I wander through the snow looking for a blue diamond. Somewhere far below the surface are my skis, though I have lost sight of them as soon as I turned off the backcountry skier path and onto unmarked terrain. The snow, a powdery soft blanket, is up to my knees. The hillside booms as the snow settles--a classic avalanche warning, but I am safe down in the trees.
Life in a mountain town changes when it snows. For a long time we have been in the throes of a disturbing spring, way too soon for the skiers, who have turned sullen at every degree rise in temperature. They curse the sun, mope around the pub, comfort themselves with pints of Total Domination IPA. The hikers try to push the season, but the trails are off limits, washed down with a glossy layer of ice impervious to microspikes and yaktraks alike.
And then it snowed. The skiers are enlivened. They suddenly fall ill with a mysterious flu that forces them to miss work. Trucks and Subarus rumble out of town, headed for the mountains.
Today I am ski walking, pushing my skis through untracked snow. I don't glide at all. It is breaking trail at its finest, plowing snow like a boat wake. The world is a hushed bowl of white, the only sound my breath. I push my poles deep into bottomless powder. For a moment I am lost in foggy white, the trail shrouded in snow. This is a watchout situation, I think. One hour until dark, no headlamp, no pack. But then I turn and see it, a blue diamond, and I remember: the trail winds its way downhill here.
|My skis are under here, but I'm not sure where.|
The Hill of Death, which I normally rocket down on a wing and a prayer, hoping to somehow get lucky and make the sharp turn, is slow today. My skis barely move. I am walking, swimming in slow motion.
When I reach the path where the backcountry skiers have skinned along, I can glide, but barely. I ski all the way to the bottom of the slope and to the Canal Road, normally a journey undertaken with a shaky snowplow and fear of falling. It was not fast today. In contrast it was a long slow slog. But as I trek up to the pickup I am smiling. Winter is back. Why else would you live in a mountain town in February?