Paradise Lost

From the time of the proposed boundary expansion at Bridger Bowl to the moment I first arrived at the Schlasman’s lift line, I was nothing but ecstatic. But in the minutes leading up to my first ride, I began to waver. It was then that I thought about what "Slushman’s" really was.

It all goes back to a beer-engorged debate among friends about whether earned turns are more important that endless turns. The debate rages silently among two factions with a shared passion for frozen water. The backcountry camp brags about its access untouched snow, while the lift riders counter with the fact that their legs are fatigued from skiing rather than hiking. The opening of Schlasman’s lift only exacerbated the debate about what place and activity should really mean to a person. I flip-flopped according to my mood.

Physical exhaustion has a unique way of building expectations and changing minds. I learned this on the first sweat-soaked, thigh-numbing hike of each season on the Bridger Ridge. Hiking puts emphasis on the run in a way that makes every aspect and every turn count for something. It’s about planning the approach, the time and the energy, and through it all thinking of every glade, chute, and dogleg with hopeful anticipation. The approach provides ample time for thinking of nothing else. On the ridge, this is 15 minutes on average, but for a true backcountry excursion this means hours of anticipation.

For me and a great many others, Slushman’s ridge was the first expedition into true backcountry skiing. I knew it before I had ever skied it. It was explained in the snow-chapped grin of every person who ever returned from it. Slushman’s has a perfect pitch and a short approach. It was a baby step into a new realm of skiing. Add to this physical exhaustion and the intimacy of traveling in the backcountry, and the experience was borderline spiritual.

Each rocky outcrop or tree marked an increment—and something to be cursed in approach and praised at passing. Each kinked switchback marked progress, and always you were surrounded by the pure fluff that brought you there in the first place. An exploratory pole jab into the powdery fluff was all the reminder needed that it would be worth it.

It all added up to a culmination of individual effort and an investment in energy. In the end, you your emotions and your history were written on the face of a mountain. I always remembered the turns the most, but they were only part of the equation. Even so, they excited me on hearing the proposed lift. It was not until the first ride that the rest came back.

Slushman’s used to mean frozen hair, a chapped face, and a solitary line down the face of a mountain. Slushman’s was just a mountain, that's true. What made it great was what you put into it, and now that is forever changed.