The Audacity of Slope
by Peter Shelton
Mar 18, 2009 | 941 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Spring break! Telluride’s slopes were packed (as packed as they ever get) this week as vacationing families and college students defied economic gloom to come play on soft-ripened snow.

I ran into Jumpin’ Jan at Giuseppe’s watering trough. (In the heat of the day I could have used a actual trough, just dunked my sweaty head in and sucked up a liter or two.) Janice, in some kind of smart beret (natch) admitted she loved skiing powder but didn’t like being cold. “This is the season for me,” she said taking in the blue-sky top-of-the-world warmth.

It seemed a little premature, a little early on the calendar, this extreme warm-up. But then March is a fickle month, snow-wise. On average it is the snowiest month of the year. But that’s just an average. Some Marches are huge—lots of big, wet Pacific storms—and that’s what I tend to weight in memory, those generous late-season blankets that overnight make the mountain new again. Some Marches, though, come in like a lamb, and it feels as if winter has given up too soon.

Not that we weren’t having fun. Far from it. You gotta love the slush when it happens. It doesn’t happen every year. Some years April arrives, and you realize nothing ever really softened up; that cool, cloudy tweener season dominated right up until closing day. So, yes, embrace the melt. Even if the possible implications—March is the new April—are not particularly comforting, global warming-wise.

Soft, wet snow, snow that moves out from under your edges like waves of kernel corn, reinforces for me the “audacity of slope.” I didn’t make that up; John Fago did. But I love it, and he told me I could use it. And I want to use it now while the pleasure of having a president who can actually write is still fresh.

Fago was once a mainstay on Telluride’s mountain. He came to town in the mid-1970s to ski and lived upstairs in what is now Restaurant La Marmotte. A writer and photographer, a Renaissance man from Vermont, he became a master of Telluride’s front-side bumps and trees.

Then he lost a leg to bone cancer. So he became an expert on the design and manufacture of artificial limbs, and went right back to skiing the moguls. Now he does it on one leg, with two outriggers and, arguably, better than ever. Talk about audacity. He’s back in Vermont these days, though he makes it out West nearly every season. We talk on the phone and the passion is still very much there. It’s just now he’s talking about powder days with his son at Suicide Six and Mad River Glen.

Spring snow is not in itself audacious. Its formation—its evolution—is simply about temperatures and attitude to the sun. What it allows, though, when found in quantity, is an audacity on the part of the skier. Because the surface is relatively slow, like—surprise!—water, a rider can dive down the fall line as he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do on faster snow. We can adopt a mindset, a down-mountain line, that actively seeks speed, even on steep pitches, the way Lindsey Vonn seeks speed on a race course. Only we don’t have to go 60 mph to find it.

Spring snow brings out the inner Bode. The snow forgives, and we don’t demand too much of ourselves. Body positions elongate. Banking ceases to be a sin. Getting away with stuff—slipping, slurping, relaxing and riding the waves coming up at you—you feel bolder, technically better, the skier you are in your best fantasies.

And this is true even when you’re slowing down, and parts of you hurt. Janice and I went through the organ recital: her knee, Norman’s eyes, my hips, Ellen’s knee, Jimmy P’s knee. Then we got to the fun stuff, comparing notes on being grandparents. The sun blazed. Camp robbers swooped in over the picnic tables looking for crumbs. A happy kind of tired infused the limbs.

We could have kicked back there by the water coolers for a long long time. But then we couldn’t. Lots of things these days are telling us that life is short. That nothing lasts forever. Better get after this melting snow-cone. Find some snow that lets you down easy. Snow that allows you to feel, from one turn to the next, immortal.
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