Swish swish swish. The tips of my skis poke through sparkling snow crystals as I break trail up the mountainside. Each step requires work to pull my skis through the deep powder, and leaves a sinuous trough marking my route. In between deep breaths I squint into the whiteness, determining my trajectory through the terrain. Even the effort of trail breaking can’t silence my internal monologue, a to-do list of dizzying length and breadth: repair door handle, chop kindling, scrub sauna floor, install new battery in weather station thermometer, order new fuel filter for snowcat, dig snow profile on Rugged Peak ...
I stomp out the snow on a switchback to make it easier for the guests I am guiding to walk their skis around the corner, then my breath catches in my throat as I wonder how I will possibly get everything done. Running a backcountry ski lodge in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia is a dream job for any earn-your-turns ski addict, but at the end of the day after I step out of my bindings, I’ll spend an hour or two fine-tuning the settings on the lodge’s micro-hydroelectric system. I know my efforts are necessary to ensure a supply of clean, green electricity to power our lodge, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather head straight to a date with a cold beer in the hot sauna.
After two hours of strenuous uptracking, my skis pull onto the crest of the ridge to reveal a snowy mountain panorama. No evidence of human habitation exists in the surrounding landscape, and the only sound is my skis gliding through the snow. I drop my pack, peel my skins, grab a bite and throw on a puffy. Soon the ridge is filled with my guests. Their laughter, admiration of the views and excitement for the untracked snow below infects me. I shoulder my heavy pack but feel lighter: My efforts out on the slopes and back at the lodge help my guests have a week of mountain existence that is distilled to the routine of sleep, eat, ski, repeat.
I push off from the ridgeline and my internal monologue fades and dies as I gather momentum. Cruising down the powdery slope, my skis once again leave a sinuous path behind me, but rather than thinking ahead to the next run or to the tasks back at the lodge, I am simply here. Gravity draws me downhill, the wind rushes by and my skis push into the snow, causing it to blow up around my body. All too soon, I get to the bottom and a warm glow spreads over me from the exertion of skiing and the rush of moving fast. I watch the guests ski down, and I find myself cheering as they play in the soft snow – some drop off pillows while others work on linking the smooth arcs of perfect turns, a calligraphic stroke down the snow’s blank canvas. The group gathers together and the to-do list re-enters my consciousness, but the thrill of my own skiing and my guests’ contagious joy has changed my perception of what’s ahead. Taking a deep breath, I know it will all get done. Eventually.
But first, it’s time for another run.