Recently, a friend sent over a pleasant reminder of a classic comedian. Two pieces from George Carlen were particularly apropos given what was happening in the news cycle [Roe vs. Wade and Religion] – and the word ‘iconoclast’ came to mind. Another iconoclast popped up when attempting to summarize the experience this spring. Not being a Mae West aficionado, the limited exposure to her has always been provocative, and a cliché quote is particularly salient when thinking back on the remainder of winter and spring this year.
With another big winter gracing the Sierra, colder temperatures and precipitation holding steadfast through the end of the calendar winter and significant snowfall gracing the high country through Memorial Day, it was a rare time where personal priorities get re-shuffled to favor taking advantage of what mother nature gives us. So tempting it is to postpone responsibilities and the simple luxuries of sleeping in to ski that one line in perfect powder, or tag a special tour from and to your car with skis on your feet. In an age of human-induced climate change where uncertainty is the norm, there is a sense of urgency that persists with our beloved seasons, and natural environment as a whole. Legitimate questions are raised:
“Will we ever get this much snow again?”
“Will this glacier exist in 50 years?”
“Will the conditions ever be like this in the future?”
With such lofty questions looming like the spring cloud cover over the mountain west, the ski season continued, day after day, week after week. Backcountry plans seemed more impeded by the perpetual storms and unexpected avalanche danger than the more regular news of the recent past: a lack of frozen white gracing the hills making non-winter activities more appetizing in the calendar winter. The temptation to ski, therefore, was strong, difficult to resist and much of the other important duties in life got pushed to the proverbial back burner.
Interesting too how opinions and thoughts have evolved this season. This year’s skiing started in earnest on the east coast for the first time in years: A punch line shared with colleagues is how friends and I skied “blue ice in the rain” on New Years Day. Such sentiment could be considered hyperbolic, though it was still accurate – it wasn’t an entire mountain sheathed in blue ice that day, but plentiful patches of proper ice between saturated man-made snow in weather that could be considered ‘sub-optimal’ to a western US ski snob. This was the motto that made every other ski day this year a total gift, and a credo absolving any negativity about conditions and voiding excuses for not skiing based on snow quality.
Months later, however, the opportunity cost for choosing skiing over other pursuits grew greater, and though the optimism persisted, the desire to diversify the activity profile grew stronger. When snow and frosty conditions pushed into June, the chorus for changing seasons grew too strong, and so it came time to transition. The classic cliché played through: the new season is my favorite, so with sandals and short sleeves now the dress code, the skis are put away for the time being, and it’s time to look back with fondness on the last days of a wonderful winter and spring.
What a gift to ski mountains new and old, with partners old and new, and be led into temptation by a rare bountiful year in the Range of Light. “What was your favorite run of the season?” I was frequently asked. How pleasant to sift through all the memorable days on routes both frequented and completely new. Perhaps best was the phenomenon that comes later in a big season: when fitness built over the earlier months comes to fruition, and long days mean that the miles in the backcountry keeping ticking, ticking ticking past, more peaks are summited, and logical loops and linkups become the flavor du jour.
The only real limitation became how many calories you crammed into your pack, and what incentives were more magnetic than continued miles in the softening white slowly retreating higher. Yes, the days gained at least two minutes of light with each passing sunset, but that meant longer and longer tours, and longer, more fulfilling days amongst the Range of Light.
Will next year be wetter, dryer, or the same? Unknown, but I do know I’m a damn fortunate man to be given the opportunity, health and fitness to indulge in this temptation, and the sensations of contentment and gratitude outweigh the suspense. Until next year…