There’s a common superstition among skiers to never call “Last Run.” If you do, chances are you’ll do something stupid or get hurt in a freak accident. Instead, we’ve developed our workarounds: “Two more, but skip the last?” “Want to make this run our second-to-the-last?” “Call it in two?” We dance around any kind of assertive statement that these will be the last turns we make today.
Sure, that tradition is just superstitious skiers being superstitious skiers, but I can’t help reading a little more into it. For me, it feels a little like saying “see you later” instead of “goodby.” There’s just such a numbing finality to calling it your “last run.” It makes it feel so over, so done. My last run of the year already carries so much weight, I savor it, stacking turns on a slushy groomer all the way to the base, making sure to throw a real slash for the last one. Hell, I’ve even hiked back up and taken another shot at that “last ski turn of the year” before, making sure it was perfect before I call it for the season. I never call my last run, but I’m always aware of it, skiing differently because I know it’s all about to be over.
But this week, thanks to COVID-19, a huge number of skiers just made their last inbounds turns of the year. They might not have called their last run the last time they skied, but it was. And for once it’s not weather or insurance dependent. We didn’t see this coming, much of the North American ski world is experiencing one of its best storm cycles of the spring. We’ve been making plans, tracking weather, doing everything we can to set ourselves up for a few more weeks of great skiing. And now, for most of us, that’s over.
Chances are that I skied my last inbounds run of the season last Sunday. It wasn’t anything to write home about. I blasted an icy groomer in flat light, pulled up to the mini-park, missed a grab, over-rotated a 360 and washed out, skated back to the bottom, rode the magic carpet back past the bunny hill, and called it a day. I spent the next week getting medical work done and didn't ski. Now it’s dumping snow and the resort is closed.
When I made that connection, realized that the odds are that I’m done riding chairlifts for the season, I was a little bummed out. I want to savor that last run. I want to drink beer in the sun with my friends, shoot the shit and make plans for next year before I bomb the Chinese Downhill on snowblades. And maybe that could still happen. Maybe this thing will just blow over and we’ll get back to the business of making turns.
But if it doesn’t, if things get as bad as it looks like they will, I won’t have any regrets. I didn’t call last run, I didn’t get to play our superstitious game, instead, I got to leave my inbounds season without any baggage. I made those last turns blissfully unaware of their import. They weren't great, but at least they were pure.
Sometimes when I’m feeling a little morbid I think about the fact that someday I’m going to have a real “last run.” There will be a final ski run before I never ski again. I play out different scenarios in my head, various imagined ways to make that last run perfect, to make it into something bigger, something worthy of capping the decades of passion I’ve put into this pursuit. Maybe it will be something epic, some famous line, or maybe just a perfect pow day on my favorite mellow backcountry lap. Regardless, at some point I’ll lean into gravity for the last time, I’ll lay my edges into the snow and leave one last arc on some slope and then it will be over. The chapter of “Cy Whitling: Skier” will be finished.
But the events of the last few months have added a little perspective to that. In my imagined scenarios, I always see that last run coming. I’ve always had the privilege of time to plan it, to anticipate it. Now, as lift-serviced skiing shuts down to protect the lives of some of the least privileged folks in our world, as hysteria cleans out supermarket shelves, and this disease puts thousands of resort employees out of work, that last run carries some extra baggage.
If you’ve ever spent a day in your life on skis you’re luckier and more privileged than the vast majority of the people who have walked this earth. And nothing guarantees us another day in the mountains. So wash your hands, check on your people, and stop hoarding hand sanitizer. I’m not worried about what my last run on skis will be any more, and I'm still not going to call it. But I am going to make sure to milk every last drop out of whatever turns I do get.