Paul Andersen: The incredible lightness of skiing
November 25, 2002
Last week I contacted the New Age ski psychologist Deeper Snowpack, who wrote the seminal book, “Ten Ways to Cope with Snow Metamorphosis.” I needed the guru’s advice on handling my anxiety over this winter’s skiing conditions.
It’s not that I’m bummed by the great early season skiing, but rather by the fear that such stellar conditions will change. Skiing untracked powder on a firm base in November is such a novelty that it inspires dreams of a Bugaboo winter here in the Elk Range, a dream that could segue into a nightmare.
With a record base of 40 inches on our ski mountains two weeks before Thanksgiving, this ski season is shaping up to be radically different than past scenarios of bottomless depth hoar and terminal gradient doo-doo. Let’s face it: the crummy snowpack of recent years has made the off-piste crowd piste-off.
Last year’s base ? and I use the term loosely ? was weaker than the Bush administration’s foreign policy. It had less integrity than Ken Lay and the Enron board of directors. It was more vacuous than Anna Nicole Smith. It had less substance than Bill Clinton. It had as much cohesion as the current Aspen City Council. To use the vernacular, it sucked.
Now comes a season with such brilliant promise that the Skico identifies an expectant “buzz” within the community. That buzz translated into a free-for-all powder frenzy on Aspen Mountain during opening day when 150 rope-ducking anarchists rushed Gentleman’s Ridge as if storming the Bastille.
In addition to great skiing on the lift-served mountains, prime conditions in the backcountry are ripe for hut-tripping, which has prompted the 10th Mountain Division hut system to open a few weeks early. Usually at this time of the year there is barely enough snow to cover one’s boots. This year, it’s all the way up to your booty!
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Which is why I contacted the respected ski psychologist Deeper Snowpack. When something in life is really great, one’s natural reaction is to wonder when it’s all going to hell. Great expectations for a primo powder pandemic invite snow angst.
Sure we have great snow now, but our traditionally cold, clear Decembers have a way of eroding early snowpacks into the consistency of Ping-Pong balls. Checking the weather on the Internet three times a day becomes something akin to watching a bear market plunge. Each day of clear skies is a sign that our precious base is in jeopardy.
“Take three deep breaths before looking at the radar image,” advises Deeper Snowpack. “Then you must visualize a low pressure moving into the Southwest. Try to see the isobars on the map. Try to feel the drop in atmospheric pressure.”
Wishful thinking is well and good, I tell him, but it still causes anxiety. I’m chewing my fingernails here hoping for the next typhoon to hit LA. I’m never happier than when Anaheim is flooding right up to the guardrails of the Riverside Freeway and mansions are washing away at Malibu.
“Feel the snow,” says Deeper Snowpack. “Feel the clouds spilling their burden like a dog shaking an old down comforter. Feel the flakes as they fall like feathers exploding from a pillow fight between the gods dressed in their silver fleece PJs.”
I’m beginning to think that Deeper Snowpack is one of the biggest flakes in this imaginary storm, but visualization is worth a try. Meanwhile, at the writing of this column, the skies are clear, the nights are cold and the days are mild. Factor in a warm surface temperature on the ground and we’ve got the prime contributing elements to base degeneration.
Deeper Snowpack gave me a mantra, which I repeat with each exhale. “Let it snow … let it snow … let it snow …” I’m feeling like Bing Crosby in “Christmas in Vermont,” a hokey film where an old Army chum’s ski lodge is on the brink of bankruptcy … and if they just had enough snow they might make it through Christmas … and the chum’s lovely family could avoid foreclosure … and wouldn’t that be swell?!
“Picture yourself on a powder slope,” intones Deeper Snowpack. “You are floating through 2 feet of crystalline shimmers and you are weightless with each perfect turn. You are untroubled. You are free. Your anxiety is gone. Now you have attained the incredible lightness of skiing.”
[Paul Andersen thinks he got a snow job. His column appears every Monday.]