The weatherman said that it might snow tomorrow, but the moose grazing in the alders knows better. He can feel the changes in barometric pressure in his joints, and he’s got another week at least of grazing at higher elevations before the next storm system forces him to descend to the valley and hunker down. It’s been sunny and dry for days, the moose doesn’t mind, it just makes foraging easier, but he can hear skiers complaining about it from the skin track just up the ridge.
The skiers are louder than usual on their ascent, there’s nothing to muffle the scuffing of their skins on ice, and they swear in the kick turns as they slide down rolled over off-camber ruts. They complain more, until they gain the ridge, there they’re met with stunning vistas usually hidden behind flowing wraiths of fog. Their turns back down to the valley floor are louder, crustier than usual, but they’re safer too. No avalanches unload on them, no cornices fall, prompting sympathetic slopes to fail.
Death still lurks in the snowpack but it’s buried deep. Facets dance under feet of snow, marbles stacked beneath tons of water. They’ve held out for over a month now, singing danger to anyone who dares delve too deep. But they’re rounding back over now, slowly reversing the process that made them deadly. Soon they’ll be a nearly negligible risk, rarely triggered or considered.
The surface is another matter. Tight crusts have edged in on sunny slopes, and each morning hoar crystals dance bigger in the sunrise. They tinkle musically when a hawk disturbs them, swooping to terminate a squirrel’s scurry across the meadow. They’ll be dangerous later, buried spikes when it snows next, but for now they’re just beautiful, an element of redemption in this drought.
Across the range the ski resort is waking up. Patrol works the rope line, clearing frost and checking bamboo. No bombs this morning, what can move has moved, now it’s all frozen solid. The groomers have left tight corduroy down every run, so perfectly ruled that it’s almost a shame to track it up.
The parking area is still nearly empty, secretly the paid parking attendant is glad. The sort of people who pay for parking at his resort are not the sort of people who tip well, so quiet days just mean more time to read with his feet propped up at the payment window.
Instead of the usual procession of Subarus and Toyotas adorned with ski racks and mountain-themed stickers, this Saturday’s crowd is made up of more big construction trucks and small sedans. Occasional skiers making the most of their days off. The lift line on the bunny hill is long. Snowmobile onesies line up behind Carhartt jackets and jeans.
It’s a great day to learn to ski, the snow is consistent, the weather fair, some of these skiers might even go home with a sunburn. At the summit an old man takes in the view, breathes deep before he leans into his first turn. He wasn’t sure he was even going to ski this year, he’s ready for each winter to be his last spent in the mountains. But here he is, rolling his ankles over, finding the edge, pushing into his tips as momentum pushes back.
On the magic carpet, a little girl is over it. She’s bored, tired of standing on the slow moving belt. She’s not done skiing, but she’s done with this crap. So instead her mom shuffles her up the ramp, hoists her up as the chair comes through from behind. She leans far out over the bar on her first chairlift ride, marveling at the bra tree as the pass it. Two decades of chairlifts and podiums later and she’ll give up competitive skiing to research new titanium alloys for use in surgical tools, but for now she’s just excited for the hot chocolate at the end of the day. It’s a great morning for her first chairlift ride.
In the terrain park one middle school kid hikes the down rail over and over again. His mom gives him a hard time “Why did I buy you a pass if you’re just going to carry your skis back up instead of riding the lift!?” He doesn’t care. His headphones are on, he’s been visualizing this trick since he got out of bed this morning, running it over and over on the bus ride up. Now he’s so close to getting it, scissor a little more, follow through over your shoulder, edges on metal, bases slapping back onto snow. Hike it again to lock it in for good.
The pressure will remain high. The moose will continue to gather calories in preparation for the next blizzard. The hawk will gnaw on the squirrel carcass through the afternoon. The facets round off, the feathers of surface hoar grow, the backcountry skiers complain, and the parking attendant finishes his book.
It will snow again soon. For now though, the sun is out, and the snow is fast.