It’s barely October. I can see a light dusting of snow coating the high peaks as I run higher and higher up the Butler Fork Trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Mount Superior is wearing her white dress. The trees display a perennial offering of nature’s silver and gold. The Aspen leaves are ablaze, yet cooled by the premature snowflakes. My brain flips into winter mode. The scenery keeps my mind racing as I continue my trail run up the backyard hillside. The sense of skiing is near. But it’s too soon. I squelch my anticipation and push it back into my mental bank.
This is the time of year when I start impulsively checking the forecast. The days grow shorter. The autumn air now holds winter’s bite. Cold evenings with dark beers, flannels, and cozy fleece have replaced the combustible heat of summer. Winter feels so close, yet these are the days skiing can feel so far away.
A few weeks later, I’m hiking up to survey deadfall in a well-protected stash of trees. It takes more than a few inches to legitimately make turns in Utah, so again, I take to the hills with my running shoes. The few inches of snow make for slippery travel, but the slick slog is worth it. Hiking with a hat and gloves gives me an internal joy, a mere taste of winter. This year, the October dustings were bookended by warm weeks, giving me a window for long hikes to survey my favorite lines and new zones. The mountains looked bare, brown, and in my opinion, unhappy with no snow to greet skiers.
Winter finally arrives on a lazy Sunday with bursts of wind and a few inches of snow outside of the cabin.
Winter finally arrives on a lazy Sunday with bursts of wind and a few inches of snow outside of the cabin. Our Bernese mountain dog is like a pig in shit and rolls around in the fresh snow as if she shares my pent-up tension to ski. It’s not much but we stroll around the nearby trails to take in the scents and quiet beauty that exists only on snowy winter mornings. The neighbor’s woodstove fires up and the smoke’s scent drifts throughout the neighborhood. Maybe some fast grass? I ask myself. My dog stuffs her nose into the snow and resurfaces with mud caked in her fur. Nah, a few more inches. Let the teenagers hit the rocks and pack those 6 inches to a base.
The next day, after a few more precious inches of snowfall, I skin up Alta. The classic yearly junk show ensues in the parking lot. After scrambling to find my gear, re-adjusting the dins on my bindings in the parking lot, and barely remembering my goggles, I set off on the skin track. The glide of my skis eases my soul. This kind of movement is a welcome reprieve from trail running.
From the top, skins off my skis and boots clicked in, I push my poles into the ground and tip my skis down into the grassy trail. Do I remember how to do this? I sink in—not too deep—for that first turn. My body goes into autopilot—smooth and natural—and everything is back to normal.
Marquee photo by Erme Catino