about the ski report.

An hour later, my wife and I were driving to Snowmass, dressed for skiing. I had declared a temporary truce with my computer and hoped to shift into a different frame of mind. The first run took care of that, and I did not look back for the rest of the day.

A foot of powder was one of the best therapeutic prescriptions the doctor could have ordered. Floating down run after run through mostly untracked snow, my wife and I exulted in a rare enchantment.

The air was cold and crisp, and clouds swirled around the peaks, warding off the warm sun and sheltering the snowpack from the eventuality of spring thaw. We rode the cusp between spring and winter on waves of deep creamy snow from one end of the mountain to the other.

On the Cirque and the Wall, the wind had loaded more than 12 inches, and as I hit hummocks of deep fluff, snow billowed up around my waist. We had those runs to ourselves, and it was like a backcountry ski tour through spruce and fir mantled with pillows of fresh powder.

On the chairlift, my wife squeezed my hand and smiled at me through her neck gaiter and goggles. “This is why we live here,” she enthused, erasing any lingering guilt over hammering a double-black diamond instead of the keyboard.

From the top of Burnt Mountain at the end of the day, I studied the high aeries of Willow Basin where dark clouds hovered over snowy peaks and snowflakes drifted on a stiffening west wind. My gaze swept the horizon of clouds and peaks in a 360-degree view of stunning beauty.

When my wife came panting up the trail, we held a brief counsel, a kind of summit meeting, and decided that we chose the mountain life because of the euphoria we felt at that moment. The cosmos smiled at us on that sun-dappled ridge as we swooped through misty glades, crystals of ice glinting in the air like fairy dust.

Later, with sore legs and the deep calm of whole-body fatigue, I addressed the computer on my terms and extracted a few words and phrases that pleased me. The powder skiing therapy was a success, and my computer and I are communicating much better now.

Paul Andersen thinks that flaking out once in a while is good for the soul. His column appears on Mondays.


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