This year, my ski season began on Nov. 26, after a series of early season storms dumped a foot or so of snow on Mount Spokane – a foot that the previous night’s rain had reduced to mere inches that clung to protruding brush. I drove up anyway and remember feeling thrilled to find 10 turns’ worth of snow that had fallen on a brush-free pitch near the base of the Vista Cruiser chair. I also remember savoring every inch of those 10 turns after seven months of waiting, and after 6 of 7 minutes spent kicking a trail up the hill – minutes that were much more strenuous than I thought they ought to be.
During the past season, I’ve passed by that spot, near the bottom of No Alibi, dozens of times. Each time, with most of a run behind me and an eye on the chairlift, it’s seemed too small to warrant the choice to veer off of my beeline trajectory to the ride back up.
It’s funny how your perspective can change as the season progresses.
When the lifts start spinning each December, I’m pinching myself. It’s like a dream, enjoying a 10-minute ride up a mountain that would take me an hour to climb on my heavy, frame-binding skinning setup. Coming down on out-of-shape legs (nothing but skiing can actually prepare your legs for skiing), lungs burning (OK, I could’ve done more to prevent that), and forcing myself to again remember to avoid leaning back, every single turn feels new, unfamiliar, carefully attended to, and overanalyzed. I’ll stop in the middle of a run to rest. Maybe even twice.
And, even if it’s painful and awkward to do it, I’ll make a lot of small turns.
By mid-January, I begin to take the chairlifts for granted. I’ll make small turns if there are moguls or trees, but the majority of my time is spent making long, Super-G sized turns down open faces, gobbling up vertical feet like an Escalade guzzles gas.
The motions of skiing become second nature, and my eye is farther down the hill, ignoring almost any path that isn’t in the fall line (the straightest path down the hill). The small, off-angle pitches, like the one that felt so magical in December, get ignored.
Now, in early April, with my local hill shutting down its chairlifts on Sunday, I’m thinking about how I can wring the most joy out of every second of lift-served this coming weekend, and I’ll be doing everything I can to get on the last possible chair ride up.
If there’s still snow on the hill in the weekends to come, I’ll be hiking for it again – an hour in the car, an hour skinning up the hill, and 2 minutes spent savoring each turn – suddenly swearing by the adage, like locals Airplane Mark and Fez, that the person on the mountain having the best day being the one who makes the most turns.
I’ll be amazed at how quickly my ski legs have left me after just one week of not skiing bell-to-bell. And then I’ll be driving an hour back home to my long-suffering wife who somehow puts up with my ski-every-weekend winters – repeating the process until there’s just a ribbon of snow connecting the top of the mountain to the bottom.
I’m hoping that I can slow down time a bit in the coming weeks, because even before it’s ended, I’m remembering what it’s like to be on pins and needles, waiting for winter to come.
Thanks to all the staff of the local hills and ski shops who make it possible for so many people to have a gluttonous amount of fun in the snow. And rest in peace, Loulou Kneubuhler.
See you next winter!
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.