When Mike texted this morning to say we'd be shredding 10 inches of fresh powder, I'd rolled my eyes. A few hours later I'm perched above a line that's become as familiar to me as the pinched squeak of ski boots, dining on my own skepticism. There's enough here in the trees along Lost Trail Powder Mountain's boundary to banish the weeks of rock-dodging. More than enough.
The wall of squat pines swallow Mike and our buddy Dale. With a whoop, I follow. My tips punch through a breaker of soft snow then ease to the left, turning to avoid a fallen tree I know from experience is lurking just below the surface. I weave between several low-hanging boughs, skis slicing through rich butter, and charge another roller that sends me a good five feet into the air. For a moment I forget what month it is, what year, what state of emergency or stage of vaccine distribution. Everything else falls away as I drift through this winter cathedral.
I'm sure many of us have been in a bit of a funk, what with the pandemic approaching the one-year mark. Which is why it's been more important than ever to get out and explore new places. On the few weekends I've managed to ski, parking lots and ticket lines have been jampacked. Trailheads are bursting with hikers, sledders, snowshoers and alpine tourists. With movie theaters, music venues, restaurants and the like still shuttered or at reduced capacities, I'd say it's a safe bet most of those folks are fairly new to the snowsports world. It's hard to imagine a more memorable first winter to spend on the mountains and in the woods.
We vets will likely look back on this season a bit differently. Nothing felt quite right from day one. Not the rides to the hill, not the wait for a chair, not the après scene. We weren't so much dropped into Oz as we were nudged into a parallel reality, one so like the world we knew that we found ourselves in a dilemma. Do we accept this place and adapt to it? Or do we hold out and hope that the rift will reopen so we can step back through?
Strange as it sounds, I found that schism. I slipped through into a time and place that was. At Lost Trail, in that gladed cathedral, the past year became for a moment nothing more than a dream. But as I hockey-stop above a long line of masked riders waiting for the lift, I know the trip is over, and honestly I'm relieved. Tough as the last year has been at times, it's also had brighter spots than the years that came before.
I wish I could relocate that rift for others, the ones who have truly suffered and lost. Unfortunately, charging down that same line again, I find only the usual stashes of powder and the gentle rustle of needles against my coat. ♦