don’t follow Austrians down mountains
February 18, 2014 § 2 Comments
Meet Peter, he’s from Austria and has been skiing since he was four. The way he describes his experience skiing fits in pretty will with how he actually looks skiing – like a fucking swan gliding pristinely over a misty lake in the morning sunrise. It’s gorgeous, it’s disgusting. Compare to my description of snowboarding, “And I’m like, carve, carve, carve, focus, cut, stabilize, yeah!”
Unfortunately for Peter, most of us on our most recent ski trip were into easy to moderately challenging blues – some because of skill limitation, some because of laziness. So for the first four days, we shredded some mild gnar, pounded only a little bit of pow pow, and mostly drank bacon bloody marys at the bottom of the mountain. Fortunately, Snowmass is a big ol’ beast of a mountain and Aspen Mountain gave the more adventurous of us a lot to explore.
We’d been eyeing a run all week called Long Shot (left side of the mountain,) and Peter had scoped it out, but I had held off until the snow hit on the last day. It was a total white-out and the sky had been letting loose all night. We took the gondola up, boarded down a little hill (what’s the proper word choice here given that other folks were on skis? sboarded?), unbuckled and took the short hike up to the run.
The top part of the run looked like all trees, with more power and more tree density on the left side of the run (a double black on any mountain not in Colorado) and more of an Aspen blue on the right side. I haven’t been in hip deep powder since I was learning to board (didn’t move much, but got a looooot of exercise flailing in snow – surprise!) so I was inclined to the more blue looking run, but Peter was confident that the tree-powder would be easier, fewer mogul type things for a snowboard to navigate. Our other friends zipped off to the right, I followed down the left.
Sliding down like butter, it was almost too easy – except for the dense trees coupled with weak skills resulting in an inability to carve to a stop that is – POWDER FACE! Peter paused, “Is this a good pace?”
“Sure,” I said. It was fine, but the path down looked more treacherous.
“Okay cool – well at the bottom of this there’s a creek, don’t try to board over it! You have to walk. Got it?”
He floated down, zipping between trees. Welp. Not much of a choice now…SWAH – POW .. pffffff…. My goggles are filled with snow, face dripping. Pack the powder down around me, grab at tree branches. Flop. Woosh. Stare up in a moment of zen. Cut, jump, slide, SLAM. Breathe out. It’s like doing push up sets with some squats inbetween.
On the third full body powder pound, I found myself thigh deep with my board on, the only one in the woods with giant snowflakes drifting down through a mist of fog, muttering that I was going to kill Peter. I decide to take off my board and swim-crawl-trudge to the blue run – the idea of more of this plus a creek to avoid seemed terrible; it’s no more than 200 feet, but it feels like a century ride uphill. By the time I get there, I’m ready for my bloody mary, but there’s a whole mountain in the way.
That’s the thing about physical activity that isn’t at the gym or around your house. You end up out in the middle of wherever. It’s not necessarily life threatening. It’s probably barely even dangerous. But you’re definitely there, and whether you’re friends are out there with you waiting for the next wave break or peddling up that mountain, at the end of the day, you’ve gotten yourself there and no one but you can get you out.
There’s no quitting. There are no shortcuts.
So, I power up and powder down. It’s a open mouth, tongue lolling ride with stretches of untouched powder, cut with hard drops and moguls. There’s no one else on the run, all of our group already long gone. I howl as a blast down, a lone wolf on a thrill hunt, all my curses at Peter forgotten.
At the bottom at the flats, I hitch a pole ride from some skiiers and stumble into the lodge.
Just barely, but with an important lesson learned. Don’t follow Austrians down mountains.