Some days, powder finds you by sheer stupid happenstance. You wake up and peek through the blinds. As if placed there like a gift from God, a foot of snow covers the porch where there was none before. Not a minute to lose, you slurp down coffee and raccoon around the back of the fridge for some dense carbohydrate and cheese. Skis, boots, poles; helmet, beacon, pack; thick mittens, extra layer, low-light lens, goggle wipe, double Buff--because there's no way that one face shield is enough on a day like today.

Alta, Utah. PHOTO: Lee Cohen

Riding on the chair through the storm, your inner child surfaces through the oppressive goo of adulthood. Decisions about career, health care, relationships, and day-to-day noise wash away as the chairlift takes you and a couple companions up, up, up, and away into the cold mountain air, beyond the trees plastered in fresh snow.

Hold still and talk out of the side of your mouth all the way to the top, just to see how much snow piles up on your lap. Hoot and holler at the people skiing below who are just...getting...buried. On a dark jacket, you can see outlines of perfect little dendrites, precious and delicate wonders of nature that somehow survived a journey across the sky and downward through the swirling chaos, eventually ending up in your own personal snow globe. Once at the summit, eat a pile of those dendrites off your cuff guard, feel them melt on your tongue, swish off the rest, laugh at the ridiculousness of life--life!--and blindly ski wherever gravity takes you.

These moments--being amongst a storm, embracing the wildness of winter--are not just about the freedom of movement. They are not just about the thrill of speed. And they are not just about the fun of getting thwacked by a drift of snow to the face. They are certainly all of those things, yet skiing powder is something more because it's where everything makes sense. Powder is the reason you moved away from home to land in a ski town. Powder is the reason you save up money by eating quesadillas every day for lunch in order to buy a season pass and take a road trip to hit as many resorts as possible, sleeping on filthy couches and in your freezing car along the way. It might even be the cause of fading relationships with family and friends because at some point your path veered away from theirs and into the mountains. It doesn't mean that you don't love them. It doesn't mean you won't be there for them when they need you. It just means you love powder skiing more. And being in love means you have no choice but to go where your heart takes you.

For as long as people have been skiing powder, there have been attempts by others to minimize and trivialize the pursuit of it. They say it's not a real life. That it's selfish. But what's more real than a happier, healthier version of yourself? And what's selfish about following your dreams? They never say that about astronauts, and skiing, if taken far enough, is as close to an earthly space walk as you'll ever get.

So as it turns out, the powder didn't find you at all, and it's not dumb luck that you happen to be skiing it. You simply took the necessary steps and made a string of decisions to make sure you're in the right place, at the right time, when the snow finally falls from the sky.

This story originally appeared in the September 2018 (47.1) issue of POWDER. To have great stories like this delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here.