Marolt: The coming and going of a powder day
Now, that’s what I call a storm cycle! A week ago my driveway was clear except for a few patches of slush, some southern-exposed parts of the yard were bare, and the last thing on my mind was shoveling the roof. It looked like we were in the clear. “Yes,” indeed, as the old-timers used to say, “clear up to a tall cowboy’s name.” Those were the days when cowboys etched their names on the backs of their belts.
Surely, dedicated skiers wonder if Feb. 1 was the best day of skiing ever, just as people with their blistered hands around shovel handles moaned that it was possibly the worst, not because of the strain of the workload, necessarily, but because whatever salting and snow rearranging needed to be done kept them off the slopes.
We know for certain that in all of history there was a real day in a real place that holds this honor of being the best. It’s a subjective measure, but not completely. Certainly there have been bigger snowstorms at many ski resorts throughout the world and calendar, but as far as flake weight, texture, timing, lack of wind, air temperatures, humidity and choice of terrain to enjoy it on, you could make the argument for us. Maybe, just maybe, this was it.
Lots of people asked me about the storm. “Is it the biggest you can remember?” The irony is not that I have possibly been around too long, but rather it suggests that I should be able to remember. I remember the winter of 1976-77 because it didn’t snow at all and the one of 1983-84 because I came home from college for Christmas and didn’t see the sun for three weeks. But those are big stretches of pooled memory that haven’t evaporated into oblivion yet. They are entire seasons. Remembering particular days over the course of a half-century of wintertime is impossible, at least for me.
Memories are unreliable at least partly because the basis for them, at least in skiing, is created largely from exaggerated data. If we had 3 inches of snow for every time somebody came off the mountain blabbing about “knee-deep powder” and “face shots on every turn,” we would currently be living on top of a glacier.
The funny thing about powder is that it is supposed to make us happy, but a wait in a line before the running of the lifts on the morn of a storm is enough to make you doubt. People jockeying for position for first ride up the mountain tend to be edgy and tense, as bad as in any big-city office I’ve ever been in. It’s a bad vibe, one I swore off years ago. For me, powder days are best enjoyed after about 1 in the afternoon, when the mountain is pretty much yours alone and doesn’t look all that different from how it does after the first dozen tracks are set down every single trail in the first 20 minutes the mountain is open.
The necessity of cleaning up the walks and driveway twice in one day may be the most earnest delineation of an unusually large snowstorm. That much manual work gives a guy too much time to think. Last week it made me long for a ski vacation during such a storm. Can you imagine? What would it be like to wake up slopeside, go skiing in 2 feet of fresh powder and come home afterward and lie on the couch without a care in the world except where we’re going for dinner? No shoveling, no driving, no scraping the windshield. A leak in the roof? Not my problem. It’s enough to make a fair-minded person ask whether it is not better to visit than to live in a place like this. It’s one of those burning questions I will avoid for fear of discovering the truth.
If I really dig deep into the memory banks, I can sort of remember the first three weeks of January when it didn’t snow at all and every day was sunny and warm. It was the driest beginning of a year that I can remember. And we know that means absolutely nothing. After our ski legs recover and the inflammation in our shoveling shoulders subsides, this once-in-a-lifetime storm will be nothing but a memory — bigger than life and yet smaller than the turns we will make tomorrow in knee-deep powder, kicking up face shots on every turn.
Roger Marolt is ready to put the rock skis away until next fall. Contact him at roger@marolt llp.com.
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