Pow day

On Wednesday the fates aligned. I had the day off work, and the forecast was for 15-20cm of fresh snow. The rain turned to sleet just outside Squamish, and by the time I arrived at Creekside the trees were heavy with fresh snow and little snowcats were clearing drifts from the plaza. At the top of the gondola even the groomed runs were boot-deep in fresh, fluffy, perfect powder.

I haven’t skied a full run on real, honest-to-god, untouched powder since the middle weekend of the Olympics. I’ve skied probably less than a half-dozen runs on that kind of snow in my entire life. Even the Glacier run last week was a cruise from one powder pocket to the next through soft crud, not true powder skiing. At the time of my accident, I was finally figuring out how to weight skis properly to turn on soft snow; with all the time that’s passed and everything that happened in between, I’d forgotten everything I ever learned.

The snow was just deep enough to really float, with an icy scrape or two on the hardpack underneath on the turns. My first run was a nice easy green below Emerald, with barely a track to be seen. I floated huge, surfing turns across the slope, letting the speed build up so that I could cruise without touching the ground. And then I tried to turn exactly the way I normally would while going fast, and the unweighted ski shot out to the side and I had just enough time to think “Really? On my very first run?” before I was face down in the powder with my left ski MIA.

I was really shaky when I stood up, but no more so than after any fall at speed and there was no big internal panic. It was the first time I’ve had a binding release on the bad leg, but I think I’m learning to trust the new knee and believe it when there are no signs of injury or trauma. I dusted myself off, retrieved my ski, and carried on.

Once I’d practiced my turns on a few more runs, I headed over to Harmony. While most skiers headed into the open bowls I skied just off Harmony Ridge, building speed and confidence and rarely crossing another track. Getting off the chair after my third run, I heard the lifty mention that they were just about to open Symphony. I scooted straight over and was one of the first half-dozen skiers into the bowl.

Once I was there, the question of on- vs. off-piste became immaterial. There was no on-piste; groomers and moguls alike were hidden under the uninterrupted layer of knee-deep snow that blanketed the entire bowl. Jeff’s Ode to Joy couldn’t have lived up to its name more than on that first run, riding one endless wave of untouched powder from wide open faces to beautiful glades of snow-laden trees. Once the run started tracking out I moved right to find more fresh lines; it took half-a-dozen runs before I was regularly crossing other skiers’ tracks.

By the time I went in for lunch my quads were burning and I was trembling from exhaustion, but grinning like a maniac. Unfortunately when I headed back out I realized that I’d peaked too soon. Even fueled up with food, I had nothing left in my legs for the afternoon. I skied on for a while regardless, including a brief excursion to Blackcomb on Peak 2 Peak, but by 3pm I had to admit I was done. I skied carefully back down to Creekside and drove home remembering a day that I didn’t make the most of, but was still one of the most memorable I’ve had.


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