"My Best Day Ever" Essay
Contest, Page 2
entries, page (1),
(2), (3), (4),
My Best Day
The coffee was done, the car loaded up.
6 inches of fresh was in the driveway, and I swept some off the
windshield as my 17 year old, Chris started the Subaru.
We were off to a nearby ski area, closed for the past 2 winters.
Chris was planning to meet some bros and work on a kicker. I
intended to head up to a nearby lake and make a few laps in a
We pulled into the parking lot, and Chris's buddies greeted him
with shouts and bumped fists. Easily 10 inches of dry snow had
fallen overnight up here, and we all rushed to put on snowshoes
and skins. I started off breaking trail for the snowboarders,and
with the lure of freshies, they had no problem keeping up with
me. We followed the service road to the top of the deserted ski
area. I abandoned my plan to continue up to the bowl higher up,
stripped off my skins, and dropped in. The whoops of 3 teenaged
boys chased me down the hill. Light, dry snow flowed past my
waist as I linked 20-30 almost-perfect teles. I started grinning
and yelling as well. The boys shot past me, making big surf turns.
The group pulled up at the service road we had started at. We
admired the turns etched on the run above. Chris's friends prepared
to head down to the jump they had started working on yesterday,
and called him to join them. Chris looked at me. "How about
another lap, Dad?", he asked with a huge smile. His friends
shrugged and left, and Chris and I put skins and snowshoes on
again to continue our best day ever.
"The Sex Was Great, But That's
Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll seem to hold
strongest ties to party conversations with the topic of "The
Best Day I Ever Had". However, when amongst friendly skiers
and mountaineers alike, I often find evenings dedicated solely
to the art of ski-storytelling. There is something that draws
an open ear to guys with big beards, and goggle-tanned faces.
Even in the sweltering temperatures of late July and early August,
a good ski story deserves ample attention. Maybe even more attention
during these hot times, because the memories of the last winter
and the hopes for the winter to come are dancing in the minds
of the adventurous skier. "Turn down the radio!" and
"Not right now honey!" are common verbiage during tele-tales.
Born and raised in Colorado, I was given
the opportunity to enjoy a childhood of skiing. My storytelling
began on Monday mornings at school when I would discuss my adventures
and wacky antics of the Buffalo Ski Club at Winter Park, Colorado.
My young years were dedicated to seasons of Alpine Skiing, and
snowshoeing. Not until my last year of college did I grow tired
of carrying my skis and heavy alpine boots in my pack, as I ascended
peaks by snowshoe. I would find a great deal of jealousy about
me every time a tele-hound would skin by my side, with his pack
full of water, power bars, and extra clothing*not skis and boots.
And so my telemark days began.
The best day I ever had was my second day
ever on telemark skis. I had picked up an old set of Volant straightedge
skis, mounted with some Voile three-pin bindings. A friend of
mine from Copper Mountain Ski patrol had given them to me for
free, in order to gain some practice. He had some time off that
morning and we decided to take some turns. My friend had been
an experienced telemark skier for years, learning and sharing
turns with great tele-hounds such as Ben Dolenc, picked up from
Copper Mountain by Nike ACG on the tele-tour. My friend trusted
me as a good alpine skier, and assumed a lot that day. We headed
up the mountain for the opening of "Upper Petes", a
beautiful back bowl with endless fresh tracks. At this point
I had made minimal tele turns, and warned my friend of this.
A classic case of testosterone allowed me to continue climbing,
however frightened I appeared.
It was extremely bitter cold at the top
of the bowl, and the winds were howling. Coupled with my fear
and "second-time" jitters, was the shear exhaustion
of the hike. My friend launched first, making it look easy. As
his body grew more distant, I realized I must go for it. I threw
myself off of the cornice and took a deep breath. I remember
thinking out loud "right knee down, left ski forward".
This was my last thought until umphhffff!**.Ohhhhh**..uhhh. My
very first turn on the bowl had spun me around, and sent me screaming
down the face backward. I was literally shaking when I stood
up. Not only had I narrowly escaped serious injury from nearby
rocks, but also I had flung myself down an amazing powder chute,
on teles! As outrageous as it may sound, I also found a bit of
excitement learning that my skis were still attached to my boots
(an uncommon occurrence in an alpine fall).
The rest of the afternoon was spent taking
on the moguls, practicing turns on groomers, and testing the
waters of powder skiing on telemarks. It was a day of ear-to-ear
grins and laughing out loud. The feeling of taking on a new sport
and actually succeeding quite well was remarkable. "I am
a telemark skier!" I proclaimed. "I may be free-heel
for life!". "This day was****.awesome".
Over the past two years, my skills have
improved a great deal. My legs have never been in such great
shape, and I have even given telemark lessons at Arapahoe Basin,
Colorado. I'm not sure I will ever go back to Alpine skiing,
however those stories will never be forgotten either. They will
just be pushed back with the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
Another day at the office
Alarm clock... sleepy
snuggle up to the soft and warm body beside me
of the warmth and comfort of the bed
45 minutes later and Im thankfully
in the protection of the car. The bright winter morning sun,
is no more than an orange fringe on the horizon, outlining black
storm clouds as rain pelts down in an irregular grey staccato
Im starting to break a sweat already
fighting gravity by heading up. Up into a short but steep
snowfield that zig zags to a second, slightly less steep pitch
that comes down a rocky east flank of Hohtälli, one of the
peaks along the Gornergrat. I havent been able to get these
600 feet out of my head since I spied them last season. It seemed
so absurd at the time that I never gave it much thought: so steep,
so committing. Nah, thats insane, thats frightening!
