My winter life is anything but boring. In fact, it’s probably a good measure more interesting than my summer life, i.e. hiking and canyoneering. But the winter does something to me, it stops me, makes me silent, blocks the words from flowing. It’s like for all that’s going on my life feels less worthy of talking about. To put in another way: I get depressed. So depressed I don’t really want to hang out or talk to anybody, or write. I haven’t talked to my family, any of them, in about two months, and if you’ve been paying attention to the blog you know I haven’t written anything either. Well, today was a typical day save for a few clutch rocks, and I’m going to write that, if only to get things flowing.
I caught one of the first gondola cabins up the mountain and headed out across the soft powder on my favorite board, a big, long and unequivocally beat-to-hell k2 from four years ago that can only be ridden in powder like this because of all of the metal, wood and plastic that is peeling off of it. The day was bright, and I mean really bright, compared to the short wintery-day darkness that we’ve been living through up here in the Colorado Rockies, and that makes riding powder like this a dream. I checked all of my favorite spots sequentially as I headed to the very back of the resort, and after a couple runs the back bowls opened so I did a short hike and checked them out. Good, but not great, so I headed back toward the front to look somewhere else. From the chair I saw sparse trees and no tracks and made an unusual detour into an area I usually avoid. One run, then another, then another. It was great. Other people saw what I was doing from the chair and started to follow. I launched the big rock underneath the chair lift. I hiked to the top of a big cliff and realized it was one I’d never summitted to before. Or dropped off of. I climbed beneath an old gnarly pine and took a peek. I sat down, relaxed, strapped in. I stood up and took a deep breath. I had plotted exactly the track my snowboard should leave: a gentle curve toward the downhill, to depart the pillowy, mounded snow on the big rocks just below a small ridge that was (presumably) a jagged rock fin. I took a deep breath and followed the track that wasn’t yet there right to the pillow’s edge and then I was free. For that split second. Sailing. In that moment nothing else matters. Not the take off, not the landing, not the rock and not me. For that split second I am happy. And that split second lasted a long time. I began to realize two things: 1, that cliff was about 50% taller than it had looked from the top; and, 2, the wind-drift gap between rock and snow at the bottom was really a hole large enough to consume me if I had gone any slower. Close call. And I forgot about landing. The snow approached and I set the board down and felt the crust underneath the thin, south-facing powder layer, and I let myself fall limply onto my back. It didn’t matter. Nobody was watching and I wasn’t planning to tell anyone about it anyway. I looked back and saw that i had taken off next to a jagged rock fin, and had landed on the edge of the wind drift hole at the cliff’s base.
After that 15′ cliff I was pumped. I hiked to one of my favorite areas and found myself on top of a cliff I’d jumped many times last year. I jumped it again and the ensuing high-speed descent was thrilling. Powder just thick enough to cover rocks and down trees embedded in the hardened crust below. Sometimes you’d be gliding over the rocks, feeling them scraping below, getting bumped around by nubs and limbs on dead trees below, and that is a very exciting feeling. Man against nature. The snowboard is the tool that directs and transports you, shields you from harsh terrain below, floats you across depths otherwise impassable, but only if you know how to ride it. You have to know how to commit, to know your ability and to trust in it. Then you go. Places you can’t go any slower, you can’t drop any smaller, rocks you can’t avoid and excitement you wouldn’t trade for anything. On the second run I ended up on a rocky ridge. I mad a fun descent of several small rocks and found myself inside two bands of cliffs. I saw two guys below with their skis off. Then I saw more, but I only glanced. I continued my descent through sharp granite. I was riding along the top of one cliff, walled in by another, with them below. I paused my pumping music. “How does it look?” I asked. It was only out of respect, for I knew exactly how it looked and I knew by the lack of any tracks that they had not ridden it. “Not good,” was the ok for me to turn my music back on. I put my hands behind me and leaned back, inching down lightly over exposed rocks until I was back on ridable snow and quickly I came to my spot. This is the beauty of not stopping, not scouting, not thinking twice. This is the thing that both makes my life amazing and miserable. I sailed off the cliff. Maybe it is 10 feet high, or maybe 15. Freedom and excitement rushed through me again. Muted cheers drift into my ears and took me out of the moment just a little. I touched down gently, the snow was softer down here in this shadowy valley, and a rush of speed came over me. I shot down through the trees and off of more rocks with powder flying and music pumping. A hit here, a hit there. I never looked back. I ran to the bus, went home and ate, then went to work. I didn’t say anything, and nobody asked. Today was for me.