Stress, thy name is powder | AspenTimes.com

Stress, thy name is powder

Roger Marolt
Aspen, CO Colorado

There is no such thing as a powder day. At best there are powder hours. The first is a wish and the second reality. Reconciling the difference, while waiting in line for the lifts to move in subzero temperatures after breaking with all normal morning routine, is a recipe for severe stress.

The thing most taxing about a powder day is that you know you’ve got such limited time before all of the good stuff is tracked to crap with only tufts of deep snow between ski-cut trenches hinting that the slopes where only briefly the stuff of your feathery dreams. If, by chance, you have any difficulty in accepting this truth, ask yourself: Why else would people invest good money in fat skis? It’s to make what’s left of a powder day after 10 o’clock tolerable.

What really gets to you, waiting in a lift line at half past eight on a snowy morning, is that you have too much opportunity to check out all the people ahead of you. You know that each and every one of them looked out the window this snowy morning, had no hesitation in deciding to shirk all responsibility for the day and raced to the slopes to be first on the lift. Slackers! To make matters worse, you know that each one construes his irresponsible actions to mean that he is the most avid rider on the mountain. The self-delusion is intolerable! Worst of all, these people are going to be desecrating the best selections of the untracked powder directly beneath you as you watch helplessly from the lift, still on your way up, knowing that you will have to feign elation slogging through second helpings of crud they are leaving behind. How dare they!

Not being the first one up, you know that there is a good chance that you will suffer the most painful alpine injury ever known to a skier. It is the prospect of listening to another “first track” story that everyone dreads most. Even though nobody has actually skied “waist-deep powder” since barrel staves were abandoned as the snow sliding tools of choice, you will hear the term bandied about, not only all day long, but for weeks, months, even years to come as if the occurrence was more common around here than rear-end smooching paid for with real estate listing contracts granting 6 percent sales commissions. Of course, the reason why listening to a powder-day story is so excruciatingly painful is precisely because they are such an unequaled delight to tell.

Many inexperienced enthusiasts deny that this ski rage, powder-probe envy ” whatever you want to call it ” exists at all. I began to doubt it myself earlier this week when I showed up early to get first shot at some of the 2 feet of fresh fluff. I have to admit that I haven’t partaken in the whole phony show of powder-hound solidarity for quite some time, because I recall with great vividness the destructive selfishness in the name of ski-love I witnessed in my impressionable youth.

Once I saw a line cutter tossed bodily and headfirst into a snow drift by a much larger man in Levis jeans who believed he was the more devout member of the cult. I’ve seen near misses followed by direct hits followed by fisticuffs on wide open slopes by those seeking desperately for tracks to call their own. I’ve listened earnestly on the gladded slopes to foggy silence of the morn’ shattered as often by vulgar invectives as with hoots of ecstasy.

So, I was surprised on the morning in question to find a small gathering of devotees at Lift 1A politely waiting for the bull wheel to turn. I wondered: Could it be that the sport has changed, for the better? Are today’s civilized and enlightened frost aficionados more inclined toward peace and politeness?

Then, at approximately two seconds after nine o’clock, a Skico employee announced that the opening would be delayed. You could practically hear the swarms of butterflies begin to flutter their wings inside Gortex-clad chests. Ten minutes later, no progress in solving the problem had been made and energy seeking escape caused many appendages to twitch. Twenty minutes more and nerves became so taught that the breeze verily hummed as it gently blew through the eerily quiet and aggravated mob. The suspense was nearly killing me because I knew what was coming. In 40 years of skiing, I’d seen it dozens of times before.

Relief from the strain came in the form of a touristly dressed young man of about 25 years. He plodded obliviously up the stairs to the line already formed, with every squinted eye directly upon him. Unaware, he spied some friends near the front and clomped toward them with a smile so wide as to betray every ounce of his innocence. He dropped his skis and clicked in, and began chatting away. I believe the friend closest to him cringed.

For one moment that embedded itself solidly in the forefront of every dumbfounded mind of each who was there, all chatter and rustling ceased. I never doubted for an instant that it was a false peace that had becalmed the masses.

It might have been me who cleared his throat, but whomever, it was enough sound to call forth another, which came out clearly as, “Hey, get the hell to the back of the line!”

After that, it was free for all. Only a few people of the most timid nature didn’t instantly come forth with one extremely personal insult or another. The roar was as loud as the look on the poor boob’s face was pitiful. He didn’t breath. He didn’t swallow. His friends ignored him, and a few even hollered some profane abuse of their own to endear themselves to the rabble.

The victim quickly escaped unharmed and disappeared back down the stairs not to be seen there for awhile. The lift was opened shortly afterward, and most quickly forgot about the line crasher to become stressed out about other things. It is not known for sure what became of the boob. I heard that he came back sometime after lunch and had a perfectly pleasant afternoon with the slopes all to himself.

Note: Roger Marolt does not condone any type of politeness whatsoever on a powder day.


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