The Near-Death Ritual

There’s nothing more unnatural than strapping on skis and speeding down a snow-plastered, near-vertical mountainside—except maybe wearing those same skis while staring at the tailgate of a speeding truck, dodging airborne rocks, holding a waterski rope, and praying you don’t hit a dry patch of pavement.

The basic idea is to take advantage of the earliest of early season snowfall and make a few engine-assisted turns, water-ski style—with more road rash and fewer coeds in bikinis. Any vehicle works so long as it has four-wheel drive (two-wheel drive truck skiing ends in a high velocity spray of snow, gravel, and radiator fluid).

The ritual part works like this: each autumn, as snow begins to fall, an evening call is placed to my trusty truck-skiing partner (no less important than a reliable backcountry skiing partner, only instead of good judgement, the desired quality is a complete lack of judgement), and alarms are set. Before you can say “Impending Doom,” dawn breaks clear over the freshly snow-covered valley and Kevin’s truck crunches up my drive. Hyalite is the place to be, and few things compare to the delight of the first real coating of winter snow. We marvel at the clean, white mountainsides and the ice already formed in Hyalite Creek. We’re ready to shred.

Attire is important in truck skiing, as in most serious outdoor sports. My garb of choice typically consists of a black-and-red-checkered Woolrich coat, a motorcycle helmet, tan driving gloves, and whatever pants I was still wearing when I woke up. The wool is warm and pads nicely against tire-thrown debris and the impact of flesh on pavement. The helmet is usually an afterthought on the way out the door, and the pants are just plain convenient. I wear the driving gloves because I want to look stylish.

Buckling ski boots while standing on a paved road in three inches of snow is a unique experience. On one hand, you think it will be fun. On the other, you know it’s going to end in terror, screaming, and pain. Kevin, who won the coin toss, wears a shit-eating grin as he gives me the handle of the waterski rope, now firmly tied to his bumper. “Easy now,” I start to say, as he floors it and I experience a double shoulder separation. I’m shouting about his mother as he brings the truck up to highway speed, but he can’t hear me over the music he’s blaring in the cab. Judging by his driving, it’s angry music.

But then I’m planing. No friction, no effort, no sensation in the world like it. A few cautious turns later, I’m arcing back and forth behind the truck, dipping into the deeper drifts along the edge of the road and laughing out loud as if to affirm my lunacy. But then from under the speeding truck appears a dry spot, or “Hole of Death.”

There are various tactics for crossing these hateful patches of pavement, but all involve screaming like a little girl and closing your eyes. Sometimes you make it across with a screech of p-tex on pavement and a shower of sparks. Other times... it’s more of a thudding, crunching sound emanating from your skeleton.

We take turns towing and driving until the snow begins to melt, returning the road to pavement and the mountains to autumn. Then we head home, peel our clothing from the already-dried blood on our scrapes, and plan for the next time it snows. After all, we only need three more inches.

Legal disclaimer: Outside Bozeman in no way advocates unsafe recreation like that mentioned above, unless of course it involves spectacular self-contained accidents worthy of our unabashed admiration. Basically, if you’re not bleeding, you’re not having fun.

Heavy Stuff: The Gravity Lounge gets ready for Hatchfest

Last fall, in a makeshift gallery located above the Eagles bar in downtown Bozeman, the Gravity Lounge created a display of sports photography for Hatchfest that proved to be one of the event’s most popular venues.

The Gravity Lounge, a local gallery whose stated goal is to support local artists, constructed the display walls in its temporary space, upon which it hung matted canvases bearing photo imagery of every kind of outdoor sport. “The ski photo spread in the Gravity Lounge is done by a variety of local photographers that are out there expressing the lifestyle of the ski culture in this community. This is a good opportunity for people to come together and celebrate the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains,” says Kene Sperry, one of the gallery’s organizers.

Outdoor athletes of every kind can come to the Gravity Lounge display and immerse themselves in the best visual imagery of their respective sports, arguably, because the photography captures a common sentiment; it is local artists who can most sincerely convey the meaning of our outdoor experiences. As with many things, time builds momentum, and so this year’s Gravity Lounge display approaches with the promise of a greater pool of talent and energy to fuel anticipation for the coming winter season.

-Peter Nelson