Thursday, February 27, 2014

The end of a quest


Maybe there was snow, maybe there wasn’t. It was the last weekend of August. It was wildfire season. Alcohol, dust and sweat clouded the sightline from the trail to the mountain’s northwest face that — fingers crossed — held snow despite the high temperatures and blazing sun.

Luck held out. There was about 250 vertical feet of sunbaked slush waves and August was crossed off the list.

It finally snowed at the end of September. The obscenely thin early season conditions ended up costing about $75 in base welds, but it was the eleventh straight month of skiing.

By October something resembling a base started to build up in the snowpack. Chutes in Frazier Basin, off Sacajawea and around the northern Bridgers opened up and finally offered more snow than rocks. The month also marked what should’ve been the thrilling conclusion to the yearlong pursuit of skiing for a full year. Instead there was the pleasant, if lukewarm, feeling of accomplishing any old goal. It wasn’t a big deal.

Somewhere in there it became less about the skiing. And good thing it did. The skiing was awful from July through September. It became a reason to plan an adventure every month. A cleansing spiritual exercise of self-conquering and physical toil. When my mom asked if I’d gone to church recently, I’d think about time in the mountains and say yes. The answer didn’t even arouse any dormant Catholic guilt.

It’s said that the greatest places of pilgrimage are those that make the mind wander, and that a more intimate picture of reality is shown wherever life strikes a more tenuous balance between heaven and hell.

In the end, it wasn’t the short strip of shitty snow. It was sharing the August slope with a brown bear and a band of mountain goats. Learning the hard way that scrambling up a mountain in open-toed Chacos isn’t a great idea. It wasn’t what was actually there so much as how you looked at it, much like skiing on the east coast.

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