But however insane it may have seemed at the time, it never completely
let go. Suppressed for a short while but then slowly growing,
eating, gnawing away at me.
Now Ive submitted, there is no way
to win this game and Im not sure I really want to. Anyway
the time seems right: I feel strong and my skiing is better than
ever. Even the snow is working with me. The freshies that fell
a few days back have settled on most slopes. No excuses left
grey bleakness surrounds me in my
office. The whole sky is now a dull grey mass and the rain still
drones down as two reflections of the telemarktips logo stare
emptily into my computer screen
bright nothingness. Eyes cast down,
I let my body follow the rhythm of the slope, the sun burning
on my neck. I can see the shadow of me, framed by the skis strapped
onto my backpack and feel oh so self conscious, the eyes of the
armchair skiers down there on the slopes beneath me, pulling
me down, mocking me. Sweat tickles down my nose.
As I stood beneath the slope looking up,
30 minutes or so ago, I recall the vice closing around my belly
and throat. Conflicting thoughts flashed through my mind
Eventually after 15 minutes of staring at my nemesis, I brought
myself to believe I could just scale the beast to check out the
conditions, nothing else. Yeah, sure
Kick, step, plant axe, kick, step, plant
lost in motion, lost in the rhythm
morning has passed in the blink of
an eye. Where did the time go? Far away, the dark masses give
way to a lighter patch. The rumbling this time is from my stomach:
Without realising, Ive reached the
top of my slope. The experience is tarnished by the lift that
unloads its passengers here. They look at me, bewildered by the
fact, that Im on the other side of the safety netting.
Their eyes intensify my insecurity, to the point that I turn
around and step back into the slope to escape their gazes. I
dig a seat in the soft snow and install myself, eat a few dried
dates, sip some water and gaze out into the mountains, surprised
by the difference those few meters make: I feel like Im
alone again on my mountain.
Its time. Back into the confines
of the office, I must go. The presentation I have to give for
the board of directors makes me tense, nervous even
I prepare myself sufficiently? What if
Boots buckled, skis fastened, poles,
no wait, one more sip of water
backpack secured? I glance up and down one more time
systems are go
Its time to do this now and theres
a huge knot in my stomach. Just stay left, so if you fall,
you might bounce off the rocks onto the next snow field. Dont
think what might happen if you blow it! What am I doing here?
Concentrate! Am I ready for this? Chill out!
Funny, how the slope looks so much steeper now?! Must be a trick
of the mind
Tentatively the first words roll
out of my mouth. I nearly stumble but then find some kind of
inner peace. Im the professional here, good at my
job, I can do this
I keep on postponing that first turn:
Okay, 3, 2, 1, NOW
nope. Okay, NOW then
I chicken out
But the end of the snow field is near,
of course its near, its only 45 maybe 60 feet wide...
I nearly glide to a halt, then without thinking: a perfect jump
turn. Yessssssss, now were talking! Just dont
get cocky and arrogant and blow it! Cautiously but now
full of confidence, I execute turn after turn
A half side
slip, half glide and Im through the bottle neck
The skiing is, technically, more demanding
as the slope is even steeper here but the danger is gone. If
I fall now, there will be no permanent damage. I relax, the turns
go on autopilot, leaving room in my brain to enjoy the moment.
Time slows and I can see every crystal of snow, feel every nuance
of the turn, the freedom of my heel
a vibrant energy explodes
from deep within my chest as an insane grin cracks my face open..
This is happiness, Im alive, ahhhhhhhh.
Whats up with you, Mike?
a colleague asks as she walks into my office and sees my ear
to ear grin. I snap out of it and the moment is lost but the
feeling still lingers deep within. Uh, nothing much, so
what did you think of
My best day skiing
another day at the office! Cant wait to ski that line though.
Of course, the best day I ever had never
really happened. I'm not even sure
I want it to happen.
My best day is a pastiche of days past.
There's little need to make things
up or draw on the future, but plenty of things combine for a
company, weather, location, access, snow quality, equipment,
Moderation in all things, all things in moderation. A variety
conditions and destinations all go into this perfect day.
The timing was spot on, being hastily organised
yet easily put together.
Real back of an envelope stuff. There were no flat tires, driving
chains on, speeding fines, falling asleep at the wheel, broken
skipping CD's, bad farts, spilt coffee, leg cramps, dripping
ski gear or
crowded vehicles. We got away from work easily, and there was
We didn't hit any kangaroos. We were in my car which is big,
4WD and comfy
in an old, vinyl kind of way. Naturally, it had been snowing
all week (this
particular day may, in truth, be imaginary).
The company was from a trip three weeks
ago on a late season September day
trip with four mates, and from three years ago with my partner
Abbie when we
avoided the Sydney Olympics and went skiing. Of course there
division of aims, different paces, different fitness levels or
tiredness or caffeine deprivation. Everyone was charging. Smiles
constant. Even the five kay haul up Twynam was fun, in its own
way. Tall tales and true, trail mix stops and out and out hollering
Being my perfect day, the destination was
the north face of Carruthers, and
the day is from earlier this year when LeHaze, Spacko and I slip
gullies first skiied in the thirties in Kandahar bindings. Whooping
hollering, we drop into the gullies wide near Windhover Knoll,
1200 feet later below the waterfall in Carruthers Face Creek,
dodging trees burnt out in the major fires of Summer 2001/2.
It is LeHaze's
fifth day on a board, Jez is now linking tele's after a decade
and I have stayed true to randonee (or is that too scared to
gear is different, yet the sport the same.
