I tend to ski a lot. And sometimes, on mornings like yesterday morning, when there is barely enough snow to make ten turns, and you're walking for three hours to get to them, it might seem silly. And maybe, in the practical world, it is. But for some reason, I really enjoy these adventures. I like them better than just a simple hike. For one thing, my gear is super light which makes it easy to transport across the trails and tundra. And for another, the experience just feels rich.
I think there is something about the last 20 minutes, when I leave the main hiking trail and start scrambling over talus fields and boulders to the remnant snow field, that feels ancient. When doing that, I feel transported back in time, to a place when snow and glaciers were just covering the land. If the glaciers and snowfields are indeed moving out permanently, than getting to make some turns on their last breath is both meaningful and poignant. I imagine the storms they saw when the ice age was just beginning and the snow piling deep, and how strange it must be to see sunlight after centuries buried under ice. Silly personification I know, scoffed by scientists. But without the imagination to bring it to life, what use is science?
I try to leave a little signature on the landscape. A well-placed and executed ski track, with a massive mountain rising behind it, a lake in front of it and tundra all around, is a thing of beauty. It's not a permanent scar; instead it's a temporary etching of freedom. When done right, it can be artisitic and tell a story. Yesterday the pallet was small but aesthetic, and I took advantage.
More than anything, I like what I see and feel on these "ski" adventures. Most of is has nothing to do with skiing. I like seeing the mother ptarmigan and her chicks wandering across the tundra and marvel at their fragility. I like the smells in the woods, from rotten mulch, to pine to the indescribable. I love the sounds I hear…the trickle of creeks, the swoosh of the wind through the stubby pines up high, the splish-splash of waves on the high lake against the rocks. I like it when rocks fall (from a safe distance) in the massive, glacial carved cirques, sending echoes crashing. It feels powerful, more powerful than humans, and I like the humility it brings. I like the colors, from the brilliant floral extravaganza in spring and early summer, to the warmer, red hews on the tundra brought about by colder temperatures and the beginning of autumn. I like the feel of the cool mountain air, the hint of season's change, the breeze from the north, the invigorating aliveness it induces.
Would I see and smell and hear and feel all this on a hike without skis on my back? Yes, but somehow the skis add to the experience and make it richer. You see, it's not really about the nine turns on the patch of snow clinging to the mountain. It's about everything I experience getting to and from the nine turns that really matters. And if it adds a little weight to my back, or the occassional smack of tails on the back of my legs, well, it's worth the cost.