24 December 2012

Crazy People

Yesterday I drove through a blinding snowstorm. Literally, it was blinding. The windshield wipers on my 1988 pickup were feeble and could not keep pace with the snowfall. My buddy in the passenger seat had to roll down the window and reach out a grab the right-hand blade and bang it against the windshield to free the ice chunks that built up. I would do the same on the left side while trying to keep the vehicle on the road and not veer into the considerable drifts and snowplow berms. The defroster had to labor to keep the window clear on the inside, made worse by the two of us opening the windows and allowing fresh gusts of snow inside. Each of us had a cloth and we would vigorously wipe our side to keep ahead of the endless condensate. Visibility at one point dropped to nothing--we had to stop, get out, and scrape the windshield before resuming! Good thing my Toyota 4WD hugs the road like a tank. I did not have to worry about slipping and sliding. I've spent a fair amount of time driving on snowy and icy roads and my technique is pretty good. My buddy is a four-wheeling expert and he has given me many useful pointers and tips over the years. Suffice to say we made it safe and sound to the parking lot at Mt. Ashland Ski Area after that harrowing ten-mile ordeal. I was so keyed-up I ran straight to the bathroom through the howling wind to empty my tortured bladder. I was so in need of relief that I was oblivious to the swirling snow that stung my hands and face like bits of sand. Back in the truck, we suited up for our day on the mountain. The southwest wind would smack us around with gale-like force, but we managed to get our skis on and point them in the general direction of the chair-lift. The overcast sky hung low and made it difficult to see much past about twenty or thirty feet. The wind scooped up the fresh-falling snow and spun it around and tossed it back down again, obscuring landmarks just as you made them out. We took the plunge nonetheless and made our way mostly by feel to the roped off lift-lines, joining about thirty others eagerly waiting for the chairs to start loading. All I could think of at that point was that everyone standing there was a crazy person. Crazy to drive up the mountain. Crazy to strap on skis and boards. Crazy to get on a chairlift and careen down a slope. Crazy to "chase freshies." Because that is why everyone was there--the piles and piles of new snow. Powder, or pow-pow in ski argot, is something of a holy grail to the alpine thrill-seeker. Done right, a run through virgin snow ("first tracks") is akin to floating, much like riding a wave to the surfer or free-falling to the skydiver. Done by intermediate hacks like myself, it can be a futile, frustrating endeavor. You really have to be a crazy person to pursue this activity. I even said so in the line: "everyone here is crazy!" No one argued. They just nodded and went on. Fortunately my skiing skills have improved over the last few years and I really can get down in the deep stuff and make some nice turns and even occasionally look halfway like an advanced skier. My buddy, an outstanding skier, always reminds me that I can keep up with him so that must mean I'm pretty good. Bit of a left-handed compliment, that, but I'll take it. In the end, despite some on-going equipment issues, I had a good time. In the lee of the trees the runs were protected and the cloudbank lifted enough so we could see, and we put together some good stretches. I surprised myself with some very nice sequences and kept up with another fellow we know who is always up there and is a very accomplished powder-hound. My screaming quads told me to quit long before the weather wore me down. With thicker thighs I could have managed another few hours and been utterly indifferent to the appalling conditions. I wonder if that means I'm now one of those crazy people.

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