Powder

July 21, 2011
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The flat edge of the front of the boot slid snugly into his Rossignol bindings, and he snapped the back end in roughly. Rossignol made bad skis, but good bindings. The lift ride was long this time; the tourists on this one must have been particularly ignorant. There weren’t many of them today because tourists were wimps and they stayed inside during the best weather, like today. Today it’s cloudy with light snow falling to refill your tracks as you go back up. Last night was one of those snowstorms that everyone was waiting for, and as it continued into the morning, it was totally worth risking your life and waking up early on a Saturday to go shred the bumps. But the peak probably wouldn’t be open until they finished blasting up there, and he took time to crank the bindings until the cold, unforgiving metal stretched the plastic. Dull echoes from the blasts were still reverberating. He was alone. Usually this wasn’t the case, but his only friend really, was this crazy ski team hopeful and powder fanatic, Gabe. On Wednesday the mountain got a few more inches, and Gabe ditched to go ski, and he tried a cork seven and double ejected and clipped a tree. He'd be all right in a few days. It wasn’t bad being up on the mountain alone anyways. He could go at his own pace, and marvel at nature. He thought that sounded like hippie stuff but he still liked it. Besides, he couldn’t stay home when there was all this fresh powder. That would be stupid.

There was the powder, behind those trees where it always was, where the tourists didn’t go. It had bumps, and it could get nasty on that cliff about halfway down, but it was worth it because it had powder. People in this town would do anything to get every inch of it, a fact that was unanimously accepted here, but one that mystified tourists. Powder happens when the air is still so that the snow falls straight, and when there is plenty of air in the snow, and when it is deep but not dense. A powder day happens when a substantial dosage of this manna from Heaven is graciously released to the earth. Weatherman could predict snow, but not powder. It was just a mad dash in the morning to see who got the untouched stuff first. He found this because he was good at finding it, and he was going to shred it up before anyone touched it. He leaned into the slope with ferocious anticipation.

Thirteen years ago was a saturday in January. His dad was lifting him up again. He had already fallen more times than he could count. At such a young age he couldn’t understand this strange rite of passage. Walking seemed much easier, and the snow was cold. He wanted to leave, but Dad told him that he could get it this one, last time, and he got it; he stayed standing down the whole short, gentle slope, and Dad lifted him up, and told him that he would be a great Olympic racer one day. Walking was easy; but it was more important that he had learned to ski.

This year he had bought Nordica Beasts from Gabe, in Gabe’s garage, and true to their name, the thick twintips shredded the powder with no mercy. He carved turns by relying on the unconscious calculations of his seasoned brain and muscles.

Dad showed him the powder when he was old enough. Another rite of passage on the path to manhood and understanding. His eyes lit up behind the goggles when he saw it. He knew that it was beautiful, and he knew that it was why people lived here, and why other people wanted to live here but instead settled for expensive second homes, plane tickets, and rental skis. They thought that skiing was for the privileged like themselves. They didn’t know about the swap, or Gabe’s garage, or absurdly discounted student passes. They stayed off the good stuff anyways. This was real skiing in the powder. He was initiated into an exclusive society the first time that the unfamiliar mass threw him backwards, onto his calves, until his whole body was backward, in the snow. But it felt soft, and welcoming, so it was allright.

Now his calves were being forced back onto his boots, but he wouldn’t let them. He thrust his torso forward, and the Beasts raged with new energy. His quads burned. They were resisting. His torso was still. His legs were fluid. There was a tree. Now there wasn’t, but there were bumps, big ones, and he shortened his turns and tore through them aggressively. They resisted but he knew where their weakest point was, the best line. He took it and he saw the next turn, took the turn, saw the next turn, took the turn. An icy bump the size of a boulder threw him off.

Dad was distant now. He didn’t know exactly when it happened, maybe because it was during middle school when he didn’t have a clue what was going on. He started arguing with Mom. They never divorced or anything, but it might have been better if they had. Now he just tensed up whenever he had to sit down in the same room as them. He knew that they would berate him for some new failure. There were always failures. They never ran out of material. Now he had stopped returning their calls, or speaking to them, if he could help it. He had to stop because he couldn’t take it anymore.

Ice always ruined the powder. It hid under there and sadistically and jubilantly revealed itself when the powder was swept away. But the cliff was coming and it would be better after that. He switched to his edges to cut through the ice.

His dad told him that he would never get into college because of his grades. Actually he would probably never get past High School because he was failing the classes that he didn’t skip for skiing, and he told Dad this, and Dad told him how much of an idiot he was. His eyes were cold. He responded by slamming the door as hard as he could.

The ice was brutal, and the bumps worked with the ice to upset him. He fell off his line and almost lost his balance.

He didn’t talk to his parents that week that he was staying at Gabe’s house because it got so bad that Dad kicked him out.

He was improvising now. Setting his own rhythm, burning through his quads. The Beasts weren’t flexible, and the impact jarred him, up to his spine. He gritted his teeth.

Dad told him to grit his teeth and just charge down the hill.

He was used to no warning. Just buckling his legs before it was too late, getting the extra lift, feeling the adrenaline wash out his stomach. There was a memory that wasn’t really a memory yet.

He was still staying at Gabe’s house, but he was calling Dad and telling him that he would work harder at his grades. He was telling him what he had done wrong, and what Dad had done wrong. Dad was saying that it would be okay, that they could start over…

His knees buckled, and it was hard, but the powder lessened the shock and the pain. There was no ice, at least not right here. The powder was a new kind of good down here.





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