It snowed up high a week ago. I only know because I can see the remains, taunting me on the peaks. A light dusting of powdered sugar on the granite, just out of reach. It’s been inverted, so the trees are going yellow in town, but up on the ski hill they’re still lush and green, an incongruous contrast to the snow on the summits above them.
Some years winter comes abruptly, with no warning, like some invisible switch has flipped, without our knowledge or consent. One day we’re riding bikes and hanging out in flip flops, the next there’s a foot and a half of snow on the trails and we’re trying to remember how to ski in October. It’s easy to focus on skiing when winter forces itself into your psyche like that. The only options then are to retreat to the desert or embrace an early ski season.
But sometimes we get a true autumn. Short days stretched long by perfect weather, perfect dirt, the delightful combination of crisp mornings and hot afternoons that devolve into cool evenings with friends around the fire. And when that happens, when winter moves in slowly and gradually, it’s harder to prepare for the coming season. When the mountain biking is as good as it’s been all year, when the air smells crisp and clean, when the wildfire smoke finally abates, it’s hard not to cling to every scrap of summer joy. It’s hard to get in ski mode.
Last season I’m not sure I ever really felt that switch flip. A long and glorious autumn slipped gradually into a subpar winter. Low snow, crappy avalanche conditions, and general malaise kept me from ever feeling fully invested in the ski season. That was a rude awakening after centering my life around skiing for nearly a decade. I felt adrift, unsure in my identity as a skier, disconnected from the sport after relying on it for so long.
Over the summer those doubts have come pouring back into my mind, recriminations for a winter squandered. If only I hadn’t gotten so far into my head about avalanche danger. If only I hadn’t talked myself out of a few big days high in the hills. If only, if only, if only…
It’s silly to ponder “if onlys” in October though. There are plenty of ways to lose a ski season. Injury, financial insolvency, the housing crisis, a new job, entering a new chapter of your life, or your family’s life, ski seasons are easily derailed. Enjoy it while it’s good, but the only seasons that really matter are the ones yet to come.
Now another winter is ramping up. My google search history is rife with attempts to find good paper templates for exotic touring bindings. But the mountain biking is still good. But I’m not ready to reenter the vicious cycle that ski boots impose on my feet. But I don’t want to shovel the driveway. But, but, but…
And in the back of my mind is this nagging worry: Don’t blow this season like you blew the last one. This is your final winter in the Tetons for a while, don’t squander it. Don’t leave with regrets. I try not to focus on that, try not to set unattainable goals, try not to build this winter into something it can never live up to. But still, somehow that switch needs to flip. Skiing needs to take full control of my mind once more. I need to get into the swing of things again.
So I glance at the snow on the peaks as we walk to a friend and ski partner’s house to celebrate her graduation. I’m still fixated on mountain biking as we walk, still planning one last big trip. But we get there, and it’s mostly ski buddies, standing around, chatting, making community next to the woodpile. The sun sets and it gets cold. I walk home, come back in my new down jacket, and the conversation has turned to skiing. Someone got new boots, and we pass them around, marveling at their walk mode, their minimalist weight. The conversation turns to season plans, objectives, goals. We stack the Spotify queue with our ski segment songs, the tunes we can imagine filming for, skiing to. I’ve been trying not to think about skiing too much, but everyone here is focused on it and it’s infectious. I find myself wanting skiing for the first time in months.
We walk home in the dark, chat on the couch about new gear, lines we want to repeat, skills we want to build, tricks we want to send. In the morning we’ll get up and ride bikes. There’s still a few weeks of autumn left to make the most of. But the switch has flipped. Ski season has announced its presence.
Now is the time to get hungry. Now is the time to dream and plan and scheme. Half the joy of skiing lies in the anticipation, the buildup, the preparation for these fleeting months. How do you get ready? How do you count down the days? What are your dreams for the season? What shenanigans do you have planned? The switch has flipped. I’m ready for ski season. Let’s go!