The weather of course, was like the Saturday
just gone. Graeme and I toured
out to the Main Range from Guthega and scored a late afternoon
run on the
South East face of The Sentinel after setting up camp looking
ranges, over the Murray River Valley and into the wildest lands
of the State
of Victoria. Clear, around zero Celsius, light cooling wind for
grind, perfect corn setting to solid exit material with crampons
just so. The breeze kept the air clear and we could see clear
Bogong and the Victorian Alps whitetipped in the greenblue eucalypt
The laughter comes from a day of tent driven
insanity and inanity when Nigel
and I started going 'round the twist after four days (out of
what would be
five) tent bound due to whiteout, above Lake Albina, with a broken
freeze dried food that wouldn't rehydrate properly in the frigid
Nige refused to let me read the book he had brought along, reasoning
I argued against bringing it before leaving I didn't deserve
it. He had a
point. I attempted attrition by flatulence.
Everyone's gear, of every persuasion (we
have randoneer's, telemarker's and
a snowshoes wearing boarder) seems to go without a hitch and
that much stopping, tweaking, adjusting or fiddling. And no repairs
! This is like a perfect Spring day Nick and I shared in the
camping near Blue Lake, skiing and thwacking ice in glorious
of the best things about this day is that there were two of them,
in a row.
Skins stick, bindings are solid, skis tuned with backpacks light
The snow. The snow is light and soft like
a day trip Nige and I once did
east of Thredbo, cutting out across the Crackenback range to
Twin Valleys. Untouched, fluffy, still snowing. It's not so much
boot deep, but sprays and fluffs and whisps in a way that, truth
aint all that common down this way. Wide open runs leading down
increasingly thick tree skiing before the woodland becomes impenetrable
forest above the Thredbo River and we haul out via skins and
Lunch ! Maker or breaker of any great day.
Lunch is taken from the day
Abbie and I crossed to near The Simkin above Leather Barrel Creek.
watched boarders boot out after laying glory trails down The
Spur from up
high on The Ramsheads. Cold bacon and egg pies from the bakery
washed down with water and a thermos of coffee. Then another
wore my favourite beanie (a gift from Nick, bought in Bolivia)
sunnies, and we both ate and smiled at the glory of it all.
And home... well the trip home is a tough
one to call. No trips off the
Main Range are free of some hauling out. For the trip home I
which Abbie and I shared. She mightn't have liked it, but she
was tough and
resolved, and we skied down through the Thredbo resort after
before dark, dodging Kassborers and attempting to turn on frozen
slushchunks. But before that we crossed to Thredbo through the
Doors to the
Gates of Salvation, pockmarked by granite tors and lit by a brilliant
afternoon sunset. Abbie skied down towards me, linking turns
in the heavy
afternoon snow, and I still remember how bloody proud I was of
That's the thing with best days. Snow helps,
but people make 'em happen.
And a cold beer out of the cooler in the car is always a good
thing to close
off the day with.
The best 2 1/2 inches of snow I ever
Have you ever had one of those days where
you wake up early, and from the minute you step out of bed you
are stoked up because you get to go skiing? Well, this was one
of those days. The forecast had been for snow and I was planning
on heading to the hills with two fellow tellyers. Coleman, Kristen
and I rarely get to ride together so we were all excited that
the telemarkers were going to have a day to themselves. Not to
mention that Kristen was looking forward to getting to try out
her first pair of telly boots! New snow, new gear, great friends,
what more can a kid ask for?
I got out of bed, put on some thermals,
got a kettle going on the stove and went to my computer to check
the snow report for the day. Ready for my smile to get even bigger,
I waited for the link to load. Two and one half inches! Well,
that was not the first time the weather man had been wrong but
I was sure the great company would make up for it. So I ate a
little breakfast, loaded up my car and set off. Kristen was ready
and waiting when I pulled up so I knew that she was as stoked
as I was, and the smile on Colemans face told it all. Cowboy
up, lets go!
An hour later we pulled into the Breckenridge
parking lot. With some music playing as we got suited up, we
were having our own three person party that wasnt about
to end any time soon. When we got on the bus, the snowflakes
were falling and all of our eyes were on the big cloud that was
covering peak 8. The first bus that pulled up would take us to
peak 9 and give us one run to warm up on our way to the T-bar
and the beautiful cloud that was covering Horseshoe Bowl.
After a quick prayer to thank God for the
beauty we saw all around us, we started down the mountain. Kristen
was ripping in her new boots and Coleman claimed the word for
the day with a loud and giddy "Weeeee!" on his first
run. What we thought was going to be two and a half inches turned
out to be about six. And that was only the beginning of the days
pleasant surprises. With a bit more snow on the top of the mountain,
more still coming, and with a nice amount of wind loading, we
were skiing more than knee deep in Horseshoe and Cucumber Bowls.
As Coleman dropped his first amazing turn, Kristen and I stood
in awe. We both had huge grins as we looked for that one perfect
line and saw our friend sinking deep, bobbing up and down with
sprays of snow.
After four or five runs down the steeps
of the bowl, the sparse trees at the bottom, and a few T-bar
rides to laugh, talk and fire each other up, we decided to ski
over to one of the local favorites, six chair. Talking with several
other skiers and boarders as we rode up the lift, it was plain
to see that we were not the only people in high spirits. As we
arrived at the top of six chair, we all immediately looked, and
were pumped to see that the hiking gate was wide open. The snow
on the rest of the mountain was good enough that almost no one
was hiking, and that meant almost an entire face of the mountain
The snow was deep and the excitement deeper.
By this time, Coleman got us all saying "Weeee," or
something to that effect, as the snow splashed around our bodies.
