Why Does Man Ski Powder?

Warren Miller mulls over his magnificent obession... in its purest form (Volume 4, Issue 1)

By Warren Miller

In celebration of POWDER’s 45th Anniversary, we are releasing select stories from every volume. This story originally published in POWDER’s Fall 1975 issue (Volume 4, Issue 1).

FACT: Years ago a man named Darwin advanced the theory that man, the animal, descended from a protoplasm floating in some ancient sea on this planet earth.
FACT: For centuries, man has followed his urge to return to the sea… albeit river, lake, stream, or ocean. Water has provided the life blood of man on this spaceship earth since it was launched.
FACT: Man’s blood has the same salt content as the ocean.
FACT: Humans are composed of more than 80 percent water.
FACT: He will perish in short order without replenishment of that liquid.
FACT: Including preconception, more than the first nine months of a person’s life are spent submerged in a liquid.
FACT: A woman’s menstrual cycle follows the same rhythm of the moon and tides—28 days.
FACT: A successful resort cannot survive without a body of water in which to immerse the tired soul of the vacationer.

SUPPOSITION: Man uses only 10 percent of his intelligence potential—Einstein used 11!

Somewhere in the unused 90 percent of his intelligence, perhaps, is the instinct to once again surround himself with the long ago protection of water.

QUESTION: Why else would so much of the gross national product be spent on the pursuit of his instinctive enjoyment of water?

FACT: That snow is simply frozen water, draped on the side of a mountain somewhere for a brief period of time called winter.

SUPPOSITION: We, in our 90 percent subconscious, move across this frozen liquid to instinctively feel like God himself—we are walking on water.

The ultimate extension of this water theory, then, is deep within the subliminal mystic of carving tracks on the side of a powder snow slope. The sensuous feeling in the idle of a turn when the snow comes up and covers your face, halts your breathing for a moment—the moment you are in tune with perfect water in its purest crystalline form. No minerals, no pollution, only the ever-present threat of an avalanche, or perhaps a helicopter rotor blade snapping as we sometimes cruise through that alien element called air.

But I ramble now, for the north wind is blowing lightly and the satellite picture on the ten o’clock news says “new storm by tomorrow morning.” I’d better get organized.

If you learned to ski after the age of 12 you can still remember your first snowplow turn. When? Where? Who with? Weather conditions? Clothes? Who taught you? Every detail about it. An event so important it has to have more than just an “it was fun” connotation. Powder snow skiing then, is the ultimate extension of that sensual remembering of your first snowplow turn. Flowing, gliding, turning, sliding. We are now reaching back and retrieving that instinctive remembrance stored away in the inner workings of our heads when we swam amongst other fish untold eons ago—a remembrance stored away in that unused 90 percent of our available intelligence.

Unlike water skiing, surfing, sailing, or swimming, however, in powder skiing you can pause at the bottom of the hill and look back at your handiwork. “Yep, those are my tracks” … “little late with that pole plant on a couple” … “that’s the one where I scrunched down a little lower and the snow came clear over my head” … “Jees, looks like I defiled the vestal virgin” … “Oh well, a breath of wind out of the north, another storm, and I can do it all over again.”

You don’t speak English, French, German, or Japanese? You still have two arms and two legs and a body and a head with a brain and the same built-in-return to the sea instinct. Regardless of your spoken language or attitude, that instinct was planted by genetic heritage when your mother and father got together so many nights ago. Who, then, are we to say that Darwin was wrong? Or right for that matter? I ask you a question, or rather, make a statement.

Perhaps if we relinquished our status search of plastic skis and hundred-dollar bindings, the size of that condo we rented, and went more for the gut feeling while watching a backlit pine tree as we ride up the Warm Springs lift? Peeking out from under the cape that covers our freezing body as we ride skyward at 36 below zero. Why don’t we spend less time on the status of “Where will we be eating tonight?” and more on the “size of our smiles” as we carve those turns. Yet, as more and more people ease into that instinctive rhythmic feeling of turning a pair of skis, we are caught up in the age-old supply and demand trip. Too many people satisfying instinctive return to the sea urges on too little new snow with too few ski lifts. We move as a too large school of fish afraid to venture into the unknown of avalanches, helicopters, and untracked snow.

But I ramble now, for the north wind is blowing lightly and the satellite picture on the ten o’clock news says “new storm by tomorrow morning.” I’d better get organized.