by Leslie Ross
The short climb through fresh snow is filled with chatter and long-winded stories, but I'm still unable to completely relax my guard. My avalanche eyeballs are constantly scanning the terrain for signs of instability from the past three days of constant, copious snowfall. This "perfect storm" had triggered multiple releases within earshot of our cabin at the Tioga Pass Resort and it's taken quite a bit of patience for us to be here now, checking this wind-scoured ridge for safe passage down.
With a hawk eye on each skier, I assume the tail guide position and watch each member of our posse drop in and cross under the heavily layered cornice towards the safety of a grove. Then it's my turn to descend. I start down tentatively but the firm windblown carpet soon fades to bliss. In shock from the dreamy substance under foot, my body instantly craves more. I am challenged to trust my feet and surrender to the flow. Whoosh. I had forgotten what this felt like – the perfect pitch, perfect powder, topped by relatively stable conditions. Nirvana. I do not want to stop. Like a drink after a stint on the wagon, it tastes so good. I want more.
Even though the snow pack has stabilized, the steep, treed terrain and recent storm cycle demand that we keep a tight ship. We harness our desires and pull in the reigns, leap frogging down the hill to keep each other in sight. Safety first, bliss second. It hurts like the pain a child feels when relinquishing a favorite toy to another, even if for only a brief moment. You want your turn back, you want back in the game, and fast.
Ride. Pull over. Pause. Watch. Clear. Repeat. After each brief stop, we easily slip back in the groove – hoots of ecstasy echoing through the trees. Then, one by one, we arrive in a clearing, elated. Our cheeks tight with beaming smiles, eyes on fire, bodies tingling, we share grateful glances from the snowgasm experience.
Today, balance has been restored. After patiently waiting to ride the snow deposited from the perfect storm, it feels like we earned this day. Any stray thoughts of selfishly skiing top to bottom have been replaced by the sheer pleasure of this dreamy team descent. I know without a doubt that this is my favorite day of the season.
With bodies still pulsing, we refit our skins, and head up for more.