I dont know which got sore first, the muscles in our legs
from skiing, or our cheeks from smiling. Without fail, Kristen
remembered to bring her handy-dandy disposable camera. Those
fuzzy images still bring back memories of a great day and make
me hope for more to come.
As much as I like skiing, I have realized
that what really makes it great is the people you get to go out
onto the mountains with. Whether it is a day at the resort, in
the backcountry, or whether you telemark, alpine or a snowboard,
the people you get to share these activities with make them what
they are. And when perfect snow conditions meet up with great
friends you have a combination that cant be beat. There
have been many other memorable days out on skis, and I am sure
there will be plenty more to come. One thing I know is that we
will always remember that day at Breck as the best two and one
half inches of snow we ever skied.
By now I hope you all be getting pumped
to go skiing, I know I am. After all, the season has already
begun, or did it just never end? Enjoy the people you are riding
with and make every day on skis your best day ever, whether you
are skiing a glacier in August or bottomless powder in February.
The Rest is Details.
The year is '95, the place is "the
Brad, Wendy and I follow the plow up the hill at 2:00
a.m. We were so tired after an Alta day and the six hour
drive we park the van right next to a completely buried
car without recognizing its' significance. Awake to a
totally black world but the heavy machinery working
outside is small indicator of what the goddess is dropping
on us. It is too dark too move and too loud to really
sleep so we just stew around in the bags for a while until
it is light enough to read a watch.
At 7:00 a.m. its time for coffee, but that
to having to roll out of the van and find the bathroom to
poach. The panel door opens and I take my first step into
"Knee Deep in the Parking Lot". No boots of course
that cannot quell my excitement. I poke my head back
inside and utter those words of both agony and ectasy,
"let's drop the lsd". There's no argument from the
and by 8:30 we are heading toward Blackfoot chair to get
to the head of the line with some o.j. and a banana.
Assuming the 9:00 a.m. liftoff to coordinate
well with our
own we don't mind waiting in a blizzard for a half hour
with a 100 of our new best friends and so settle in trying
not to look too much like tourists. We jump in line about
25 folks back from the front and before the snow in your
throat could melt cause you didn't time your breathing
right, up skis the patrol and yaps into his radio "no wind
last night, we just shot the chutes and nothing moved, you
wanna open her up?". 30 collective jaws drop and wait an
eternity for the response, after all, he is just teasing
us so he has someone else to blame while he takes another
lap. Finally the response cackles back "yeah, go ahead,
let Blackfoot roll". The crowd roared like the Mormon
Tabernacle just broke into "Sugar Mag's".
Still not time to get too excited, in '95
still a 22 minute ride with wooden seats and a pole in the
middle but that slow pace kept the fluff going all day. A
lack of snowboards and fat skis also meant there were huge
pockets to plug all day and what few trees the 'ghee has
weren't slide-slipped through. I still can remember the
tracers coming off of Brad's back as we drop into lines
off Tower 22 time after time with no thoughts of moving
anywhere else. They really did get 36" in 24 hours with
no wind and no fog and it was cold.
Sometime about noon I was out in front
and really getting
my timing down now, hardly turning, just stand up and
switch feet and use the momentum to push deep into the
pack. The phrase "grip deep" was coined that day, anyway,
out of breath and pull up to a tree to take a break. Sit
back and slide in and SNAP!!. Broke that Ruby Mountain
right in front of my right toe plate. Bummer.
Twenty minutes to make my way down to base
Wondering the whole time "do they rent tele up here?"
not, do I drive to town or rent an entire alpine rig?" Not
really the fate of the world in my hands but pretty deep
philosophical questions for a kid who ski patrols for a
living and this is before they let patrollers pin at work.
Stumble my way inside and try to act normal while
inquiring about renting "Yeah buddy, we got pins and
nobody's gonna be using these today, leave yours and take
these, now get outta here before your pupils explode."
The posse soon reforms and within a couple
of runs Wendy
wants to take a break, whining something about food and
water and six hours outside in a blizzard. Brad and I
take a stand and refuse to go inside a building, muttering
something about confined spaces (it's a day lodge) and
that "they" are out to get us. A plan is made to
reconvene which quickly falls apart but that is okay cause
everybody is getting what they need and by the four
o'clock happy hour Brad and I are plenty sober to head for
the Trap Bar.
We only got one thing left to do and that
is make the
phone calls to work for the next day. Mine have to the
most creative, today I used that we had car trouble and
tommorrow is " I just got the fever". Needless to say
boss questioned "my dedication to the program" and
not pro at Park City after that year.
"Goat Days of Summer"
I knew things were going to get hairy the
instant the galloping goat pulled into the passing lane and sprinted
by, horns and hooves flashing like a wild and woolly eggbeater.
There wasn't time to be startled, really; he blew past so quickly.
It was more an amused awe, a detached disbelief that after nearly
30 years of free-heeling it was all going to end with a face
full of fur, the mountain goat and I tumbling over the edge and
onto the rocks below.
The fact is, I knew this goat, had met
him more than an hour before while kicking toe-hold steps into
steep hardpack snow above Glacier National Park's Logan Pass.
When I first met him at 8 a.m., it was already brilliant bright
and hot in the mountains, and inside the big, black plastic tele
boots my socks were soaked. In the valley below, temperatures
would hit 100 degrees in a few short hours, while up here the
heat was blown away every so often by the freshest cool breeze,
lifting soft and clean off the snow and ice, scented by alpine
Usually, by the time these dog days of
summer have arrived Logan Pass is well on its way to melting
out, the snowfields replaced by spongy clumps of alpine flowers
and boggy tundra. But this year, thanks to late-season snows
that dumped several feet in May and June, the pass and the mountain
chutes above are still buried, still cool, and still prime for
mid-morning tele-turns in the heat of July.
