Powder doesn’t hurt. Soft falls turn stubble into Santa’s beard. My face is pure white except for my gums and if it weren’t for my smile I might be invisible. Both my skis are gone, buried in the slough. I will have to climb back up and wrench them out. They say if you don’t fall, you’re not trying. I must be trying really, really hard.
In five days, a few of my closest friends and I will be embarking on a backcountry ski expedition into the heart of the Olympic Mountains. Our goal is to climb Mount Anderson and ski its remote glaciers, a journey that few people have ever attempted and perhaps none have completed. Records of ski descents in the Olympics are inconclusive at best and non-existent at worst. Although I have been unable to find any proof that Mount Anderson has ever been skied, I don’t wish to claim any firsts for myself. The beauty of this expedition lies in the fact that I have lived next to the Olympics for my entire life, yet I have never explored them when the trees are pillowed with snow, when layers of frozen insulation make the ubiquitous silence even quieter. Only in my dreams. Are dreams so far from reality?
Hazy skies give way to hazier lines cut into mountainsides. We ski half way down and set the skin track half way up so we can finish it on our full-length run. Boughs sway in sun breaks and furtive breezes, peppering the air with weightless crystals. It looks like it’s snowing, but it’s just the trees brushing themselves off. I wonder if skis vibrate roots and push the fresh showers over. If you watch close, you might glimpse a hint of rainbow against the white and green background. There is always at least one rainbow gliding past on the surface of the uncut; that rainbow is me.
Preparation can be fun. It can also be extremely stressful. Dialing in my ski gear means weeks of practice at Hurricane Ridge, an activity that produces far more joy than stress. Deep powder, hard crust, sunny evenings, misty mornings. The Ridge provides myriad testing and skiing conditions. I have spent almost 20 days there this season and I’m beginning to appreciate every convexity, every cornice. Freya and I have suffered multiple gear failures—she even lost a screw on her binding once—but they have always been excellent reminders, moments of learning that will not go unheeded. This is the type of preparation I don’t mind: ski days with new boots, ski days with different poles, ski days with hot or cold skies. The other type of preparation, the more stressful type, involves shopping carts full of instant food, maps with erased and scribbled pencil marks, credit limits that are close to being exceeded. Unfortunately, this type of preparation is pivotal to the success of our trip and I spend hours and hours working through the details.
Our home looks like most people’s garages. Half-loaded sleds, grimy duffle bags, skins and beacons hanging to dry. The constant buzz of the food dehydrator makes focusing difficult. I’ll think of this moment when I eat that leathery red sauce with capellini, those gritty hashbrowns. Still, I know I won’t care about the flavor when that moment comes, nor will I care about all this stressful preparation. I’ll be surrounded by winter, miles away from pavement and life; I’ll be clipping into powder-hungry skis and gazing into immaculate fields waiting to be plowed; I’ll be trying really, really hard and falling over a lot; I’ll be laughing and hooting and swearing and screaming with delight. And the best part of all? I’ll be just outside my door, skiing the hills that grow from the ocean, the hills in my backyard.