The Sound of Promise

Stuart Ruckman
Featured in our Holiday 2004 catalog

The storm rolled in about three o’clock Christmas morning, just as predicted.We lay there, listening to the gravelly sound of graupel against the windowpane. To us, it was the sound of promise. The tree and presents in the corner could wait. New snow was on the way.

A few hours later we were skinning uphill, maintaining a weak sense of warmth in a wind that tugged at our packs and hoods, tossing us around. We shielded our faces, turned a shoulder to the gale, but – as our drunken tracks attested – we were caught in a blender.

The sky, the snow, even the trees were the grey of alpine stone. We couldn’t talk. We couldn’t pause for route-finding. Trying to steal glimpses ahead, we saw only the featureless expanse of slope and ridge. There was nothing to do but shuffle forward to the final climb. Halfway up, the urgent wind gave way. Stillness followed and the sky, now around and between us, began to spill.

Snow, like cornflakes shaken from a box, piled up fast. By the time we’d climbed the ridge and ripped off our skins, six-inches of new snow sat waiting. At the top of our run, another two inches of fluff curled up around our knees.

We dropped in one at a time, vanishing in a blend of snow, clouds and gravity. We were together, yet alone, each of us reveling in our hard-earned reward – magical silence. The only break in the snowfall was our whoops of joy. They became our means of communication. Snow slid over our shoulders now, and we skied with the sense of getting away with something. We linked turns from one rollover to another, alone in a spectacle of cloud and snow.

We returned home that night, slid the car into a snowbank deeper than the hood, and left it while we postholed to the front door. The tree was there, the presents, too. We didn’t even pause. Instead, we dove under the covers, pulling them around our eyes. We’d already received the most outrageous gift of all – a day of turbulent grace.