With a sidelong glance and a big grin, she blasts the afterburners and takes off ahead of me, a vision in black taking graceful, powerful turns on the creamy March bounty. Not slowing down, she ducks into the glade and I follow, chuckling at her fine balance of control and recklessness. Snowy trees being my preferred milieu, I do not hesitate to match her speed. Branches occasionally ping off my helmet as I hoot my appreciation for this hallowed morning, her hollers echoing back through the copse. Back on the lift, we chat nonchalantly about the millimeters that separated our doom from our glory. It has been that kind of season.
Vail closes on Sunday and I joke about my looming mild depression, thankful to have had such a magical winter, but missing the irreplaceable sense of camaraderie, adventure, challenge, and joy that a ski season offers. This year in particular, my 34th on skis, has presented the full panoply of experiences: terror, triumph, relief, ecstasy, trepidation, heartbreak, and probably a heap of other emotions that I have not yet processed. It feels as if my entire life was compressed into five fleeting months. Reflecting upon such a microcosm offers insights that could take decades of “real” living to internalize.
No matter how careful that you think you are, no matter how much lip service that you give to risk management, you are going to make objectively idiotic decisions. In February, I skied into a sidecountry zone, by myself, dropped a chute, and then my slough almost smashed me into a tree. Even as I engaged in such mind-numbingly dumb behavior, I knew it was stupid. I have a young daughter, for criminy’s sake. And, yet. Understanding our own fallibility makes it easier to forgive others for their foibles.
Solitude has its place, but is no match for companionship. Ripping an untouched Goshawk with Pops was a treat that will last a lifetime, as was his expression as he watched his granddaughter parallel turn down the mountain. My best riding buddy moved to Oregon and his absence was acutely felt. Into that vacuum came new lovely souls that kept my spirits buoyed through times joyous and trying. Lamenting that which is gone should never stop you from welcoming that which is to come.
Routine helps us navigate our days and weeks, but will suffocate serendipity. My powder day plans used to be rigid: ride this lift, ski this face, move to this next area. This year, I made a conscious effort to do things completely differently. Even when my new courses did not quite pay off, I was happier for the variety. Those bouts of spontaneity also unlocked new routes and introduced me to new amigos/amigas. Predictable behavior yields predictable outcomes; capricious comportment grants the gifts that make life worth living.
As this ski season draws to an end, my mug is overflowing with gratitude for the litany of people who made this winter unforgettable: family, friends, mountain operations, random conversationalists on the chairlift, the gapers just stoked to be here, the old-timers still crushing it and giving me hope, the young guns lighting a fire under me. You are all beautiful. Now, onto the next season: see you out on the high peaks, rivers, and trails.