Like most good love affairs mine started with a movie, a rather cerebral conversation, a night of lust, and then some deep retrospection. The movie was Every Day is a Saturday though, truly, the title of the movie is inconsequential. Any ski porn would have done, I’m sure. The conversation is one that I will never forget and it certainly changed the course of my life since it helped me make the decision to become a bum. Sometime after that initial conversation I had packed up winter gear and headed west from the rolling hills of New York, like so many before me, to the snow covered mountains of the Little Cottonwood Canyon, heretofore known as the LCC.
I arrived at the end of November and made my way up the winding canyon. I was standing in the shadows of giants: Baldy, Superior, and Wolverine towered over me and my new home. Stately and serene they stood in judgment of this tiny mortal, another skier in their midst, one of hundreds that had stood at their bases and begged for their steeps, for their powder, for their mercy. I had answered their siren call and awaited my reward. And rewarded I would become. As I was making my decision to head west I had heard the Weather Channel mention La Niña.
So many things drew me, or pushed as the case may be, so inexorably to the LCC that there was little hope fighting the calling. For those who do not know La Niña I would like to direct you first to an SNL video of Chris Farley as El Niño. After you have watched and enjoyed this youtube gem I would like to direct you to the NOAA website where you can learn about the ENSO phenomenon and why La Niña is every skier’s wet dream. You are almost guaranteed higher than average snowfall, larger storms, and lighter and drier snow. You see, a perfect maelstrom was developing. In retrospect, everything was shoving me back to the mountains.
Thus began my winter love affair. However, the flirtation started decades ago when at the tender age of dos I was strapped to skis, an edgie-wedgie, and a leash and took my first turns down Chickadee, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort’s beginner hill. I spent the next few seasons flirting with Winter. Skiing came as naturally to me as breathing so I was comfortable coming and going. A coy little game I played with Winter. But something happened as I grew into adulthood. Now I know I was starting to fall in love.
Every fall in college as the air got crisper and The Turn began I started to dream of deep powder, my legs ached as though I had restless leg syndrome and I could almost feel that moment of weightlessness as you go over the edge of something. The only thing to keep these feelings at bay was to search through ski movie teasers on the internet. Winter was, in turn, teasing me. I should have known what goes around comes around. The snowy weather and winter temperatures were toying with me, driving me mad, until I could get home and finally hit the slopes, releasing that tension.
Silly girl; trying to resist the temptation of a passionate affair with Winter.
Where was I? Oh yes, standing in the shadow of some of the most impressive peaks in the Wasatch. The first day of December I skied, Alta where my employer-paid pass got me onto empty slopes and a few inches of fresh snow. Tunes blaring in one ear, taking deep breaths of high altitude mountain air, gazing upon thousands of vertical feet of awesome, I took my first runs as a ski bum. They will always be some of the sweetest runs I have had the joy of skiing. I was free, I was alone, I was powerful. I was drinking the sweet elixir of shredding and getting drunk on it. I was home. The ski bums and seasonal workers became my family, my home was the dorms of my employer, my meals were often scrapped together, my drinks were cheap, my playtime was outside, my work was but a small amount of time compared to my skiing, and life was good.
LCC is a strange place that can warp people, time, and memory. For me, there is a slightly ominous feeling about the place. A feeling that there is something drawing me in so strongly that my deepest instincts are sounding the alarm, trying to get me to recognize this malevolent power the canyon already has a hold on me. LCC has personality, like some slow, sentient being that draws skiers like moths to a flame to consume them, to trap them. And we answer the call, selling our souls to the lords of powder, the gods of steep. I will never be released from the power of LCC which is entirely fine by me. The freedom of flying through the mountains is worth the sacrifice.
I have been fortunate enough to find a balance between my life in the canyon and that of the outside world. Some never find this and are lost eternally in the tangled web of the perpetual hunt for the perfect season. Winter taps the web for me too and I am pulled back to the top of the canyon unable to resist the allure of the snow and steeps. She is a powerful force, Winter. Her pantheon brings us Lake Effect, her lords bring us 2% blower, her indiscretions bring us interlodge, and her minions lay impatiently waiting, salivating at the thought of her gifts. What a price we must pay for them, but always worth the sacrifice.
It is always possible that dear Lady Winter may bring her little girl, La Nina, with her again. A mighty mother/daughter force that beckons us to elevation each day as the temperatures fall and the days grow shorter. The skier in me aches for her embrace again and again, season after season. My affair with Winter is far from over. She will destroy in me in her icy flames before I am through with her—or she with me.