Season Starters from Massachusetts to Montana.
Words: Henry Worobec Photos: Meg Haywood-Sullivan and Axel Peterson
With mud clinging to our ski boots, Axel, Meg, and I walk up a bare hillside in the Northern Bridger range, looking for our first turns of the season on a sunny, mid-October afternoon. As the hard plastic boots start braking in our feet for the winter, I think about cramped toes, blistering heels, and glorious first turns of autumns past.
I used to find first turns of the season on Thanksgiving weekend, fighting traffic up from Massachusetts to the hill tops of New Hampshire that were cold enough to hold man-made snow and windy enough to keep the Joe-bags in Patriots’ jackets in the lodge, swallowing five dollar corn dogs. The double chair at the top serviced the only skiable patch of snow, and the backup generator roared like a helicopter as the chairs lurched around. Bombing through gapers like downhill gates, airing off of knolls, bunny hopping death-cookie ice chunks, and vibrating across cement hard corduroy to stop at the end, all the while avoiding rocks and patches of grass was the beginning of something that would only get better, that epic season lusted for since last spring.
Five years ago, my first winter in the west, two weeks before Thanksgiving, I met up with high school buddy, Walters and two other East Coast implants at MSU. We had heard of skiing to be had in a place called Beehive Basin, so we loaded up my station wagon with everything we needed for our first backcountry tour: tarps, firewood, pink plastic toboggan, Ramon noodles, summer sleeping bags, Grandpa’s Corn Whiskey, propane stove, GS and mogul skis, and all the warm clothes we owned crammed into external frame backpacks burrowed from the Rec Hall. Things like transceivers, probes, touring bindings, or skins were far from our minds, written off as novelties for crusty old-timers, like fanny packs and trekking poles.
Large flakes fell slowly from the sky like goose feathers at the trailhead, blanketing us as we packed our pink toboggan with firewood, narrow skis, and a tarp cover. We post-holed up the skin tracks with the first guy braking the existing trail, the second pulling the sled, the next pushing the sled, and the fourth resting in the back. We alternated roles and cussed each other out for not pushing or pulling hard enough.
A young couple in slim outfits stopped in front of us on their way down to parking lot. The guy asked us what we were doing. We gave short answers and glances that said, ‘what da fuck you lookin’ at?’
We made camp in the trees near a stream. Walters and I hiked up the closest ridge to a gap in the trees where only a few saplings poked out. The idea that avalanches had routinely dredged that path of any vegetation never crossed our minds. We looked at it like a natural ski trail, so we clicked in, pointed tips down hill, and leaned back. Wobbling over an uphill edge, laying all my weight on the backs of my boots, pole baskets dragging behind like rudders, I was skiing the deepest snow of my life.
Back at camp, we ate Ramon and drank Grandpa’s around the fire, before crawling into our flimsy sleeping sacks, sandwiched between two tarps. With all our extra cloths packed into the sleeping bags and our foot ends stuffed into backpacks, we tried whatever we could to stay warm, but none of us slept that night. Next morning, we took more glory runs and packed out of there, deciding against a second night of survival spooning.
After seasons of being humbled and hardened, I now look down a dark and icy, narrow chute, still restless for first turns. Axel and I hop turn down it. We cross the basin and chase mountain goats up a lone couloir with just enough snow. Howling from top to bottom, we spray up corn and gap jetting rocks. At the bottom, its clear that all bets on keeping a day job through the fall are off. Ski season is on.
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