Marolt: Carrying on a tradition etched in perfect powder
I found myself at the top of a run in Temerity at Highlands Sunday with about 8 inches of fresh powder on top of about 8 inches of slightly used powder from the day before. There wasn’t a track in it — not a patrol cut, not a set of animal tracks, not a trail from a snowball rolling down the fall line, nothing. So unusually fascinating did it appear that I had to snap an iPhoto of what was so white and pure and endless before me that it looked blurry. I needed the picture to confirm the story in my own mind when I recounted it later, probably thinking about my good fortune between prayers and the first moments of sleep that night.
I’ve skied powder before. I’ve skied powder that I called “untracked,” but it was actually more like an un-skied line of powder between and across one or two tracks from a couple of skiers before me. In Alaska I skied truly untouched snow, but that required a day of commercial flying, another of driving deserted highways through the backwoods and a few more hours flying in a supercharged Piper Cub to the ridge of one of a thousand unnamed glaciated peaks there. On Sunday, I slept in and only got to the mountain an hour and a half after the lifts opened.
I have never seen a “rope drop.” I avoid them for stress incompatible with a day off. So, it might have been meant to be that I unloaded the Loge lift just as the ropes keeping skiers out of the bowl came down. I don’t know; there might have been 200 people waiting. When they got the green light, it was a race for the radio tower at the top.
As for me, as tempting as it was to get caught up and put my head down and go, I kept my head up and noticed almost nobody sneaking onto the tree trail that leads into Temerity. I was sixth in line there. A group of five jumped on the first run we came to. I enjoyed their hoots. Then it was just me following another guy across the slopes for the next opening. He was breaking trail, and I would catch up often and slow down instead of passing. I am a polite powder hound. He had no way of knowing this, though, and I bet he thought I was trying to snipe him at the next opportunity. He hit the gas, and I let him go. The slopes below had my attention. That’s where I stopped and took the pic.
Then I started. I wasn’t hooting or hollering. Who would have heard? Instead I pursed my lips to keep the snow out of my mouth. Then I began to laugh to myself; there was no way that this was really happening. Turn after soft turn, the terrain broke over my boot-tops and, I assume, swirled into a mist behind. I went right. I went left. I went right down the middle and left no regrets. Everywhere I ruined nature’s perfection in snow.
It wasn’t until I got to the bottom that I realized I was gassed. I could feel my heart pound in my neck. I was breathing so hard that I felt, not heard, a rasp from my throat behind my ears. My quads were braided in cramps. I noticed none of this along the way. I was so caught up in the unreal that I hadn’t caught the signals ordering me to stop. I have a good friend who describes such moments as “little kisses from God,” and he is right.
The first thought that came to me in that moment of re-composure was of my dad the day he died. It must have been like this. Ten years ago he was in Argentina for a reunion with his racing buddies. He got there a day early, and it had just snowed big. From what we learned, he checked in and immediately headed for the slopes. The ski patrollers said they watched him come straight down the middle of a famous run on the face of their pride. He made turn after beautiful turn. At the bottom, his body gave out forever.
On Sunday at the bottom of Temerity, I thought of God’s small kisses, I thought of my family and wished they had made that surprise run with me, and I thought of my father. I know he had similar thoughts in Argentina, and I was grateful for another run with him.
Roger Marolt knows you never know what can happen when you hit the slopes. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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