The Magical Light

Höhe Ifen, Kleinwalsertal, Austria, Wednesday 23, February 2011

…the magical light.  Blue sky arching high above that improbably massive, precariously tilted, granite slab.  It’s western flank a sheer folded curtain of cleft stone.  In the protected shoulder, the mysterious glance of sunlight on fresh powder snow, creamy, textured, cascading over the landscape.  I’m carried up to the top in one sweep of a floating chair, and drawn sliding by a cord of woven hemp, out of the valley and the daily life of things.  Still innerly moving.  I’ve woken at 6am after hearing the dump alert of yesterday, and shot down the A7 in my forest green Passat combi at 160 kph, the cargo room full of skis and gear.  I’m still trying to locate my body in time and space and altitude and environment.  Stunned first awkward slidings down this mountain:  135-103-121 x 1740 millimeter planks suspending me on a surface no more substantial than the fluff ball of a dandelion gone to seed.  In a field of frozen absorbent crystallized water powder, my rocker tips stay afloat, my knees are buoyant to the waves under the drifts.


I’m upset that I’m breathing so hard.  My legs cramp too quickly. “Hey!, what is this?”  What it is, is nearly 2000 meters vertical from the 300 meters of Oberstedten, and 5 hours of driving since 8am under my belt. 


After a few warm-up carvings on the piste, I sail over the whale size whooptido’s to get to the crease of deep north exposed powder dropping into the canyon run off.  I pull up at a small scrub pine and survey the landscape dropping away below my skis.  HUGE CONDITIONS.  30-40 centimeters of fresh and light, few tracks, and not a soul in sight.  Deep breaths.  Drop in!  Huge pleasure!  Good incline, maybe 35 degrees.  12, maybe 14 turns in silky weightless falling forward undulation, pole plant, sink, rise, plant, sink, head easy, shoulders downhill, knees swiveling, weight well forward, laughing inside, tunes in my ears,….breathless, happy,… seeing the traverses coming up, but not wanting to pull out of the rhythm….maybe just through or over them and hit a turn beyond in the still fresh,,,, arcing wide, picking up speed, bringing the edges around….on hard pack!....past the cat track, tips drop into it…deep..diving, weight pitching forward, both heels ejecting simultaneously (love these new Marker Tour 10’s!)… and glorious head and shoulder plunge into the soft white out….completing…and stillness.  Brush the snow off the goggles with a gloved hand, just sitting on my bum, up to my shoulders in fluffy madness.


I’m in.


Oh, the odd luxurious stress and tryingness of a full sun powder day!  All the cells, all the genes, crying out to taste, sense, ride, indulge, everything, everything all at once.  Taking in the beauty, the sun, the smooth sculptured snow, the surrealistic play of light and shadow on the rocks.  A transcendent landscape.  Riding up the lift, looking into the deep canyon to the right, one side of the mind studying, scrutinizing and strategically planning: what’s the best untouched line?, how can I get there?, how to enter, how to exit, how will I run it.  The other side: chilling, content, admonishing, “chill out brother, THIS IS IT!!”   This is what it’s all about, this is what you seek – and, you, ARE, HERE!  Live it!  Get it!  The light, the snow, the rock, the stillness and crisp of the air.  Well, um, turn the iPod back on to drown out the shouts of the adolescent school kids here cutting it up on winter holiday.  (If I need a poster child to promote ski touring without lift assist…) 


Nevertheless, to ride this rift in the domain, my private powder stash, out of all tourist traffic, is pure heaven today.  Let’s go skiing.  The run out a different sort of heaven, but still a good ride at the amusement park.  Shallow, one sided, all dropping to the left, and not steep enough to really link turns, while too steep to let it fly.  But there’s plenty of fluff, and after the speed ramps up, it’s velvety little head wag serpentines dodging the scrub pine and boulders.  And with this much snow, there’s always a new twist to it.  Dropping deeper in the cleft, and letting it run and spring up again, long easy swerves through a stream bottom fissure that will be unwalkable as soon as the snow melts. 


I make on back to the chair and head up, full of all the next runs lined up in my mind.  Snow; the resort; take it all in; just allow it to be day to practice delicious deep powder turns.  


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