Words and photos by guide and winter hutkeeper Lara Antonello
As ski resorts open across the country, many backcountry enthusiasts have been dreaming up tours with a carefully assembled pile of gear waiting to be loaded into an adventure mobile—perfectly tuned skis, delicately folded Gore-Tex layers, a pack full of avalanche rescue essentials, revamped first aid kits, fully charged radios, LOTS of snacks, and a cold one for the summit. We have gone through the beacon-probe-shovel, helmet-goggles-gloves, boots-skis-poles, phone-keys-wallet checklists one hundred times and are just waiting for enough snow to fly. In the days leading up to the beloved season-opening storms, people often resort to their favorite superstition filled rituals. Don’t check the weather every day (you might make the storm nervous). Do check the weather every day (that way the storm knows you love it). Do a snow dance. Have a ceremonial burning of skis (or don’t because that’s probably not super great for the ozone). Attend every ski film premiere in your area.
Lucky for us, many ski films have been shown throughout the last few months as a way to bring the community together and get people excited to ride snow again. I attended the latest Warren Miller film in November and left the theater with enough excitement and adrenaline that you’d think that I just sent the biggest line of my life. The energy in the room was fully contagious. The crowd cheered and hooted every time the music amped up and a skier dropped into their line. Everyone was buckling over laughing at throwback resort skier footage that I can only accurately describe as the inspiration for today’s Jerry of the Day. The speakers boomed with the perfect electronic beat as out-of-this-world powder slashing overwhelmed your eyes. Snow riders in bright-colored jackets popped off cliffs and achieved flight. Girls with long braids and sassy personalities told us why they loved the mountains and guys with goggle tans and flat-brimmed hats laughed after they said something “profound”. We watched slack-jawed and smiling at each carefully sculpted montage highlighting snowriders and adventures of all types. What a feeling…
Keys in the ignition. Heat to full blast on the windshield. Crack open the roof box and set skis inside—neatly packaged with skins applied when hands can be warm, secured with a ski strap as though it were a Christmas present waiting patiently for twinkling eyes to see it under a perfectly trimmed tree. A gloved hand pulls an old dunkin’ doughnuts gift card out of the glovebox to scrape away the icy glass. Frosty ice peels back in sheets and accumulates on the hood. Each shaved strip reveals more and more of your dog in the back seat standing attentively with a slow beat wagging in his tail. This whole situation means one thing and one thing only to him. You are going skiing. You flip through CDs stacked on the dashboard and slip one into the player. The speaker’s thud and the riffs of the Talking Heads’s “This Must Be the Place” mix with the sound of snow crunching beneath the tread of your tires. You are on your way to the mountain.
Boots. Beacon Check. Recap of the plan. Up you go. It’s cold. You turn to your friends and are greeted by a show of rosy cheeks and numbed faces beaming goofy smiles through the paralysis. Take notice of your feet, chilled toes. Take notice of your knees, thank them for every step. Take notice of your quads, gentle burning. Take notice of your lungs, icy burn in your nose and throat with each breath. Take notice of your arms, relax both shoulders and pole grips. Take notice of your head, clear mind. Condensation and snow are gathering on your hair as both eyes squint at the bright snow. Sweat beads on your back—the heat of blood at war with the cold bite of the air. You are walking on snow on a mountain on this planet and that is insanely amazing.
As your group reaches the top of the ridge you get a clear view into two valleys. It’s early evening and the sun is casting alpenglow across the mountains. The dogs engage in a hilarious display of attacking snowballs and becoming balls of snow themselves. You snap some photos to remember how perfect this mini-adventure was and begin the descent. A giggle fit takes over the group as boards zip and swish through flakes and snow crystals blast against your smiling faces. Warren Miller was onto something when he said that “the best place in the world to ski is where you’re skiing that day.” With the last few wiggles through the trees, you find yourselves back at the vehicles watching a pristine winter sunset. The world is quiet.
Maybe you finally found your dream ski partner or maybe you just got new boots and are so excited to initiate them with their first tour on your precious feet. Maybe you’re gathering beta on a big spring objective you’ve been dreaming up or maybe you’re looking into guide companies to help you fine-tune your skills. Even if your to-do list for the day feels overwhelming. Even if you’re tired from a week of work. The moment that frigid mountain air is absorbed into your lungs it all melts away and you’ll smile to yourself remembering that first time you hiked up to slide down.
While you’re gathering your gear, go ahead and throw your Sawtooth maps in the freezer. I hear it helps conjure the storms.