From Iowa to Emigrant Peak.
“One more time, Daddy!” my five-year-old voice squawked at my father as he grasped my white-and-red Strawberry Shortcake mittens for one more “pull” up the hill. From my very first foray into the artificially frosty ravine called Sundown Mountain, smack dab in the middle of Iowa’s corn and soybean fields, I was obsessed with skiing. Luckily, the rest of my family felt the same way as we loaded into our Plymouth Voyager mini-van every weekend and drove an hour one-way to enjoy an icy slice of Midwestern heaven. I was 15 before I figured out that actually driving to the top of a ski area was rather odd. Every spring, as the snow receded and the mercury crept higher and higher, I’d mourn the loss of those crusty, chattering turns like the loss of a beloved bovine I’d raised as a 4-H project for the county fair. Funny thing is, 30 years and many millions of turns later, I still feel the same way.
One April found some friends and I stretching out the season as we always do, scanning northern aspects for pockets of powder and dreaming about bright, shining corn-snow turns that would let us at least pretend winter is never-ending. My friends Chris and Brian, and two furry, fanatical canines piled into our truck to dig for treasure on the northern slopes of Emigrant Peak.
The mountain is a giant when viewed from Hwy. 89, traveling south toward Yellowstone Park. And although I’d hiked, run, and climbed the peak many times in the summer months, this was my first adventure to her gelid flanks. I’ve always been a sucker for the awe-inspiring lines, ridges, and ravines that are the ingredients for beautiful peaks, and Emigrant is chock-full of them.
Hummingbirds pounded the walls of my stomach in excited anticipation of the pristine alpine turns that were ahead as I pulled on my tattered ski boots. Chris was already bouncing his lanky frame up the shale trail while Brian and I stowed our shovels and lashed skis to our packs.
We huffed along; pockets of creamy glacier lilies were just starting to poke through the snow on the side of the trail. When we finally found consistent areas of snow and clicked into our skis, the soft whoosh of my skins across the snow and the penetrating spring sun put me into a warm trance. We found Chris munching a Snickers at the top of the first objective we’d ski that day, and we barely peeled off our skins before we heard his old Silveretta bindings creaking with the first buttery turns. The snow was perfect—corn granules on top of a slightly firm snowpack, like skiing in a vat of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. But all too soon the sun began to dip, our muscles began to ache, and the dogs were crashed out on the skin-track below. I let Brian, Chris, and Bear carve, pounce, and grin ahead of me as my pup and I soaked up a few more moments with the mountain, the sun, and a gazillion snowflakes. As my edges sank into the white blur and I heard McKinley leaping down the fall line behind me, I thought about the sheer ice, snow guns, cornfields, and 500 feet of vertical of my youth with a bit of sadness. You can take the girl out of Iowa, but you can’t take Iowa out of the girl.