When we arrived at the pass, only one other
car sat lonely in the parking lot, its occupants buckling down
ski boots for a trek into the Bird Woman Falls basin. A graceful
cirque hangs above the falls, carved from the precipitous northeastern
flank of Mt. Cannon. After several hours of sweat, kicking a
ladder of steps into the ice, they would ski the cirque, some
1,700 vertical feet down to the top of the falls. From there,
the meltwater freefalls and tumbles another 700 feet to join
Logan Creek, then to McDonald Creek, Lake McDonald, The Middle
Fork Flathead River, the Flathead's main stem, Flathead Lake,
and on to the Pacific.
I, on the other hand, was headed for the
icy north face of Reynolds Mountain, less than a mile away from
Bird Woman but a Continent distant in terms of snowmelt. Ribbons
of snow still were draped across Reynolds, high above Glacier's
Hanging Gardens, where melt water pours into Reynolds Creek,
St. Mary Lake and, finally, the Arctic by way of the Saskatchewan
and Hudson Bay. But no matter where it goes, it all starts here,
atop the Continental Divide, where we ski fast before it all
melts soft and slips away toward the oceans.
The first leg of the day walks up the gentle
Hidden Lake trail, itself still hidden beneath deep snow. The
wooden boardwalk that keeps feet off the tundra was nowhere to
be seen, though, still buried under winter's weight. Bright sun
had pocked the snow surface as if with an oversized ice-cream
scoop, leaving sculpted sun cups just right for a size-11 boot.
As we gained elevation, however, the snow
hardened and smoothed and the slope steepened, forcing us to
chisel half steps into the snowfield. Rocks, dropped from cliffs
above, lay scattered on the snow, many half concealed as they
slowly melted their way to the surface.It is here, among the
rockfall, halfway up the first pitch, where I met the goat for
the first time.
He stepped out of a patch of krumholtz,
looking shaggy and rough and itchy with the last of his winter
coat hanging in tatters around his shoulders. The mountain goat
seemed curious -- a bit too curious, for my taste -- and kept
approaching closer across the snow. I brandished an ice-ax, doing
by best billy-goat-gruff voice, and he ambled away downslope.
Thirty more steps and I stopped to catch my breath, turning to
look east at the high peak of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, and
there he was, 10 steps behind, still following up the chute.
He kept pace all the way to the top, occasionally breaking off
to explore the bordering limber pine, a tree made so flexible
for surviving wind and snow that you can tie its branches in
High up in the stunted alpine trees hung
fuzzy clumps of goat hair, snagged there when snows were 15 feet
deeper. Beneath, in ridges of rock exposed by sun and wind, pink
patches of moss campion bloomed amid the drifts. Soon, they would
be joined by sky pilot and forget-me-nots and bright white phlox,
mountaineering plants that must make the most of a very short
summer season in Glacier's high country. We labored while the
goat walked an easy mosey, his feet better designed for snow
and ice and argillite and diorite and slopes too steep to ski.
By the time we reached the top of the snowfield,
the trees and flowers were far below and the goat, thankfully,
nowhere to be seen. We crested the ridge, the Continental Divide,
and looked down into a still frozen Hidden Lake, its icy covering
fractured by a spider's web of cracks and fissures.
A quick lunch, a drink of icy, rushing
snowmelt, a long 360-degree view of jumbled peaks soaked in unfiltered
sun and it was time to ski.
The plan was to drop down the upper snowfield,
perhaps 20 or 25 turns on a 50-degree pitch, then to arc hard
to the north in a sweeping left turn, traverse a thin snow bridge
between a cliff and a scree slope, emerge into yet another snowfield
and drop a few dozen turns into the Hanging Gardens. There we
would stop, strap our skis to our backpacks, and climb another
chute. The first part of the plan came off without a hitch, and
I let the weight of my pack help swing my body around each jump
turn. Then the sweeping left, edges crunching into the spring
corn, for the run across the narrow snow bridge.
I was skiing fast, relaxed, looking up
at the chutes carved into Clements Mountain, when the goat passed
me.He just chugged on by, a couple feet to my left, never even
giving me a glance. I don't know where he had been, where he
came from, where he was going in such a hurry; but just as I
entered the snow bridge, he passed me, and I could hear him breathing
hard as he hurried to cross the bridge first.
He was almost comical -- goats aren't necessarily
built for speed -- and I actually had time to snort a short laugh
before he leaped onto the rocks bordering the uphill side of
the bridge and then hopped back down to stand broadside in my
path. Stopping was not an option; I'm no goat. The strip of snow
was only five feet wide or so, and there was no room to turn
the skis sideways. I tried an awkward snowplow, realized I was
about to hit the goat, and made myself as narrow as possible.
Perhaps the goat moved a bit.
Perhaps the mountain moved a bit.
Perhaps I'm just skinnier than I thought.
When I hit the second snowfield, the goat
was still standing on the bridge, the rocks were still just a
couple feet from his horned head, and I had no white fur stuck
to me. My sleeve, however, was ripped and my arm bleeding where
I had scraped it across the rock face, not quite skinny enough.
The goat watched, a practiced study of
nonchalance, as I called him a few choice names. Then, turning
with what for all appearances seemed a measured deliberation,
he melted into a thicket of krumholtz, working his way back down
the mountain. Three hours later, skis again strapped to our backs,
we stepped off the glacial morraine slung low beneath Clements
Mountain and began to climb the saddle between Clements and Mount
Oberlin. It was steep, dropping fast into a string of meltwater
pools just now emerging for the summer season.
