There are these moments, when you play in the outdoors a lot, where you see the opportunity for artistic impression in the backcountry. It's a melding of factors – nature's canvas and the chance to do something to accentuate it, just slightly. I had such an opportunity today.
We decided to go ski Butler Gulch, a place where I have never been. I tend to stick closer to home, but the snow has been piling up a bit further west, and we decided to check it out. Elaine and I headed up the gulch and then the route veered south, a steeper skin to who knows where. We popped up around tree line and up a long cirque, when I saw something that had to be done. A long ridgeline to a pointed peak, perfectly sillouetted by the afternoon sun. The sun line was perfectly placed along the ridgeline, and I decided this was where the skin track needed to be laid set.
It's a cool, Lord of the Ringsian feeling when there are peaks to your left, peaks to your right, and massive valleys dropping away from you on each side. I looked back and saw Elaine following, just a small figure in an arena of mountain awesomeness. Greys and whites intermingled, and off in the distance, a snow devil, lifting the white stuff and spiriling it across the frozen tundra. Stella followed behind me, the wolf dog in tow. It was one of those moments I live for, crossing the Continental Divide at 12,000 plus feet, sun basking on the skin, a breeze shooting across the thin air. Elaine came to the top and later told me that "the sun was blocking my view, but I looked up and there was this sillouette of a lone skier and a dog. It looked bad ass."
Elaine asked me today if I thought the mountains were prettier in the winter. I don't think so. I think they are equally pretty in all seasons. In the spring, it's the melting snows, waterfalls and verdant smells. In the summertime, a cornocopia of wildflowers, raging thunderstorms and life. In the fall, the tundra turns orange, the shadows grow long, the ponds frozen in the early morning. No the winter is not more beautiful in my opinion. But it is the most impressive time. The mountains become powerful forces, forboding, harsh. As a skier, we are allowed to sneak in for a brief peek, some runs, but if we look upward we see forces that are simply…wow. In the winter the mountains are not prettier, but I will say they are more awe-inspiring.
Backcountry skiing is, simply put, the best outdoor activity in the world. Jack Rabbit Johannsen, of the north woods, said it well:
"Tow hills are but training ground for the fun that is yours when you set out on your own. You must feel the tug of your muscles as you near the top of a long grade, and know the joy of making your own track down an unbroken expanse of powder snow. This is skiing. This is adventure."
Rewind and repeat tomorrow. This is life, this is the here and now. This is what we live for.