Last week the first stirrings of spring made themselves felt in the late yellow sun on the southwest flank of North Lookout Peak, crenellated buttresses in sharp relief; in the pale dawn hitting the bedroom windows earlier each morning, gray where once was black; in the first creamy turns on east- and south-facing slopes; in sunny afternoons and the warmth of it held in the house long into the night, the usually-crackling woodstove silent, unneeded, a preview of its summer silence.
Then the bubble burst.
When a big storm moves in, something instinctual bestirs itself. Something to do with common sense, with survival. Check the propane tank; 30 percent full, still groovy. Pantry stocked with staples, like pasta, beer and Oreo’s. Firewood bins and kindling box are topped off. The parlor furnace is cleaned of ashes and in short order once again crackles and pops, emitting spruce perfume. Outside, the first snowflakes perform a merry dance.
Having been accused on occasion of having a head in the clouds, it is no wonder that the decision to live in the middle of one — which, face it, one often does here — was made so readily. With attention to immediate concern — warmth, dry clothes, sound vehicles, a weatherproof roof — top priority, it is easier than it otherwise might be to keep the tawdry details of humanity in proper perspective. Who, in the end, really cares what Congresswoman Go-Gurt has to say, about anything, when it’s blowing stink outside, the roads are sheets of ice, you can’t see squat-diddly, your girl has to be picked up from after-school Nordic Club and the urge to get home before dark is strong?
Being inside a cloud requires focus.
So into the driveway, a few preemptive shovelfuls of snow cleared from the door, pry the chunk of ice preventing the door from closing properly from the jamb, spread wet mittens and hats on the bench to dry, feed the dog and get dinner going. This storm is really ramping up. It could be considered the Mother of all Storms, but given its fury, it might be the Mother-in-Law of all Storms. Forget I said that.
Before the kid pick-up, a late-afternoon window of opportunity was seized for a skate-ski on the pass. It would probably be the last chance for a few days to not ski in a maelstrom. We knew there would be wind on top, pushed by the incoming storm, but didn’t care. We convinced ourselves it would be invigorating.
And it was, trees swaying, spindrift spiraling horizontally across the groomed track, the tops of the groomed ridges shaped by the sun, wind and dropping temperature into parallel lines of jagged teeth, a sort of sastrugi corduroy. It was a little clattery, but consistent enough to get smooth strokes into it. Which is more than could be said for the snowdrifts forming across the track, slithering and shifting, requiring bunny hops to clear. Kept us on our toes, especially on the downhill, a launch through the windshield the penalty for untimely daydreaming.
Around the corner in the trees the wind got knocked down and things were much more civil, long stretches of skating, at once lazy and sweaty, through stands of spruce, embraced before rejoining the fray up top. The blue wax loved the shade and freezing snow. The storm builds.
A warm, dry house is saluted upon return, and studded snow tires, good wiper blades and a solid defroster on the way there. Dinner: Taco Tuesday leftovers. Wind shrieking now. Throw a bungee cord on the barbecue lid outside. Load the firebox for the night. Brush teeth. Bedtime stories: “100 Rebel Girls.” I told the Little One I’d read three. She was out before I got through with the second. I was right behind her. Reaching for the light was the last great effort of the day.
In the morning it was game on, a full blizzard, our little corner of the universe transformed into a snow globe jostled in the hands of a restless child. When the snow flies from four points of the compass, it’s a dead giveaway: Things are rowdy. The trucks are drifted over, lumps in the meringue. Snow is wind-packed into the upper corners of the window and doorjambs, plastered onto the siding and some of the window glass, allowing through only diffuse wan daylight. Strong gusts deliver body blows to the house. Yes, this is a Mother tempest, an event.
Spring was just a daydream.
All the old geezers will be spouting off about the ’80s, about all the big storms just like this one, about “Remember December” in ’83, when it snowed for 40 days and 40 nights — never mind that December has 31 days — and the world turned into one big fluffy pillow. Pre 1200s, K2 710s and RD Coyotes ruled the day. 203s, running free.
A day for neglected chores, then, making beds, catching up on small mountain ranges of dirty laundry, a Matterhorn of dirty dishes. A lap around the hacienda is performed, to make sure the dryer and furnace vents are cleared and the chimneystack is still on the roof. Barbecue lid’s still there. Heck, there’s a stack of Christmas, er, “Happy Spring!” cards that might finally get addressed.
Word comes that the roads are closed. God bless the lucky bums able to get to town, with a private ski area beckoning, freshly stocked with powder. Every now and then, things just line up right and there are rings on the carousel, moments to be seized, moments of weightlessness, moments of power and redemption, of speed and adrenaline, moments of stillness and solitude. Of the many different types of downhill skiing, for pure sliding, silk underfoot, feeling the world turn, reveling in mad joy, it is storm skiing that stands above the rest.
Sean can be reached at email@example.com.
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