In the fresh wake of my fortieth birthday, I have relished my last days of the season in April powder, triggering a significant reference—the time when I left “the circle.” It was ten years ago, almost to the date, with lots of late-season April snow, when I left Steamboat Springs.
I can always come back was the motto I embraced and the only way I convinced myself to pack.
A few weeks later, I feigned a confident adieu to my roommates, and pointed my Pathfinder towards the coast. The next day, when I got to Reno, I couldn’t resist exiting the highway in Truckee to check out Squaw Valley. It had been a lonely drive, and I suddenly felt less detached, and even wondered briefly how much housing cost around there. No. I had to remind myself, you're going to the city, not back to what you just left.
Graduate school in San Francisco, for two years, was trying, feeling the magnet of the circle stab me from afar, with my denial that I had left manifesting in nothing very good. I had no idea what I was doing.
Small steps were taken when I returned to Colorado, two years later. And this time, I had a job. There was a ski area, and by-gosh-darnit, I was going to be a skier again. I returned to season passes, albeit weekday Purg passes some years, and I skied.
But, for a while, I wasn’t really a skier. I was skating around the circumference. Living in Bondad didn’t help, surrounded by all that sagebrush. It wasn’t that full-skier lifestyle. My new friends had never seen Aspen Extreme and had no true bond with Scrapple. I paid strangers to tune my skis, full price, so far from the circle that six packs would have been inappropriate.
Finally, this year, I found my way back. Moving to Mancos helped, along with my emergent new ski buddy—a true skier, and also my college pass at Telluride (and utmost kudos to the T Ski Corp for extending the deal to faculty). At home, the La Platas talk to me everyday, and when I’m not on big mountains, I’m still in the spirit, cross countrying on ridgelines above my neighborhood with my dogs. I am on skis most days of the week.
Even better, my new ski buddy is educating me on the whole new world of the backcountry, which is, indeed, quite possibly, the vortex. Early season, he waxed my boards—all three sets—and I feel like a chick in a ski town again, where a little bit of chauvinism is okay. In the backcountry, I marvel at how tired I get skinning up, wondering why running and XC hasn’t put me in better shape. Pointing my skis takes mindset again on these new pitches, allowing alpine turns as I adjust to this more untamed terrain.
I had so many great days in Telluride, too. I love, and have always loved, skiing alone. I returned to this part of my roots, a real mountain and a resort. The ski area isn’t evil to me; it is real. I park at Coonskin, feeling old school, proud with images of hiking Gold Hill before it was a lift, when I made excursions to this magical place during my early liftie days in Summit County. After skiing, before heading back over Lizard Head, I get big bagel sandwiches at Baked in Telluride, liking my strolls through town just as much as the eats. In Mountain Village, I don’t mind the glitz; I liked it, actually, and in the evenings post ski, razzed my ski buddy about my lunch dates with Tom Cruise.
On closing day last weekend, much of Prospect Bowl was still untracked. Hiking up, we take our time, viewing it up. The end-of-year party is starting to gather in the pine trees at the bottom of the first pitch. We won’t go, but we laugh, and I share one of my own last-day memories from Steamboat with him.
He’s always appreciative of my more irresponsible decade. While some of mine are admittedly pretty good, he trumps me altogether with footage he filmed himself at A-Basin in the 70s. (How cool is that?)
We moved down the run confidently and fast, snapping smoothly and consistently into each pivot, our muscles and minds in good shape after a full season. At the bottom, I feel like it is the best day of the year, or maybe even my best day ever, but how many time do we say that? I am back in my slow motion dream and in my own little zone; I am in the circle. I am back.