Around this time every year, I find myself writing about the road. It happens to coincide with the same moment that people begin looking around their local mountains and ski hills and comparing how much of the white stuff has fallen there with everywhere else in the country. Then they load up a car with gear and friends and point it toward the deepest snowpack in the Lower 48.
I returned recently from a road trip. It was a book tour to be exact, but there were plenty of mountains and snowfall in between stops. I hadn't taken off on an epic road trip in a while and had forgotten the alternating waves of thrill and monotony that make up life on the road. Some examples:
Thrill: Seeing the hulking silhouettes of Colorado's 14ers for the first time in years.
Monotony: The feeling that preservatives in gas station food are preserving and shutting down your organs as you drive.
Thrill: The great expanse of the salt flats reaching west from Salt Lake City.
Monotony: Reading a sign that says 358 miles to Lake Tahoe.
Our trip was a big one. We started in Jackson Hole and continued through Grand Targhee, Salt Lake, Steamboat, Telluride, Crested Butte, Denver, Fort Collins, Tahoe, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. There was little order or efficiency to it, but somehow we ended up making all of the stops, meeting hundreds of local folks, and talking about snow and skiing with them. After working behind a computer monitor for months, it was inspiring to breath the high mountain air and hang with folks sporting permanent goggle tans. A report from the grand circle: people in the U.S. West still love to ski.
In Driggs, Idaho, an older fellow spoke to me for almost an hour about every run he'd skied in the Tetons, before handing me a hand-cast, brass belt buckle depicting the range. At the Alta Lodge, I chatted with an older couple who had been visiting Alta every winter for more than 30 years. In Steamboat, I drank PBR in the historic Howelsen Hill Lodge with an elementary school teacher who was teaching his students about climate change and snow. Somewhere outside of Denver a cop pulled me over for having my high beams on and asked what I was doing. I told him I was on tour with POWDER Magazine and he replied, "Ohhhh, Poooowder!" Then, "So where's the best snow?"
We never found the best snow, we were always on the move. But we did find some of the best ski towns and people I've ever met—living the good life, working hard, and skiing harder. Smack in the middle of the greatest mountains in the world, with no need to drive anywhere on a powder day.