Title image: One day's worth of snow.
At the time of writing this, I’ve got Covid, with the kind of headache where my brain feels three sizes too big for my skull. I'm sluggish, achy, and trapped -- posted in my childhood bedroom, hoping my symptoms will diminish after the next round of fitful sleep. It’s clear Santa had me on the naughty list this year.
There’s a silver lining here -- with nothing to do but stack dirty dishes in the corner and build the Lego set my partner bought me for Christmas, what better time to reminisce?
Earlier this week, an unprecedented storm was set to hit Western Washington. I had just arrived in Seattle for the holidays, firing off texts to rally high school friends and burn money buying lift tickets at my old haunts. The forecast called for over two feet at Snoqualmie Pass.
To drive up to the Pass in those conditions was a fool’s errand. Sure, we had access to my partner’s Impreza, kitted out with studded tires. But any Washingtonian knows it doesn’t take much for WashDOT to lock down Snoqualmie Pass. After all, we maritime folk aren’t particularly adept at snow driving. A few inches of snow and a little black ice are enough for King 5’s newsreels to be tainted by images of two-wheel drive sedans crammed into ditches ass-first.
We piled into the car in the morning anyway. It’d be too long since I’d skied deep snow, and the powder fever had come for me. Fears of overnighting at the Pass weren’t enough to make me turn back.
Two-thirds of the way to the Summit, the pelting rain gave way to thick, luxurious flakes of maritime snow. I white-knuckled the steering wheel. Semis and fearless go-getters roared past, charging up the freeway, which was now a uniform blanket of white, the lane markers buried hours earlier.
The drive up. Video credit: Luca Hagmayer.
That we made it up and the new snowfall hadn’t shut down operations at the Summit was a minor miracle that, possibly to the chagrin of my ski partners for the day, I couldn’t shut the fuck up about. Can you blame me, though?
The trundle of snow plows, the staccato crack of avalanche bombs, and the mounds of snow on roadway shoulders that surrounded us reeked of a different time. For many of us, the sights, sounds, and feelings of skiing seem to have changed. Grass patches have replaced snow fields. Dry spells haunt the mid-season. Rising freezing levels have eradicated the long, snowy drives to the resort. Powder skiing, once semi-common, now causes frenzied behavior among snow-starved skiers. It’s not rare to face enormous lines on weekdays.
This could be an issue of perception. Maybe I only remember the good seasons from when I was little, relying on nostalgia to equate the gilded years of youth with deep snow. Or maybe skiing really has changed for the worse, with longer lines and thinner snowpacks -- a sport caught in the vice-grip of resort conglomeration and climate change.
To plunge headfirst into a proper storm day is to turn back the clock on your life as a skier. The snow is light and forgiving. Falls, when they occur, are of lesser consequence. Every drop is suddenly in play, flat landing or not. Knees, once increasingly creaky with age, suddenly feel sprier. Add in the crew you grew up shredding with, and it’s easy to mistake the present for the past.
We opted to do it all again the next day. Alpental was opening back up. I didn’t care about the expensive lift tickets, the shitty road conditions, none of that. That was all part of the deal. It wouldn’t be right to ski bottomless snow without a little pushback.
Pow days = big lines.
During the last run of the day at Alpental, Miles punted off a cat track, getting hung upside down in a small tree. Luca, ever the speed demon, hadn’t noticed, trucking along to our preferred destination.
After participating in the removal of Miles, the tree ornament, Berkeley and I split off from the rest of the crew to catch up with Luca. We weaved our way through Alpental’s tight gullies, billy goated a few drops, and finally pulled up to a cliff overlooking a wide powder field. Berkeley had chucked himself off it before, prior to his yearlong ski hiatus, and I didn’t doubt that he still had it. We quickly stomped out a lip. Berkeley hiked up the inrun and stated matter-of-factly, “I just want to get this over with.”
Then he was airborne, suspended for a second upside down, before crashing down in an explosion of snow. Luca went next, lacing a 360 with a minor backslap.
I was alone at the top of the inrun. Doing tricks when you’re a bit older is complicated, as saying “fuck it” becomes a lot harder. I thought about serious injuries and emergency rooms. My stomach burned. Yet I knew that the best way to take this moment further was to roll the dice. Storm days are all about rolling the dice.
I awkwardly shifted my skis in the deep snow, pointing them towards the lip as I gathered speed. I leaned backward, my feet swung under me, and all I felt was impact. Surprise and excitement mingled in my head.
Try and ignore my cackling. Video credit: Luca Hagmayer.
I unleashed a volley of uncontrollable laughter, shocked that I’d put it to my feet. After a few tentative turns, I pulled up alongside Luca and Berkeley. Fist bumps went around. We paused to soak in the solitude of Alpental's sidecountry. The soft din of chairlifts churned in the distance. I was knee-deep in a nostalgia trip, clinging to the past two days as a surrogate for my younger years. That'd I managed to huck like my highschool-self was the cherry on top. This is what skiing used to feel like, I recall thinking.
But looking back, I think I got it wrong. The storm day hasn’t gone anywhere yet (although it might). There I was, standing under swollen clouds, sharing the joy of chucking meat with my oldest ski friends, living proof. This wasn’t an illusion or a misguided trip down memory lane -- it was real, a reminder of what skiing still is when the perfect crew and conditions align.
The lesson is this: The past offers plenty to look back on fondly. Just don’t linger there for too long. The forecast will provide the goods again in the coming months or years. Nothing can take that next storm day away from you. And if you’re lucky like I was, it’ll be just as good as you remember, maybe even better.