List, Interrupted

Jasmin Caton
Solstice 2012

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.

About the Author

After a youth of ukelele and math competitions, Patagonia ambassador Jasmin Caton caught the climbing bug. At age 19, she packed her Chevy Corsica and moved to Squamish, British Columbia. She now guides rock in Squamish or leads backcountry tours at Valhalla Mountain Touring – along with husband Evan and powder hound Benny.