Uplift

Uplift

Yost, Aaron
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I turn my face skyward to soak in a little reassurance before I cross into the Ridge’s shadow. I’m riding the Pierre’s Knob chair at Bridger Bowl by myself on a weekday. Empty chairs ahead of me glide silently out of sight, and as I turn to scope my favorite line down Flippers, I see a vacant procession behind me too.

My mind slides into itself. New Year’s Eve—my senior year of high school. I cruise up to Summit County, Colorado, with best friends Blake and Alecia to celebrate at a buddy’s trailer outside Breckenridge. A case of Coors sits in the back seat peeking out from underneath a jacket. As we crest Hoosier Pass and switchback into town, the sky opens up and fist-sized flakes assault the windshield. Our smiles fade as we remember we left all our gear at home. Blake leans into the front seat and whispers, “Dude, we need to go back.”

“What?”

“We have to go home, get our skis, and come back in the morning.”

After a minute of silence, I look over my shoulder at Alecia and mouth, “Sorry.” I whip the car around and head back up the pass.

Alecia says, “What are you doing?”

“We have to go back,” and aloud this time, “Sorry.” Six inches of fluff on the shoulder of the highway means we make turns tomorrow instead of party tonight.

After two hours of avoiding eye contact, we drop Alecia off at her house, drive to mine, repack the car, watch Stump’s License to Thrill, and are in bed by ten. The dreams of that night nearly matched the epic day that followed. Both represented a watershed moment—one that vaulted skiing to the top of my priority list.

I wonder where it sits now. I pause atop Avalanche Gulch, planning my line. The thin, early-season snowpack has left unfamiliar rocks and shrubs exposed, but I’m excited. I’ve skied this line numerous times over many seasons, but this time it’s totally new. Airing the scree at the entrance to the gully, I float two fast turns in the gut and straight-line the narrow, rock-strewn crux out the bottom. The speed is exhilarating, and back on the groomers, I let my skis guide me over to the Bridger chair.

Clouds cling to the ridge, sending icy tendrils east almost to the Crazies. I load the ancient double that will take me to the base of the Ridge hike. Used to be, I spent all my time on the lift staring up at that boundary between snow and sky, imagining fast lines, cliff drops, and deep stashes. More often this year, I watch the little kids learning to ski with their parents. I imagine myself down there teaching my daughter, Stella, the finer points of the snowplow. She’s too young to join me on the hill, but that vision of Stella, wrapped in tiny gear, squealing with glee as she glides down this mountain, warms me away from the Ridge.

I skate over to High Traverse and the chutes that tumble away below it. I sidestep up to a steep couloir and drop in. These are the turns that brought me to Montana. The snow is packed into loose clumps in the narrow space, and I keep my movements tight and controlled. The world opens up and I gain speed. My line carves around a cliff face towering over the larger gully that empties onto a cat track. I stop there, panting, and look back up. I burn, I throb, and a grin lifts the goggles off my sweating face.

Back on the chair, snow starts to fall lightly. A tiny crystal finds my glove. As is my custom, I hold it up to my face and examine it. A classic hexagonal lattice with fine, feathery arms, this one boasts nearly perfect six-fold symmetry. I move it closer to my eyes to see the intricacies more clearly, but my breath reduces it to liquid. As another specimen lands, I feel a peculiar kind of love for this inanimate thing. I know it, can see and appreciate its detail. This unique and humble and powerful shape stirs in me an emotion I have never been able to describe. I feel a passion for snow in much the same way I feel love for my daughter, a bond that tugs at my soul but that I can’t wrap my brain around. I hope to someday understand these things, but Steinbeck reminds me, “It’s tough to describe love when you’re in it.”

Snow begins to collect in the folds of my jacket as I near the top of the Bridger chair. I realize that my passion for skiing is not so strange; it follows the same pattern as passions the world over. My loves make me, shape me, change me. I love my family. I love this place—these mountains and the snow that blankets them. These things swirl into one in my heart and drive me forward, help me to feel, force me to care. It’s not a passion for skiing that I want to pass on to Stella—it’s the ability to be passionate, to care, to love without restraint. I’m not sure how I am going to teach her that, but I have a good idea where to start.

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