The day was growing hotter, the snow turning
soft beneath our boots, but that fresh breeze still ran cool
across the snow, fanning away the record-high temperatures with
a whiff of pine. We stepped onto the saddle just as a family
of six goats scrambled down from above, hopping from rock to
rock on the exposed ridgeline.
I eyed them closely, watching as they crossed
the Divide into the Bird Woman Falls basin, and wondered whether
the skiers I met earlier in the parking lot would in turn meet
those goats below. A raven caught a thermal rising from the super-heated
rocks, drifting lazily across the face of the mountain, his shadow
racing across the snow to follow the goats to Bird Woman. We
watched for a moment, then turned east, settling into the cool
and shaded quiet of the mountains before dropping toward Logan
Pass, linking turn after mid-July turn.
Far below, shining brighter than even the
snow, flocks of airconditioned cars circled like the raven above,
crowding on one another, looking for a place to roost in the
scorching sun; and suddenly the company of goats, no matter how
unpredictable, seemed fine company to keep in the heat of July.
My First Best Day
You see things had been hectic to say the
least, finishing up high school, deciding which "path"
to take in life, what to do about my girlfriend, all these weighed
on my mind. But skiing was still there for me, always has been,
always will be, or so I thought. We were in the middle of one
of the best Montana winters we'd had in awhile, so when I woke
up on Thursday March 23rd 2001 and saw my yard again blanketed
with 20" of dry fresh, I wasn't surprised, damn happy, but
not surprised. The morning kick started like so many others had
that winter, making the phone calls, figuring out who was in,
and who would succumb to the man and go to school.
We decided that the local hill, Great Divide,
would draw us in for another day. After hours of endless, effortless,
face shot inducing turns, my problems were gone, life was simple
again, I love to ski, therefore I ski. By 2:30 our legs were
burning with lactic acid, and had long since consumed our meager
sandwich on the lift lunch, but we didnt stop or even slow down,
never even thought about it. It was on that run that my best
day really began, as we were tearing down one of my favorite
back bowls, all 5 of us whooping and hollering, something from
the depths of the snow reached up and grabbed my left ski with
vice grip like strength, causing me to spin hard left while feeling
things tear in my knee, a feeling I would rather not recreate
anytime soon. As I lay on my back, looking up into the depths
of the Bluebird sky, the searing reality hit me like a frieght
train. My body told me it was done, "stick a fork in me"
kept running through my head, I argued, I swore, I even cried
alittle, not from the pain, but the mourning of turns lost forever.
After my friends and I hiked back out to the road to catch a
ride back to the car, I tried rationalizing that it was just
sprained, but every footfall was enough to make me want to sit
down as waves of nausea washed over me. The next day the Doctor
confirmed the nightmares that had haunted me all night. In one
fell swoop I had torn my ACL, PCL, and meniscus, to oblivion.
Chances are slim of full recovery he said, it take lots of work
and determination he said, to ever think about skiing again.
Whatever it takes I said, sign me up.
Post surgery and my left leg looked like
a corpse, no muscle, all bruised, and swollen beyond belief.
After 2 months of intense physical therapy, I had some muscle
back and was feeling confident. I worked my ass off. 4 hours
every day was devoted to my knee, and a full recovery. Now 2
years later, and Ive skied all over the world (which has always
been a goal), and renewed my devotion, not just to the sport
of skiing, but to the life of skiing.
Why was that day my "Best day ever"
you ask? It gave me an insight, a vision if you will, of what
my life couldv'e been without skiing. Skiing is what pushed me
to work so hard to recover, what has pushed me to not take a
corporate fullfiling job so that I can still ski 4 days a week.
Most of all, that day taught me that each day of skiing could
be your last, and ever since that day, every day of skiing has
been my best day of skiing ever.
That particular day started later then
most of my ski days. Not having work that day and having friends
in town I decided to tie one on at the bar the night before.
Too many Stoli and sodas had me arriving at the mountain by the
crack of eleven.
Upon arrival I knew something was different
about this day. Snow poring out of the sky raining white gold.
As I was stepping into my bindings watching people ski bye I
hear a surprised Your just getting here now? fly
bye. With a no friends on a powder day rule in effect I took
off in an attempt to catch up. Not successful in meeting my ski
buddies I climb on to the lift.
After receiving the first half of what
would turn out to be a 72 storm the energy on the mountain
that day you could cut with a knife. Making a beeline from the
top of the lift to the head of the first run anticipation hung
like a cold fall fog.
Standing at the top of that run I see out
of the corner of my eye a friend, co- worker and ski buddy of
mine so I took off looking to beat, or at least impress. Within
what felt like two huge water ski carves I was halfway down the
run. The steep and deep bump lines under my skis feeling like
small anthills. After a quick wipe of a face shot a flash of
green shot bye effortlessly gaining on my position. I felt as
though I was skiing better then I ever had and I was beaten.
With humility and respect I made my way to the lift never seeing
Justin again that day.
I continued to ski through out the day
with snow building and never seeming to end. With emotions building
higher then any drug could ever make me feel and certainly lasting
longer then any fake bag of happiness ever could, I would make
bottomless seeming turns over mogul fields . Fellow skiers remarked
that all they could see of me was my head the snow was so deep.
Driving away from the mountain a reflection
of the day enfolded upon my brain. Contentment, over exertion,
and an ignored headache from the night before created a surreal
like experience that was almost religious in a way. An epic emotional
day I had just lived through maybe never to experience again,
but I will always remember as the best day I ever had.
