It's snowing. Daylight is hardly ever brighter than dawn. The overcast sky is the color of ashes, which exaggerates the deep greens, blacks, and browns of the forest. Fast, low clouds have seized the mountains, blocked the sun's light and warmth, and are emptying a current of white upon the earth. A web of frost splinters from the corner of the window. I can see my breath.
The twirling patterns of snowfall hypnotize me. Where the wind blows, snowflakes scatter. In the wind's absence, nature's creativity emerges—freeform expression, a modern dance, sheets of crystals.
When one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms freeze, the droplet quickly sticks to others, building an intricate, symmetrical lattice. The microenvironments—temperatures, humidity, time, place—that build a snowflake are so nuanced not one is identical to another. It drifts from the clouds with as much individuality as you or me, and yet, as soon as it touches the ground, it loses all sense of self to become part of something much greater.
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of friends zipping up jackets and snapping boot buckles. I pull on layers of clothing and gear to protect myself from the elements. Primal instinct tells me to stay inside, next to the fire, to warm my hands and feet. But I am accustomed to going against intuition. Most skiers are. And our gear enables us. We grab our skis, leave the warmth of home, and step into the violent, coastal blizzard.
Treetops sway. Wet pellets take aim for any exposed bit of skin. But the silence is of another world. All ambient noise is muted except for the mechanical hum of the chairlift. I feel the cold down to my bones. The flow of blood in my veins slows and redirects from fingers and toes to more important parts, like my heart. I try to shake the chill. Shivering generates heat. Someone once told me to point my arms straight down and lift and lower my shoulders rapidly to pump blood and heat back into my hands. It's a practice I do often; I don't know if it works.
The chairlift only takes us part of the way. We have to hike to the top. I shoulder my skis and get in line behind the others. We posthole up the drift. Their steps are bigger, wider than mine. I lunge forward. One foot finds solid, packed snow. The next sinks into the deep. We pause at the top to find our breath and transition to skis. It is a whiteout. I am fortunate to be here. Snow swirls all around. I look for terrain features to guide my descent. Coffins of rime encase the trees. The wind picks up. The snow comes down harder. I ski straight into the storm.