by Susie Sutphin
Late Fall 2005
I rolled in behind our Canadian guide, Randy, on the dome looking down a steep tree shot. The others still uphill, streaming in behind. It was our last ski of the trip. We’d get to the bottom and skin back to the lodge just in time to meet our 1 p.m. heli-shuttle back to reality. It had been an epic eight days and seven nights in the beautiful Canadian Rockies. A long planned trip all coming down to this last run. How did it go by so fast? We just got here?
Standing there on the dome, Randy leaned uphill grasping my arm. He said, “Suz! Got any more lungs left in ya, eh?” “Yeaaaah?” I replied suspiciously, not sure if he was jokingly going to push me over into the snow or was just trying to get my attention. Instead, he planted his hand firmly on the center of my back and shoved me off the dome. I moved in what felt like slow motion, trying to comprehend what had just happened. I didn’t resist but let the shove of his hand push my arms to the side like wings. I skied straight for what would have been the first five turns with head back, eyes closed and arms outstretched. I wanted to relish the gift I had been given of going first without guilt or pretense.
I sank into a tele turn as my momentum increased. I let the terrain dictate where I went and when I turned, not thinking, but releasing myself to the mountain. I was a tree blowing in the breeze letting it take me where it wanted. I watched the scenery go by like a passenger in a car just enjoying the ride. I was floating through the untracked powder, weightless in body and mind. Looking down I saw the pristine snow and its top layer glittering in the sun, totally untracked except for the split second in front of me that was heaving into a billowing mound.
I got to the bottom, caught my breath, and was pulled back into the here-and-now just in time to turn around and see my friends bursting through the trees on all sides of the slope. It was the perfect last run.
In retrospect, the runs of the past few days had somehow been tainted, as they often are in these guided situations. Each run, the guide goes first to check the slope and the rest of us, the clients, jockey to see who will go next. You look at each other in anticipation and suggest that someone better go. No one wanting to admit that they want it all to themselves. You drop in and wonder, “Should I have waited? I went first last time.”
One of the best parts of sharing the backcountry experience is sharing your friends’ joy as they ski without being judged. Later, a friend said to me, “You looked like a bird who had been set free.”