My Best Day Ever
I have managed to avoid this all morning,
but it was inevitable, so with my heart in my throat I get on
the lift and ride up alone. Usually I love these mid-week days
when it is possible to make entire runs and not see another person.
But today I shouldn't be left alone with my thoughts.
Two weeks ago, Christmas day, I found out,
or more accurately I found them, my soon to be ex-wife and one
of my "friends". Since then I have not been able to
work on my thesis or sleep and have only found some solace on
the slopes. Strictly avoiding the backcountry, always.always
riding the lift with someone, to help keep me out of my head.
But mid-week at a ski area this small it was bound to happen.
So here I am. Alone for 12 minutes with nothing to do but feel
the dread, pain, anger and hurt wash over me as I replay the
scenario of the last few weeks.
By the time my chair reaches the last tower
I am done. This depression combined with the frustration of my
first season of tele is the last thing I need. All I want now
is to get in my car and go home. I get off the lift and turn
right, something I have done only once before on tele gear, with
disastrous results. All of the runs on this side of the mountain
are noticeably more difficult and I can barely link turns on
green slopes. I wouldn't think twice about it on my snowboard,
but I got pretty beat up the last time I skied down this side.
Having already committed down the slope,
the only way to backtrack is to pull off my skis and hike back
up, which I am definitely not in the mood for. So I point them
down hill and head for my car. Wallowing my way through a difficult
section, with quite possibly the worse form imaginable.
Then it happens, on terrain that I could
barely have skied just a half an hour before, turn, turn, turn,
autopilot! I'm linking my turns like never before, effortless,
Zen. For the first time I am working with my skis to go where
I want, instead of battling them. The pleasure of this flow overshadows
the turmoil in my life; it even overshadows the burning in my
quads, it definitely overshadows snowboarding.
As a huge grin spreads across my face I
gain a bit of inner peace back. Towards the bottom of the run
I can see my car. I stop and look up at the slopes and take a
deep breath. Heading down the last bit I drop a knee and turn
back towards the lift.
"The Best Day I Ever Had"
I live in Milwaukee. I would try to explain
the significance of that statement, but I fear words have
yet to catch up with the suffering of a tele skier living in
the Midwest. No offense to Midwesterners
(good folks), but for someone who grew up in HeberCity, UT, where,
on a snow day, you can hear the bombs at Alta echoing like church
bells across the Wasatch, Milwaukee is... Well, I seem to remember
that one of the circles in Dante's Inferno had a tele skier stucketernally
in the Midwest and I think it was pretty damn close to the middle.
So, a few years ago, I was studying diligently
(med school is another ring-side seat for damned souls)
when, lo-and-behold, God tapped me on my shoulder and told me
he/she felt really bad about the flatland situation. He/she said
I'd get a little vacation in early March. Not a full reprieve,
mind you -- God reminded me of that little contract I'd signed
with Satan, the soul-in-exchange-for-thirty-inches-of- fresh
deal back in the early season drought of '99/'00 -- but a vacation.
He/she handed me a plane ticket, said something
about a storm heading across the Great Basin. I loaded up my
gear, put some ointment on the hell-fire scorches, and headed
for Utah on a Friday
night. Friends greeted me at the Salt Lake airport. I told them
I had the inside scoop, better than Doppler radar itself, on
a storm heading in tomorrow. By 10:00 a.m. the next morning,
I was in the Alta backcountry, dropping my knee on the first
turn into two feet of untouched snow. The Milwaukee kinks worked
out slowly; my legs burning sweetly, the film in my lungs left
from months of dirty bars and breathing hellfire-soot getting
stripped by the sting of cold mountain air. Then, at around 3:30,
it happened. Suffering my way through one final skin up the shoulder
of Mt. Wolverine, the wind blew gently. The clouds parted. Crystals
drifted, prismatically breaking rays of light. Heavenly voices
sang: I think it was a Neil Young song, but maybe it was early
Van Morrison. God doesn't hold back, I tell you, with these reprieves.
The late afternoon light slid in low and
soft, illuminating the gentle contours of 500 vertical feet of
untouched snow. A friend took his skins off, wordlessly dropping
in, hitting a rhythm, silently
billowing turn after turn to the bottom. I smiled, checked my
beacon and followed...
I love to ski. I would try to explain the significance of that
statement, but I fear words have
yet to catch up with the joy of a skier in the fleeting- yet-endless
moments of a perfect run through
untracked new snow. I finally stopped next to my friend in the
flats below Rocky Point, gasping,
amazed. We looked up at the mountain, its white face etched in
by intense blue and golden light. And that was it.
Before I went back to Milwaukee, I figured
I'd sweeten the deal with a few beers. That might've been
pushing it, but, as they say in Utah, what the Heck. Besides,
you can get pretty thirsty in Hell, but
sometimes you can remember the taste of Heaven just like you
Thievery at Virginia Lakes
It all started innocently enough. Three
tele skiers, all of different height but with the selfsame unkempt
beard, were driving to a popular back country parking area, smoking
hand-rolled cigs and not thinking for a minute that the day would
be anything other than good, let alone "The Best Day Ever."
When they arrived to the lot, they found
a group of snowboarders unloading a sled onto the foot of fresh.
"What are they doing here?" one asked, knowing the
area was surrounded by wilderness. The other two shrugged, donned
their gear and began their tour by crossing a frozen lake, curiosity
nagging all the while.
