This past winter was a great one. The weather didn't always cooperate for the best skiing, and the season was iffy for a while when we got off to a late start, but by January the snow money maker kicked back in and off we went. I got in four big trips - two to Vancouver and one in Ontario. My goal is to hit every major ski resort in the world during my life time. I'm working on the North American continent now, then I'll move to Europe and work my way through there, and then on to Asia.
I"m not a total extreme skiier - I don't do crazy jumps off the sides of 4000 ft cliffs like some people. I do, however, (or at least twice now) have gone into the backwoods and been dropped off by helicopters to ski down fresh powder.
When you're (basically) alone out there (you never ski alone but it's easy to lose the few other people you go with), you can't even begin to understand how alone and how BIG the world is. And how small, and vulnerable we are. We're not really equipped to handle extreme weather conditions, but we're smart and resourceful so we survive by our cunning.
The 2nd time I got dropped we were not using a service, which is riskier because they've got staff ready and waiting. If you get hurt or lost you have to wait for the mounties and if they are on another emergency call you might be de-prioritized. Those dudes- they are seriously REAL men & women. We got to talk to a group of them when we were getting ready. Apparently they'd been in to provide some updates on training and shifting weather conditions to the rescue team of the drop service. They looked liked they'd been sleeping on glaciers for the past ten years - rough, man. Lined faces, wind burnt, leathery skin. They looked like they hiked through blizzards just for fun.
They had St. Bernard's with them. The biggest, slobberiest, most gentle animals ever - and smart and strong and good at their jobs. I can imagine if I was stuck in a blizzard or avalanche seeing that dog's face and tail wagging would be the best vision EVER.
The rescue team is seriously hard core. They make that TV show Survivor Man look like a wuss.
Anyway we packed our gear - most of is rescue gear in case we got lost or trapped, which happens. Every year people die doing this. You do have that as a mental note in your mind but if you go in thinking about that, you can get careless and make stupid mistakes.
The fliers know the land like the back of their hand, but it still doesn't ready you for the experience of how you'll feel when you're up in that helicopter. You feel - small. Very, very small. You're just another piece of living organism that could well die there and be swallowed up and no one would ever notice/find you.
The helicopter takes you to the top of the mountain (no we did not jump with skis ON from the copter like they show in movies). We do a gear check - flashlights, food, water filter, distress signal, warmers. We strap the backpacks and get ready. There is no cell service up here. There isn't much of ANYTHING up here, except a mountain, and clean, clean snow.
Snowing where no one has been isn't like skiing at a resort. Even on the first run on the very first snow before any other humans have been there, the land has been cleared. You KNOW it's safe. There is absolutely no such guarantees - you don't know what's unde that snow - a fallen tree, a dead animal, whatever.
But the expanse of white is blinding, dazzling. You give a thumbs up, a little fear gnawing at the back of your mind that this may well be the last thing you ever do, and go for it.
Exhilarating. Scary. Fast. WILD.
And when you reach the bottom, you look back up, wanting to do it again, and again, and again...