My feet are unsightly—some might even say they’re downright gross—but they’re pretty useful. They’ve been up mountains and down rivers, across glaciers and talus fields, over miles of trail both soggy and dry. I have stuffed them into too-small climbing shoes, smelly ski boots, worn-out trail runners, my beloved Chacos, and, on very rare occasions, a pair of sky-high heels. I rarely have ten toenails.
I spend so much time thinking about the complex scientific properties of snow, marveling at its viscoelasticity and ability to conduct and insulate, pausing occasionally to enjoy a perfect (or even less-than-perfect) ski run. What I don’t take enough time to appreciate is the way snow can tell a story.
It’s just after 2:00 pm on New Year’s Day, and Bix and I are cross-country skiing into a thicket of trees in the Gneiss Creek drainage, about two miles from the Yellowstone National Park boundary. Nighttime temperatures have been dipping below -20oF, but now, just after solar noon, the sun bounces off untouched snow to warm our faces, still tender with windburn from yesterday’s outing.
When given a choice between sleeping in and being repeatedly hit in the face with ice, normal people would choose the former every time. Due to some kind of malfunction in my brain, I am drawn to the latter option, and when someone asks if I’d like to get up at the crack of dawn and endure hours of falling ice and freezing temperatures, I reply that I’ll be there with bells on. I guess my synapses aren’t firing quite as they should be.
For the better part of my childhood (and by childhood, I mean age five or so to the present day), anytime I was cold for more than about an hour, I absolutely insisted I was being frostbitten. Despite my tendency toward melodrama, I have always enjoyed cold weather activities, even the ones I suspected might result in frostbite.