The perfect winter

April had a good trick for us here in Montana, 4 inches of snow in our yard, and twice that in the mountains, with a nice wind chill well below zero.  The skiing was fantastic, the snow sifted light enough that the air of skinning moves waves before you, the air cold enough for visible sparkles of enthusiasm to grow on the way up, and freeze into permanence on the descent.  After the previous two winters, both relentlessly snowy down to the valley floors, last year record breakingly cold, it has been pleasant to have a dark period give us the best of both.  Those distant mountains have been cold and stormy enough to stack up snow, while storms have mostly steered north or south of town, and sun has dried out yards and backyard trails.  This winter we got ease down low, less shoveling and icy walking, while keeping the potential of a proper winter off in the abstract realms of daily visibility, the horizons in all directions growing more clear in their toothiness as the feet of snow accumulate.  

It has reminded me of the easy winters of Colorado or Utah, with sunshine drawing an almost geometric line between civilization, and the build-up of life above, the thing which for the other half of the year will keep civilization possible.

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Ideal winters begin in January but only graduate in April.  Cold holds old snow within the forests and keeps rain away from the summits, making June skiing, July greenery, August boating, and September deer into memories whose edges stay clear for decades. 

It seems that we might have just such a summer, with the complication naturally being that we won’t know for perhaps a month or more what kind, what freedom, of summer we’ll have; as well as the current shelter-in-place rule.  How skiing fits into this, and indeed if it does at all, is a question of the moment.  All the moreso because of the generous, cold, spring storms falling on a finally solid winter base.

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Our local hill has taken a firm stance on the issue, and the above photo, taken 48 hours after 8+ inches of fresh fell, gives good evidence that the locals agree.  My personal compromise has been to skin and ski the local hill often.  It’s a mellow place, with limited avalanche terrain even under un-ideal circumstances, and cruising untouched 28 degree pow is pretty great.   The hope, tentatively expressed in Great Divides new signage, is that around here we can avoid what Colorado, Red Lodge, and the Alps did not, and be able to get out regularly more than 1 or 2 kilometers from our house without falling too easily into old habits. 

The ideal winter demands ideal tools, and my $75 score at a ski swap back in the fall has quickly become the favored over-snow tool.  I’m late to the rocker, center mount, big radius party.  Occasionally it has felt like too much ski, but heavy detuning of the tapered section of the tail and some shifts in technique have over the course of a few hours made me a much better skier than I was last year.

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So I was naturally bummed when at the end of routine waxing I looked closer and noticed a ~16 inch delaminated section.  Judging by the sidewall dent this had presumably got started last month during the big wreck, been hardly noticable at first, and grown over the subsequent days.  So, some shaving, prying, injection of glue, and sealing with Aquaseal was in order.  Hopefully the ski will be good as new, and highlights again why I prefer to buy used skis at fractions of MSRP.

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I certainly missed them this morning, when aspect hunting for good snow resulted in a few misses of wind effect and crust before untouched powder was found.  It all serves to provide gratitude for the here and now, and the backyard.  Six years ago I wrote that I could then retire from backpacking and be content, having expressed my potential as far as would ever be practical.  That is still true, but in those six years I’ve had a lot of fun hunting, learning how to be in the backcountry with our kids, and filling in the gaps.  New places polish old skills, a mirror clarity the fog of the daily cannot provide.  Familiar places build new skills because intimacy provides comfort which in turn allows one to look at things from the other side. 

Since moving here I’ve resolved to embrace this, after 15 years prior spent driving far from one amazing place or another to pursue a specific skill and thus, experience.  Today, it is impossible to not both celebrate and rue this.  My list of questions within a 45 minute radius is years long.  And yet, months of planning, had it run uninterrupted, would have had me hiking out of the Escalante today.  The clarity of novelty would be a nice haven these days.  In its absence I cherish the unexpected opportunities I did take this winter, and resolve to not let this spring and summer get away, no matter what form they take.

6 thoughts on “The perfect winter

  1. Not a big skier, but have to agree a near perfect Winter. We never got one of those 7-10 day stretches of below zero weather, very moderate amounts of snow in town and yet above average snowpack in the mountains. Have definitely enjoyed driving just a short distance to take advantage of the snow!

  2. > My list of questions within a 45 minute radius is years long.

    How I feel here, for sure.

  3. Sounds like the perfect storm and a great time! Glad to see your moutain still allowing uphill travel, ours closed out the road up and are doing their best to make access as challenging as possible..

  4. They closed the hill here btw. Too many out of towners still coming in to skin.

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