Sunday, February 15, 2009

Home Mountain

We get up there around noon. There's no hurry, though. Although the skies hang low as a living room ceiling all morning, the cloudcover isn't squeezing out any snow yet. This afternoon it'll arrive, the witchdoctors from the National Weather Service promise.

And, you know, with a ski pass, one grows into a bit of a snow snob.

Good call. The flakes arrives as we do. And I don't mean those slow-driving sudden-turning lane-wavering New Mexican drivers -- I mean that frozen manna that we acolytes of the church of the mountains wait for, pray for, worship when it finally comes. Especially after a long drought filled warm, lovely but snow-less weather like we've had.

Even though it's a weekend day, and "Local's Day" at Purgatory, there's not that many other people up here today -- at the base area, we ski right up to the lift and get on a chair. We deduce that it's perhaps because the Durango High School ski club is in Aspen, and the local ski teams are away at competitions -- as behests the offspring of those locals whose day it is here.

At the top of the chair, our own kids leave us as well -- same ski area, but they seek their own turns, with their own friends. So we head off ourselves, just my wife and I, toward our own favorite local's destination: Ye Olde Lift 8.

And the snow picks up, starting to accumulate like a layer of albino volcanic ash. We float the fluff fallen on the groomed green and blue runs traversing toward Purgatory's "backside." It's dreamy, like waterskiing a glassy lake.

We have our favorite combinations of routes across the mountain -- across our mountain The mountain where we've spent most of our married years together. The mountain we raised our kids on. The mountain where our kids make their first moves toward taking off, on their own, to find their own runs, to carve their own turns, with their own pack of "locals." Soon those turns will take them off the mountain, out of our home, and into the world.

Some of these routes we claim as our own by dubbing them with our own names -- "afternoon delight," "dreamsicle, "the tibeal plateau" -- and they are the product of years of exploring and experiences and studying and sharing. And skiing. Lots of skiing.

We ski them all today. The snow deepens. Lift lines never materialize. Sarah and I have a great, grand time bumping and carving and gliding and riding the chair together.

We ride Lift 8, of course, all day: That old triple chair that slowly climbs the steep-walled basin that looks out over Hermosa Park. It's a process getting to Lift 8, and it's a long, pensive ride on the '80s-era mechanism back to the top. (And longer if it suffers one of its not-infrequent breakdowns.) But it's worth it, I think. I like the slow ride. I like the time to think, or talk, or just look around and not think and not talk. I like the time to rest my telemark-tortured legs after careening down one of the many radical runs through the trees of Paul's Park or Poet's Glade, or bumped-out battlefields of Elliots or Boudreau's or Blackburn Bash.

(We once had the pleasure of having dinner with the old-time ski-bum Paul after whom Paul's Park is named. That, my wife said dreamily after, would be the greatest honor she could imagine: to have a run named after you ...)

Hard to get to. Hard to get down. A hassle to get around. (Kind of life in the rural West in a nutshell.) That's why Lift 8 is the locals' chair.

(And this year we savor it more than ever, since next year, the plan is, one of them new-fangled high-speed detachable quads, like Lift 3, is going to be installed here. Sure to make it easier to get to, less of a hassle to ride, more popular to more tourists. Kind of like the rural West in a nutshell.)

The snow accumlates quickly. Thickly. Arriving in ocean-fog-like wafts of dumping snowfall. People indistinguishable in their body armor and powdered with snow pant and grin and nod to each other knowingly.

We run into people we know, too, on the chair, at the top of the mountain, at Dante's, the mid-mountain cafeteria. We run into the same people we always see up here, smiling away on a powder day. And we run into many people we haven't seen in a long time -- river people and coworkers and people from the schools we work at.

And we run into one couple we've known as long as we've lived here, and who have kids just a few years older than ours. Also river runners, travellers, campers, skiers, we've been following their tracks for many years now, looking ahead at what they're doing, what their kids are like, what is happening to them, and awaits us.

They're up here skiing today together. And their kids are off -- elsewhere, off into and around the world. And we can see our next big adventure.

But until then, I'm thankful for and savoring being able to bring our kids up here, to raise them here, with this, our home mountain. Where it's always locals day.


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