PHOTO: Daniel Ronnback
PHOTO: Daniel Ronnback

Skiing Will Never Be the Same

An essay on why we choose to ski

This is the intro, from the editor, for the November issue of POWDER, which is on newsstands now. Can’t find the magazine? Subscribe here for just $15.

I pinned it to pass a fuel truck puttering up the mountain on my way to Baqueira-Beret, a ski area near Vielha, Spain. Twenty inches of fresh, bountiful snowfall awaited. Then I saw the siren in the rearview mirror.

I blew it. The officer stared at my American license for a while. Then he called for backup. We exchanged a lot of emotional, unintelligible Spanish words. An hour went by. My friends and I had traveled across the Atlantic in hopes of finding fresh snow—our tribe's ultimate currency. Now we knew it was disappearing fast. I needed help. I called our buddies, Edu and Nacho, a couple of Spanish freeriders we recently met in the mountains there.

They were already at the chairlift waiting for us, but they didn't hesitate. They changed out of their boots and drove down the mountain—completely opposite all intuition on a day like this—to help. They too exchanged emotional words with the police. The bad news: I had to pay a $300 fine on the spot and ditch the rental van because apparently my license was not valid in this part of the country. The good news: We were going skiing. I hopped in the car with Edu, and Edu drives fast. He muttered about "tha facking poh-lice, man," as well as "tha facking pol-iticians, man," as we hit it for the chairlifts.

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It was negative 10 degrees and blustery. Also, blower. We found an untracked ridge and I watched Edu, in his royal blue Armada ski suit, flash explosions of snow between trees as he played his way down a 2,000-foot-long gulley. The facking poh-lice were forgotten.

That night, we all went to Edu's place for dinner. We ate fresh fish, drank red wine, passed around hash, and chupitos as I learned his story. When Edu was 16, he broke his face, arms, and destroyed nerves in a terrible motorcycle accident. Now, he has limited movement on the right side of his upper body.
Skiing would never be the same. Before, he worried about his dad's judgement of his lifestyle. Now he was fully committed.

"I learned that life is short and we should not miss the opportunity to live with the people we love and do the things that make us feel full," he told me.
Now Edu runs a ski school and skis almost every day. He named his French bulldogs Tanner and Seth. He competed in the Nagano Paralympics. Edu doesn't just shred. He skis with a blazing, invective joy. His fire spreads quickly.

The next day, we got a call with an unexpected offer. The president of the region, who, through the tourism department, had helped set up our hotel, felt poorly about how the police had treated us. He couldn't take back the ticket, or grant me a proper license, but he could offer something: a free day of heli skiing for me, Edu, and our friends.

I'd say we came out on top. The next day, the storm abated. The day was a perfect blue as the helicopter lifted us into the infinite skies. We skied 20 inches of rolling, fresh snow on the alpine of the Pyrenees all day. After the helicopter flew away from our last drop, we all stood up from our group huddle on top of a round, wide summit with a view of town and the surrounding peaks.

How did we get here? For the most part, we followed Edu's lead. We tapped into the freedom and privilege of discovering what we love and then went all in. Regardless of the outcome, we would live with it, and ourselves. It wouldn't hurt if our good luck led to days like this.

Below us was one long, low-angle meadow. We all skied it together, wiggling our way down the mountain for several thousand feet, laughing and slashing and jumping down to an access road, across a field, under a fence, along a road, and back to the vague routines of the rest of the world.