It was dumping, as it so often does in Utah, and though we were ostensibly testing skis during an industry on-snow demo at Solitude, the only things we really were evaluating were snow density and the effect of extremely low humidity on snow’s ability to float back into the air and hit you in the face. The way a demo works, you test a pair of skis for one run, return them, grab another pair, rinse and repeat all day, but I found myself the fattest set I could and never came back. Not too many people did. And if I’m remembering it correctly, at least one K2 rep was fired for abandoning his demo station and simply going skiing. A smart move in the short term and I think it worked out in the long, too.
At the end of the day, I squeezed through the doors of the little Solitude base lodge, which was as moist and loud as the mountains were desert-dry and calm. The windows were steamed from the body heat, rivulets of condensation striating their grey panels, and people were packed wall to wall from the bar to the doors. The crowd was buzzing, cacophonous, the energy frenetic, intense, and joyful. It felt like the roof could blow off.
This was no typical post-ski aprés, this was the powder high, a collective, rapturous trip to communal heights that no other sport can create. Sport? The after-party of a deep powder day feels more like an old time revival meeting in a swampy tent in the Deep South than anything a sport can create — the fervor and excitement come from somewhere inside, beyond words, from the chi, the kundalini, the soul. You half expect someone to speak in tongues (and since the Norwegians brought aquavit, some probably did).
Snow changes everything. Deep days transform the external landscape of a mountain, a ski area, a town, but they even more profoundly change the inner landscape of the individuals and thus the community, especially when they come day after day after day. Happiness sits lightly atop fatigue the way a storm that comes in warm and leaves cold deposits ethereal flakes atop a denser base. Retail goes off, skis fly off the rack, the goggle shelf empties, and the effects ripple throughout the town’s other businesses. The riches in a snow storm feed both the spirit and the bottom line.
The powder effect is unique to skiing. Nothing like this exists in other sports. When the waves are good, surfers get an exhausted, happy stoke, but the feeling doesn’t transform a community; waves are something out there, not something that pervades a town (the sole exception being in Hawaii). Climbing? Crags are inert. Mountain biking? Singletrack may be wet or dry but the experience doesn’t stay with you more than a mile or two past the trailhead. But skiing is social, and deep days affect everything and everyone — they seep down to a cellular level, the way music connects us at music festival but as if we’re all the musicians playing the same song, together.
Why? It’s because snow touches everyone, literally, even those who don’t ski. And so, too, does the joy of powder. Sport? It’s more like religion. Amen.
Photo of Chad Sayers at Shames Mountain, Terrace, British Columbia, by Jordan Manley. See more at jordanmanley.com.