Words: The Jaded Local
Shot out of a cannon, a skier careens through the smithereens of another ski season. Births deaths funerals reunions mountains avalanches helicopters powder bar tabs airports kaleidoscopically blurring, stretching into a winter now sliding away, receding to a tiny bright point, a singularity that pulses for a moment like a heartbeat then expands again, brighter and brighter. There’s a rush of wind in your face, feel of open space all around, the sibilant hiss of edges slashing spring snow…
…and suddenly it’s Closing Day, a sunny summery Monday at the end of May and I’m in a tasteful pinstripe business suit slithering down an improbably slender strip of snow that lies vibrating white on a barren volcanic landscape, chasing a mysterious Austrian in psychedelic disco pants who skis like some kind of secret military technology beamed in from the future.
Must sum up the winter… something clever, insightful…
We hurtle down the smooth stripe of speed-salted corduroy in the sun, and then I realize that I’m on experimental ultra-ultra-light touring gear that feels like it’s made of carbon fiber eggshells. Keeping up with the Austrian is frankly terrifying, and yet the pinstripe suit is soothing somehow, like I’m just sitting in an air-conditioned office firing people and not skittering at fifty miles an hour with a blown knee and a light buzz on equipment that was made for little European mountain elves. I start to drift… but weren’t we just climbing out of the helicopter in Silverton? Standing outside the VC in Jackson drinking beer in a snow storm? No, it’s Mammoth, Closing Day. Sunshine. Outfits. Mysterious Austrian. Angulation. My God…the angulation.
Another cocktail on the deck? Ja! Don’t mind if I do. We walk up the stairs and I scan the surrounding crowd: the usual. A pack of happy fools in motley, a rag-tag band of misfits. My people. They sell more than 20,000 season passes, but you see who’s actually committed on closing day. All the cool kids, the backcountry badasses? Long gone. Now it’s just a pack of eccentric, mostly middle-aged enthusiasts, left-righting one last time in the sun for the stupid defiant joy of it. Yes, Action Sports Social Media Brand Management Specialists, this is your West Coast Core Community. All 67 of them, crushing it together.
What the hell did I do this season? Now it’s all just a sparkly white haze punctuated by grim airport intermissions and brief moments of clarity… sunrise on a summit, laughing in the trees, bursting out of the hot cacophony of bar into frozen perfect winter midnight stillness with a million stars scattered across a huge black sky…
A few more hot laps and I’m getting used to the business suit/skittery AT gear combo. It’s a seductive feeling, like I am a ski-mountaineering Robert Palmer, a world-weary jet-setter with a wry smile and a backup band made up entirely of vacant-faced models who don’t believe in bras, taking a break from the Fast Lane to slash a few Super G turns on next year’s touring gear…
…and suddenly I’m centered over my skis, it all comes together and I’m just railing the piss out of it, slashing with casual effortless precision. Because Robert Palmer wouldn’t give a damn if his skis were little carbon toothpicks or who the Austrian’s Really Working For. He’d button his suit, adjust his cufflinks, and make passionate but exquisitely controlled love to that slushy groomer like it was a couple of Valium-addled supermodels in a limousine.
Big Trends? Important, ummm… something. Tie it all together now, something about Progression, or how some pro skiers jumped off stuff and got all rad maybe? “A Season On The Dri…er, Brink.” ’2012: Doom, Folly, Madness.” “Rando Commando Glissando” Oh God. What the hell am I even doing here? Ski Journalism. Now there’s an oxymoron. It’s like Hot Tub Journalism, or Some Company’s Bar Tab Journalism.
“2012: Hot Tubbing Gets Serious.” “The Bar Tab: Is it still open?”
Closing day was in the standard open jam format but the winner from 2010 returned to triumph once again. Crazy Guy on Drugs with Pink Tights and Kniessl Big Feet Snowlerblades may not remember his day, but I do, and it was nothing short of majestic. Despite whatever chemical challenges he was dealing with—not to mention the worst, most fiendishly difficult snow-sliding tools ever made—the champion’s ski technique was pure perfection. I’ve been in The Game for a long time, and I know mastery when I see it. The man was ripping the Volkswagens on Climax with a smoothness and timeless form that I can only compare to the greats like Stein Erikson or Jean-Claude Killy. On tiny skis with toes.
My knee is smoked to cinders but I’ve been out one-legging it every damn day because Spring in Mammoth is one of the best experiences in skiing. You’ve got this big old mountain pretty much to yourself. I can’t believe that there’s like 20 million people within driving range and it’s just us up here. Way to blow it, California.
I’m sure all sorts of Super Cool Industry Stuff happened here this winter, and some people got sick in the stunt park or whatever, but the actual stars this year were the snowmaking and cat crews. They made a Thanksgiving to Memorial Day ski season out of about two storms, grinding it out every night to rearrange a finite number of flakes into a fully operational battle station. Cheers, ladies!
As for the rest of it, the Meaning Of It All, the Winter Wrap-Up: dammit man, it’s hard to really picture it here on the sundeck, but I’ll try.
All those funerals… too many friends gone, and too soon. Life is violent enough already, you know? I got to ski and hang out with some really great people this season: the Crist brothers and Super G in Sun Valley, the surly goofball badasses of Silverton, the sweet hippie heroes of Jackson, the only two locals in Solitude (yeah, boys!), the whole Salomon crew on a corporate pond skimming retreat, patrollers and lifties and guides, skids, dirtbags, Chamonix kamikazes, washed up weirdos and next big things.
All the money, the women, the personal wax tech and ski caddy, wearing next year’s goggles at the bar… those are great perks for sure, but the reason I work for POWDER is shredding dumb happy laps with rad people. I hope we can keep it topside long enough that I get to ski with you too. If you’re in Chile this summer I’ll be testing next year’s gnarliest mountaineering gear on casual heli laps while I try to find out who the Austrian is really working for.