Off the Trail: Snowseeker

The metal-edged Kahru skis snapped to my old leather three-pin boots, gold and grey and well acquainted with rocks.

They need to be.

It has taken me an hour to get from the “Snopark” trailhead to this snowy meadow near Rock Creek Lake, a mile that would normally take about five minutes of easy skiing.

But it has hardly snowed this winter and even with the past week of storms we’ve only received a measly 18 feet since November where there should be 40.

Now, getting to the backcountry where there is enough snow to ski usually means a long clattering slog over chunks of snowless trail, punctuated by patches of snow suitable for skiing.

Like now.

Clud, thump, clang. Clud, thump, clang.

The skis hit the rocks and boulders in the trail, crashing through the winter quiet.

I hit a patch of snow that looks like it will last forever and I think I’ve finally climbed above the patchy snow to true white. I relax into the dream that is backcountry skiing—kick and glide, kick and glide, sailing over the snow like a ghost.

Then, bam, the snow is gone again for another 50 feet of trail and I twist and tangle my way through willow, sage, and rock, skis crackling against rock and wood like a caged hen.

I can’t find a rhythm, can’t find a muse, and it’s making me cranky. But I have promises to keep—a trip into the Little Lakes Basin planned long before the snow didn’t come this year—and my friend is already up there, in the true and deep snow high above, waiting for me.

Clud, thump, clang, clud, thump. I clang along, glowering.

I’m another half hour into the gloom when something snaps. I come down a long hill, flying like a maniac on the icy, shaded sections, snagged like a fly in honey on the sun-drenched sections and hit a particularly shallow, icy section, hit ice and rock and sage and that’s it, ass over teakettle onto the hard, bold, ground.
I lie there gasping, one ski twisted back somewhere under my head—how did it get there?—the other tucked under my back, the dogs circling me like buzzards.

I lie there and then I start to laugh.

By the time that stops, the dogs are worried and the sun has disappeared behind Bear Creek Spire. It’s cold as night.

I untangle the pretzel that is my body, shake off the snow, and hit the trail again.

This time, though, I go dancing.

The trail is the same mess of rocks and snow and exposed brush but I am not.

I glide through the half inch of snow that lies over the pine-needle covered trail like it’s 10 feet of snow, effortless, kick, glide, kick, glide.

I slip past rock and boulder and sage without a whisper, barely touching the ground.

I ski down sun-honeyed slopes punctuated with iced-glass frosting and skim over willow and birch, moving through the uneven snow and the fragrant forest like an animal at home.

The cool of evening slows the melt and elevation does the rest and I reach deep snow finally and suddenly I want to be back there in the mess again, dancing with the rocks.