The Unbearable Lightness of Skiing

Last weekend, I cruised up the 395 for over ten hours, doing the slow and awkward tire chain dance every few miles between Bishop and South Lake Tahoe. By the time I arrived, my poor minivan was practically limping down the road to my mom’s place in a full-on blizzard, flailing its one remaining cable chain and sputtering like a parrot on too much caffeine.

You see, Lake Tahoe is currently trapped under a staggering amount of snow. Heavenly Ski Resort currently has about 386 inches, while Squaw Valley has over 557. Let me repeat that for you – Squaw Valley is currently buried under 46 feet of snow.

When winter gets serious and dumps a torrent of white powder on top of a thriving city, things get wacky fast. Major roads become claustrophobic, white hallways that narrowly twist and turn through vacation condos and liquor stores, two-foot long icicles hang from rooftops like frozen death daggers, and humble citizens are relegated to the noble task of digging themselves out of the mess for hours.

The one, shining beacon that arises from this Siberian mayhem is perhaps the only thing that can keep our townspeople sane: skiing.

The moment I clicked into my skis and began my cross-country waddle to the lift line, my anxieties about whether or not my van would be irretrievably buried by a snowplow all faded away. As the chairlift whisked my boyfriend, Brian, and I higher up the mountain, a sense of ease washed over me. Wind was blowing ice crystals into my braids, and my cheeks were so numb that I slurred my words, but it didn’t matter. I was about to slay mad powder.

I took off down the slope, my chilled fingers tingling like tiny fireworks were bursting under the skin. I zipped my way past children and dad bods, slicing through the groomed corduroy with each turn. I was in flow. For a small moment, nothing else mattered.

I felt free.

Brian skid between hundred-year-old pine trees in five-foot-deep powder, tumbling head over feet whenever he caught an edge or hurdled over a bump in the slope. It was a surreal and undulating death dance of a slalom, his focus laser-sharp as he moved. By the time we met up, back at the lift, his beard was a gallery of icicles, his heart was thumping, and his eyes flickered with wild abandon.

The weight of winter bears down on everyone in its wake, gifting hours of repetitive chores and grubby cleanup to anyone who dares cross its path. Cars kick the bucket, and salt scuffs up the finest leather boots. And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

There’s a special kind of magic that can only be unlocked on a powder day. It’s like raising a middle finger to father winter and his cruel embrace, surfing high above the chaos. After all, winter always comes whether we eschew it or embrace it, so maybe we just need to savor the hell out of the small joys while we have them. And, some days, maybe that’s enough.

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