Opening Day 2016-17

Image: Matt Crawley
Ski School

Opening Day 2016-17

The weeks of trying not to stare up at the dry tips of the Wasatch, head down instead on the mountain bike, eking out a last few rides as the components beg for a winter break after a summer of singletrack beat-downs. Then the storm, the panic, the unmounted skis, the lost jacket, the mismatched poles, the missing binding screws, the rusted edges. The pre-dawn haste, the U-turn in the first block of the drive to retrieve missing goggles. Easing the car up the canyon, testing the limits of the new tires.

Parking at the wrong base area, then re-layering in the blowing snow at the side of the car, not being able to remember just how much colder it is 2,000 feet above you. The shuttle to the tram dock to retrieve the season pass, the cat track scoot down to Gadzoom, the animation as the board picks up speed that puts it just a step closer to warp speed than a straight crawl.

The fumble through the RFID gate as the iPhone blocks the signal of the pass, both having been chucked in the same pocket. The shuffle to the loading dock, then the relief as the quad pulls you out of the base and away from the emails, the chain laws, the Thanksgiving leftovers, the lingering memories of awkward conversations with in-laws. Just the increasing cold, the waves of speckled snow brushed in by the wind spooling off the Cirque, and the hum and clack-clack-clack as the chair rolls over the lift tower wheels.

That first run is a great disappointment, more akin to a moving wall sit than the effortless glide between turns that life had been by the end of last season. Hundred foot sections feel like marathons. You wonder how you’ll ever do this for an entire day.

You wonder how you’ll ever do this for an entire day.

Back down to the base with its emails and chain laws and then up again, back into the cold, expectations humbled by the first-run wall sit. Except now, as you glide away from the base, blood having been fully circulated throughout the limbs, you feel fresh and loose and are burning through the top section of the trail, finally freed from a fall of not working out enough. The turns come smoother, the balance comes back together, you find your feet, and weight pushed into the edges is reciprocated with energetic bounces between left and right. You bounce eagerly among soft moguls, carve hard into the groomer, catch a little air off a side hip, time pausing as you lose contact with the ground for the brief beautiful moment.

Then the final few runs where the rope to Miner’s Road is dropped, an exploratory right turn is made, and laid out beneath you is a sweet, short, steep section of untracked Wasatch powder. The turns in the steep as the trail pitches over where the ground is nowhere to be felt, simply feeling through the moving element of snow until the right turn with the right force in the right patch of snow erupts a cloud of powder all around you, blocking the view, wrapping  the body in the happiest moment of winter, justifying every decision made to get back to this point – the pass, the snow tires, the time off work, the early morning rise. The run out is taken stoically, in a straight line, no more turns needed to be made, just milking the memory of a perfect powder moment.

just milking the memory of a perfect powder moment.

The happy walk to the car, the warped hip flexors, the digging out of a poor canyon visitor on bald summer tires who just drove up to take pictures of the snow but ended up marrying their bumper to a snowbank at the bottom of a downhill turn. The return to emails, to conference calls, to grocery runs, except now all the friction of everyday life is lubricated with the soothing knowledge that it will all be steadily interrupted with trips up the canyon and climbs up the chair, away from it all and into the moving element of winter.

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