Paul Andersen: Levitating on five feet of snow
Huffing and puffing, frost burning my face, I crested the ridge at Sawmill Park on a steep skin track emerging from the dark timber. My son, Tait, stood in the open meadow beneath a swirl of clouds, smiling.
“Check this out,” he said, holding up his bamboo ski pole with the duct tape around the tip. He pushed the handle straight down and gradually nudged it deeper.
The ski pole disappeared into the snow, followed by Tait’s arm, up to his elbow. He retracted the pole, stood it next to him, then reached up to indicate the depth of the snow. “Five feet, Dad!”
Holy … ! The snow under our skis was 5 feet deep on level ground. And this by the end of January. We haven’t seen a snowpack like this in years, and there’s even a solid base to ski on.
“We’re levitating 5 feet off the ground,” Tait enthused. “What a winter! I love it!”
Most people in their late 60s are seeking warm places at low altitudes, usually with golf in mind. For me, on this the last day of my 67th year, Tait took me into the high, cold, snowy mountains as a birthday celebration. There was nothing I’d rather do.
We started at Norrie and skinned up the road to Twin Meadows, pushing effortlessly against 3 inches of eiderdown. The sky was dark. Snow was dumping down in a chaos of spinning, drifting, swirling flakes that accumulated on our jackets and hats.
Tait wears a wide-brimmed felt hat that holds snow, and he was gaining a fair snowpack atop his noggin. I slowed my pace to let a gap form between us, and we skied in silence amid the whisper of falling snow in a peaceful calm.
I often wonder when age will preclude me from doing a respectable tour with Tait, and I’m putting it off as the skilled procrastinator I have become, at least where age is concerned. It takes me a little longer to get into my uphill groove, and it takes me a bit longer to recover from a big day out, but the elation is not something I’m willing to give up.
The gentle road led to a steep, timbered trail. Plodding along, I wondered why more fathers don’t do things like this with their sons. Some fathers banish their boys from home and hearth with the idea that it will kick them into maturity, forcing them fend for themselves.
This is akin to the “swimming lesson” of throwing your kid off the pier and watching them flail for their lives. Some feel that tough love is about harsh treatment.
I would rather jump off the pier with my boy and swim with him, ascribing to tough love as rigorous participation in my son’s developing adulthood and the enduring belief that he will plot a healthy future in a challenging world.
I felt fairly confident that I could still ski the route to Sawmill Park, and I got a boost knowing Tait was up ahead. Still, the getting up and getting down was totally up to me, and there was value in realizing the ability of my aging body to get me out into the hinterlands I have always loved.
We stripped skins, turned back on our track, and linked tele turns through the woods and open glades. Those turns are etched in my mind, the technique stored in muscle memory. I again realized the importance of layering, pacing, nourishment and attitude during a deep winter tour with a wind chill of 10 below, which is what it felt like at Sawmill Park.
Back at the car were two cold beers, a tin of sardines, and a Stan Rogers CD that made our drive down the Pan a songfest. We belted out the choruses at the top of our lungs and counted only two cars in the 45 minutes it took to follow the icy, snow-covered meanders of the Fryingpan River back to Seven Castles.
That night, cozy in bed, I re-lived that tour from beneath a warm quilt in the quiet of my home. What a splendid birthday!
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.