Every autumn I like to put together a rough list of ski season goals. They range from the very specific “Land a 360° every day I ski inbounds this year” to the very vague “Ski something that puckers my butt pretty good, but not too much.” Usually, there are eight or nine things on that list that range from the very attainable (don’t ever get to the hill and realize you have the wrong boots) to full-on fantasy (get someone else to pay for a trip to Japan.) I don’t necessarily hold myself to these goals, I don’t beat myself up if I don’t achieve many of them, it’s more of a way to rationalize my anticipation for the coming ski season, to build out the picture I’m painting for myself of what my winter will look like. I think a lot of skiers like to do that: we mindsurf photos on Instagram, fantasize about what we want to accomplish.
Most years I end up pretty happy with how well I did at achieving my goals, and last March was shaping up to be the same. My spins got a little cleaner, I tried them on bigger jumps, I hit the cliffs I wanted to hit, had a bunch of great days backcountry touring, climbed and skied a few exciting new lines. That’s what I was doing when our ski seasons started to fall apart actually. I got to the top of a new-to-me couloir in the Tetons, checked my phone for emergencies as always, and realized that my home resort was probably going to close the next day.
We skied the line, slogged out across the lake, grabbed a sandwich on the way home, met with friends, went to bed early. The next morning the dog was antsy and we were tired so we took a lazy morning tour, let the dog come with us, skied a little pow, commented on how warm and spongey the snow was down low, and went home.
The dog was stoked when the resorts closed and she started getting to come every time we went skiing.
That night the resort closed and skiers as a community were asked to please stop taking risks in order to help relieve the stress on healthcare providers. For the first few days I was content. My boots hurt, my skis needed a wax, I was a little burnt out. So instead of aching to go skiing again, I revisited that pre-season list of goals. Most of them felt pretty accomplished. Snowblade traverse across the Tetons? Check. Ski with a rope more? Check. But by the end of the week, I was feeling a longing for something else, something impossible.
My list of goals has never included “ski the gaper and closing days at a few different resorts” but I usually get to. I love closing days. I love the costumes and the camp and the culture and just the overall vibe. I don’t live in a place that has real spring resort skiing, so we make the most of what we can get. We turn blue and goosebumped in our Hawaiian shirts as the clouds threaten to unload on us. And this year there was nothing to make the most of.
We threw around the idea of a makeshift closing day, maybe go build a slushy booter and drink in the parking lot with our friends, make the most of an uncanny season. But those were still the early days of the virus, we were on high alert, none of us was really sure if it was safe or responsible to hang out with friends, even just in the parking lot, and anyway, everyone was running low on toilet paper and was getting laid off and had more important things to worry about than whether to rock snowblades or a mono-ski for some manufactured closing day.
So instead we kept skiing occasional low key laps, doing our best to stay safe, to wave at our friends without getting too close. And the dates of traditional closing days came and went. There was still snow on the hills, and no mountain biking to be had, and less work than usual, so I skinned up the closed resort, again and again, something I’d never do after a normal closing day, and something still felt wrong, undone, left unsaid.
Finally, we had a day so warm that I toured up in just shorts and my pack. At the top, we shared a beer and reminisced on closing days past. We joked about the Chinese downhill and the wiggle and friend’s ridiculous costumes. I ripped my skins and shed my shorts, blasted solo BN turns through the slush as the dog wallowed behind. It’s not the same when you’re not in the middle of a whooping group of similarly undressed skiers. At the bottom I realized what was missing: my list of ski goals was just that, goals, but what really makes skiing magic for me are the emotions, the experiences, not the objective facts of what I skied and how well I skied it.
I might miss this the most
Now I’m making my little list of ski goals for the coming season. I want to ski one of the 50 Classic Lines. I want to ski with ropes even more. I want to spin off natural hits. But more than that, I want to experience that closing day comradery, that expression of everyone celebrating a season gone. So I’ll be bringing that energy to every day riding chairs. Bring your costumes, rock your ski blades, whip out that monoski. I’m skiing every day like it’s closing day. Meet at the top, let’s rip this one like it’s our last run of the year. It might well be.