Within five minutes the sled was alive,
screaming by them at 50 mph, blowing wind through their beards
and scorching their eardrums. The machine made the steep incline
at the south end of the lake in 2.5 seconds, and hit it with
such force that the guy on back nearly got bucked off, as his
snowboard did. The unmanned board slid back to the lake, and
the skiers shrugged.
Another shuttle ensued, this time slowing
for the incline, and another, with the total lap time around
one minute. The group shuttled themselves, their snowboards and
three shovels to the orange "NO SNOWMOBILES" sign at
the wilderness boundary, a total distance of 1000 feet from their
car. Before they had completed the shuttles, the tele skiers
were well past the sign, kicking trail into the boot deep wind
load from the night before.
Before long, the skiers were at the top,
toying with their beards and watching with great interest as
the snowboarders trudged away from their sled with shovels in
hand, post-holing to their hips on route to a kicker that they
had apparently been working on the day before. The tall skier
noted that it takes longer to load and unload a sled than it
does to walk 1000 feet, post-holing or not. The mid-height wondered
why they were making separate holes. "Maybe they think it's
easier," the short one remarked, and they all laughed up
until they noticed that the remaining two boarders were heading
up their uptrack, butchering it beyond recognition with snowshoes.
"Rookies." The short skier scoffed.
After cutting off a considerable slab of
wind-load, the skiers tucked in under cliffs and grabbed the
first tracks in the north bowl, then began heading up the remnants
of their uptrack for another lap. Eventually, they overtook the
two snowshoers, who were clearly fatigued and, struggling up
steep gully, asked the proverbial, "How much further is
it?" The mid-height tele skier inquired as towhere they
were going to ride, at which time they indicated a double fall
line chute with a 500 foot cliff below it. "If that slides,"
he replied, "you're going off that cliff." In the ensuing
discussion, one of the snowshoers mentioned, "I've never
even ridden beginning their descent, which indeed started with
a fine avalanche, crowning 150 feet across. Fortunately only
3 inches deep, it wasn't massive
enough to run over their unsuspecting, fall-line residing, kicker-building
friends. The one who set it off then perched himself below the
remaining powder and grabbed his video camera. "GO FOT IT!"
he yelled to his friend, who crossed the avalanche debris into
some exposed wind-packed powder, and
riding it with the grace you'd expect from someone who'd "never
ridden powder," triggered some sloughs that pushed toward,
but not over, his bro.
The beards were silent, witnessing it with
a tacit concern. They contemplated stopping and talking sense
into the guys, but couldn't figure out where to start. "If
we were to ask them if they were beeping," the tall one
proposed, "they'd think we were talking about a pager!"
They decided to
forego the lecture.
They left the two boarders (now reviewing
their footage mid-run), and proceeded around the kicker, down
pristine powder slopes. One of the tele skiers, feeling justified
to have some fun at the rookie's expense, skied by the kicker
while belting a loud two-cycle engine noise, with an extra loud
"BAARRR-ARR!" as he crested one of countless natural
terrain features that sent him airborne a distance.
Ready for their friends, the boarders were
not pleased to find themselves filming some bearded guy screaming
like a Kawasaki, nor were they particularly psyched to have the
other two skiers follow.
"They're stealing OUR tracks!"
One of them yelled, swinging his shovel erratically. Perhaps
it was the mocking engine sound, or all the hard shoveling labor,
but the insults began streaming from their mouths like sloughs
from their shovel-less friends above. "Hippie Assholes!"
they yelled, among other expletives and gestures, as the tele
skiers ran out the slope to a stop near their sled.
"Did you hear what they called us?"
the short one remarked when he skied up. "That's not right,"
he argued, and was somewhat incensed by the remarks. "We
could've saved their lives," he barked, referring to how
their advice probably kept the snowshoers out of even worse trouble.
"I don't even like The Dead!" he said angrily, taking
off his skis and putting them on his pack, "I'll show them
Before the other two could say "Grand
Theft," the third had sidled to the sled, unbeknownst to
the guys at the kicker, who were now filming their friends riding
a slope with three tracks in it. One of them noticed the hippie
mounting his sled, and began cursing anew, but the distant sound
was quickly drowned out by the ripping start of the engine. Wasting
no time, the short bearded one throttled the machine right for
the kicker, where the group was now shaking fists and trying
in vain to make snowballs out of dry powder as he banked a turn
just below the kicker and went roosting by them at blinding speed,
straight up a gully leading into the wilderness. They dropped
their shovels and stood, mouth agape, as he crested a ridge,
and it went silent.
The snowboarders immediately put on their
boards and rode down to their post-holes, then began clambering
to where the sled had been parked. The two other skiers, staring
in awful disbelief, noticed the group's flailing snail-like progress
and began laughing uncontrollably. With the writing on
the wall, they turned and skied to the lot, where they readied
the truck and watched as the post-holers, three abreast, got
closer and closer to the parking lot, without more than a three
second pause between a cursing.
When they were within a hundred feet of
the parking lot it seemed the gig might be up, when the perpetrator
emerged from the woods and rolled down into the lake, crossing
within fifty feet of the post-holers. They were beside themselves,
hip-deep in snow, throwing everything from F-bombs to ice chunks
at him. Amidst the clamor, which now included his hysterical
laughter, he retrieved the sled's key out of his jacket and tossed
it toward the group, and then told them with the greatest of
nonchalance, "You'll find your sled up there" he pointed
up canyon, "Turn left at the Jerry Garcia
And with those words, he pushed himself
to the road, took off his skis and jumped in the truck with the
other beards. The mid-height skier commented as they drove off,
"I don't think I'm gonna forget this day anytime soon."
The perpetrator chuckled, "Neither
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