You awake early. Before dawn. You sip steaming coffee from your mug then put it down to focus on gripping the steering wheel against the icy road. You and your partner exchange words of excitement about the upcoming day’s adventure as the sun’s rays begin to filter onto the landscape from over the mountains that fast approach. When you arrive your partner does jumping jacks to stay warm while you are finalizing your gear for the day’s adventure. All is ready. You both depart. The only sound is the creak of each others bindings and skins on snow.
You’ve both hiked this trail multiple times. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall. But today is exceptional. Today you are the first to arrive. Today it will be your toil, your energy, that breaks the fresh track into the virgin snow. It will be your route choices that determine the skin track others will follow in the days to come. A smile crosses both your faces as you relish in this – which is both a chore and an honor.
The sun is now full in the sky as you approach the basin below the beautiful easterly face of the mountain you’ve set out to ski. Natural sluff avalanches are the only markings on it’s face, covered in a blanket of fresh snow. It is a canvas awaiting an artist to carve marks along it’s face. But first the artist must be sure all is safe and that making these marks will not anger the mountain. You and your partner discuss where is best to perform your research and begin to dig into the surface of the fresh snow. The results are superb. You feel confident the mountain will not reject your efforts and you continue your approach to the summit.
Your efforts until now have been moderate, you’ve broken trail with your skis but the going has been relatively easy. Now in front of you stands the summit push. The bid for the top which will require post-holing in thigh to armpit deep snow and requiring a heightening of efforts bordering on exhausting. It is a mere few hundred feet but it seems to take an hour. The wind blows from the West as you trudge upward. Upon reaching the top there is time for a quick photo, a discussion of a safe line downward and before you know it you are both into your equipment and the first one drops in. The snow is light and powdery up top with a slight windblown crust a few inches down. With each toeside turn you enter the whiteroom as a blast of powder fills the entirety of your vision. You reach the first safety zone and call to your partner to proceed. You watch quietly as he descends, a smile on your face as he too paints a line into the virgin canvas.
You’ve re-grouped and request your partner take first tracks on the next aspect. He obliges and sets off, laying a beautiful set of turns into the un-tracked slope. Once below and into a safe zone he whoops up at you – a sign it is your turn to drop into a line of such beauty that you are ecstatic to be so privileged. As you point your board downward it follows the fall line and you only swerve marginally – choosing instead to let gravity be your guide, and speed be your purpose. The smile that has formed on your face at the bottom can only be enlarged by the thought that you are setting out to transition to skin-mode, re-climb the line and ride it again.
The daylight will come to an end soon and civilization calls. Your partner has obligations and regardless of your excitement you both know your strength will fade and that you still have a four mile ski back to the car. Fortunately it is mostly downhill and you set out. There is another hundred or so vertical of powder to be enjoyed as you exit but it is mostly a tight line following the skin track. You move through it quickly and efficiently stopping only occasionally to make sure each other still making progress.
Arrival at the car is bittersweet. The day has been superb. You give each other high fives and hugs because it has been so superb. You don your puffy coats and pull your coffee thermoses out of your packs to sip the remaining warm sips from them as you wait for the windows on the Subaru to defrost. You are both smiling inside and out and are appreciative of each others company but mostly are appreciative of the landscape in which you live. It is beautiful. It is powerful. It is dangerous. You can find ways to dance with this partner that will exhaust your lungs and exhaust your muscles but all the while fulfill your soul.