We rented bikes and took the lifts to the top, from whence we careened back down the mountain on trails hidden all winter by feet of snow. The runs I’d skied so many times looked different, shed of their cold-weather clothing, but not at all unpleasant. It had never occurred to me that there was more to this place than the way I saw it between December and March, that there were nearly 2,500 acres of unexplored terrain beneath the mountain’s annual 300” of snowfall. It had never occurred to me that Copper Mountain had layers.
I grew up skiing at Copper Mountain, a resort at the edge of I-70 just shy of Vail Pass. I skied there dozens of times every winter in college, and I could’ve recited the runs accessed by each lift from memory or told you exactly how to get from Super Bee to Spaulding Bowl and back again. I knew when, on any given lift, to look for the tree adorned with Mardi Gras beads and discarded bras—that ski area staple—and that I had precisely four-and-a-half minutes to choke down the disfigured peanut butter sandwich in my pocket before the American Flyer quad deposited me at the top of my favorite run.
As I’ve written before, I’ve spent a lot of the last handful of years thinking about death. Not in an abstract way—what is life; who am I?—but in an all-too-real, terribly concrete way: both professionally and for recreation, the pursuits I’m drawn to require us to undertake a great deal of risk, and lately I’ve read the accident reports of peers, colleagues, friends-of-friends, and role models who bore the consequences of that risk in the most catastrophic way imaginable. Continue reading “A mid-season reflection: What are those turns worth?”→
It was just after seven o’clock on what was shaping up to be an unseasonably warm, sunny, late September morning, and I sat perched on a rock outcrop at the top of St. Mary’s Glacier, about a thousand feet above the little hamlet of Alice, Colorado. I rifled fruitlessly through my pack, hoping to find something more appetizing than an ancient, misshapen Clif bar.
Bix, long since resigned to going along with any number of harebrained schemes, fiddled with a half-empty Nalgene bottle, perhaps in an attempt to avoid making eye contact with the slope below us.
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.
Until recently, I’ve spent very little of my life thinking about death. It was pleasantly abstract; a concept with which I was lucky enough to have almost no personal experience. I have four living grandparents. I can count the funerals I’ve attended on one hand.
As my interests in climbing and skiing developed from infatuation to lifestyle, though, I’ve been forced to come to grips with the harsher realities of my chosen professional and recreational pursuits.
I first realized it when I was an intern at the American Alpine Club. As I pored over old editions of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, tallying the ways in which climbers had been hurt or killed in the preceding decades, it dawned on me: Statistically speaking, if you do this long enough, you or someone you know will die.