Roger Marolt: New friends on a powder day
It is the heart of summer, a good time to talk about a great day of skiing. It is too hard in the winter with everyone half paying attention, waiting to one-up you with their own tale of pow. Then you might as well talk politics.
It was later in March. I had been working a streak of days without pause. It was sunny with a little powder and I had only skied Snowmass a handful of times, trying to ski Gowdy’s on all of them without luck. I am always amazed how steep that run is at the top and need to annually check to make sure I am remembering right. The problem is it seems to be closed more often than not. They stretch the orange rope across it early in the afternoons or shut it down often for too much sun, wind, snow, or, it seems, imaginary Sasquatch migration. It adds to the allure of being handed a treat when they let you ski it.
I was at the bottom of Big Burn lift and a couple was about to load. “Hi,” I filtered through my mask. “I am fully vaccinated. Do you mind if I ride up with you? I’ll sit on the end of the bench and won’t bother you.” They admitted they also had gotten their shots and away we went.
They were the friendly type who understood lift rides are short and conversations on them not long. We exchanged how’s-your-days and where-you-froms. They were avid California skiers enamored with the sport who got out whenever possible. I admitted I had passed that stage when I was about 8 but still loved the sport in an intimate, relaxed way. They seemed to dig that.
The man asked where I was headed. I told him my plan, and he remarked that he had always wanted to ski that run, but he didn’t want to do it alone and didn’t know anyone to take him.
His wife asked what it was like and I told her straight up, “You make a long slow sidehill traverse across the flats and then it is like the crust of the Earth falls away below your feet and, after taking in the incredible view between your ski tips, you realize you need to exhale.”
Neither spoke, but their eyes begged harmoniously for more.
“The first three turns you barely feel your edges, then it’s like a gentle landing in a dense layer of soft snow, usually a couple inches of sluff that skis like eight inches of burly powder. Then you are on a wide open slope with nothing to trip you up or run into. It is a thrill.”
It was like I had infused desire into the air they inhaled. Then an incredible, almost out of body thing happened. I heard words coming from my mouth as from outer space — “I’ll take you there.”
We exited the lift’s off-ramp onto the traverse. We slogged as scripted and the bottom dropped out as promised. I cannot describe how satisfying it was as they stood at the lip of the cornice silently taking it all in. I had brought these people a reality they were mistaking for a dream.
Authentic awe froze them as I positioned them and explained the way to nail the entry. After 15 minutes, the woman suggested it might help if I went first so she could visualize it, so I did.
It did not help that a snowboarder jumped ahead of them and then violently tumbled clear through the couloir. I watched from the bottom as they re-mustered the courage to commence the the pinnacle of the adventure.
Twenty minutes later, I “whooped” and they found me waiting, their legs wobbly, faces sweating and deep breaths shaping their lips into smiles. I was thrilled for their accomplishment.
“You waited?!” They exclaimed.
I felt tears. “I got you into it. I’ll darn well get you out,” I said, voice cracking.
I led them through gladed terrain, over knolls, though gullies and around big rocks back to High Alpine lift. I enthusiastically invited them to explore Hanging Valley with me. They excitedly accepted. We found ample powder and had it to ourselves.
At the bottom there was an awkward goodbye, the inadequate substitute for an ineffable expression of shared joy. As I skied off, I realized we had not exchanged contact information. The moment had prevailed! Time had spoken for itself! That’s a pretty darn good day.
Roger Marolt is beginning to realize that spending time on others is a good way to buy something nice for yourself. Email at email@example.com.
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Vignettes of life in the valley. Some you may have heard; hopefully, others will be new.