The First Five

Early-season powder turns.

Last week, I made my first turns of the ski season. Rising around 5am, I drove up Bridger Canyon, pulling into A Lot around six. I slid into my boots and slapped on my skins. I double-checked my gear and started up the hill.

It was overcast and snowing lightly, but temps were in the 20s and before long I was shedding layers. I got into a rhythm and made good time to the base of the Alpine chair. While I thought I'd be elbowing my way through other skiers, I'd been alone since leaving the base area. Every once in a while, I'd catch a whisper on the wind, but all in all, I climbed on in silence.

Backcountry Skiing, Bridger Bowl

Halfway up the hill, I was struck by how much snow there was. While forecasters had predicted a cold, wet winter, the Bozeman area had yet to see significant snowfall, and skiers—myself included—were starting to panic. The base at Bridger, however, was reassuring, and as I continued up, I started to daydream about mid-season powder turns.

Few sensations are as gratifying as floating through snow. We wait anxiously all year for the conditions to be just right, and then jump at the chance to fly downhill over frozen water crystals, arriving at a destination by the route of our choosing, changing speeds and adjusting turn shapes on a whim. To say the feeling is liberating is cliché—more correctly the feeling is great. Skiing feels great.

On this day, as I huff and puff up the relatively low-angle route I've chosen, I feel anything but great. While bike season lasted longer than usual, I'm still not in tip-top shape and forget how grueling uphill travel can be. One labored step at a time, I climb. I've worn too many layers and even after shedding two, I'm drenched in sweat, which makes for chilly breaks and uncomfortable travel. My goal for the morning is Bradley's Meadow, modest for a first day out. 

Backcountry Skiing, Bridger Bowl

As I reach the bottom of the meadow, I notice several tracks, but I'm encouraged by their depth. They're powder turns, and there aren't so many of them that I won't get fresh ones of my own. I smile to myself because I've just been reminded why I came out here, to this meadow in the Bridger Range early in the morning on this early-December day. I came to ski, and enjoy winter in the way I like best, for the first time in many months. I came to slide between snow-covered pines and watch as the sun brings light to the eastern sky. I came to stop and observe a small flock of small, black birds that fly in concentric circles above my head as they make their way from one cluster of trees to another, perhaps evading an unseen foe or flying for the hell of it, because they can.

I reach the top of Bradley's and transition to downhill mode. The hair on my neck stands on end as my damp skin confronts the chilling breeze. Snow falls earnestly now and I realize the BBC has settled over the Ridge, a sign tomorrow might be even better than today. I push off, linking one, two, three, four, five turns and I'm at the bottom. My first five turns of the season were soft, smooth, and powdery, and I hope there are more to come.

Anticipating a big winter is a fool's errand. Mother Nature and Old Man Winter have their own plans, less organized these days than in years past, for sure, but uninfluenced by my concern nonetheless. All I can do is be patient, hope for snow, and ski when it comes. Luckily, it's been coming a lot lately, which means I'll be in tip-top shape in no time, linking more than just five turns.