I unweighted my board and landed on my heel edge, and now again onto my toe edge, throwing turns quickly, rapidly, with purpose. I swept between trees, ducking under branches, willingly putting myself in danger on the face below Chair 22 at Mammoth Mountain.
The dumping snow makes visibility imperfect, but after dropping down the face, I am protected from the howling wind at the top of the lift. Charging through tight chutes, floating on top of the fresh, heavy powder, the elements almost disappear. I don’t feel the cold, or the snow in my face, or the constant human elements of the city – the desire to check my email, to see if someone retweeted that joke I wrote, to text that girl I met last weekend (what am I supposed to say, anyway?). Dropping into Avalanche Chutes and making the perfect turn to steer between two cliffs, everything else melts away. I am completely in the moment.
This is one of the greatest joys afforded by action sports, and probably why skiers and snowboarders identify so strongly as skiers and snowboarders. No matter where someone is on the ability curve, she can live in that ultra-present state of mind. A beginning skier just learning to put his turns together, diligent in his quest to reach the bottom of the hill, a young kid with a toy snowboard, or an advanced shredder doing cliff drops at Squaw – all parts of the spectrum fully engaged in the moment, pushing their boundaries, free of the distractions and mental wandering that is so pervasive in the World of world wide web.
I’ve been a snowboarder for most of my life, and the majority of it has been spent shredding with my dad, who is the type of dude who truly enjoys awful conditions because it means the mountain will be less crowded, and I was always along for the ride. Give us 60 mph winds, dumping snow, and vertigo-inducing white outs and we would be charging as hard as we could.
On a day exactly like my previous sentence, my padre and I had just barreled through Wipeout Chute off of Chair 23 in Mammoth and were halfway down to the gondola when the wild weather forced the resort to shut down almost all of its lifts, including the one we would use to get to the other side of the mountain and finally, back to our condo. This left us with two options: either make a sketchy traverse through thick trees above a large cliff, or take the bus home. I think it’s obvious what we (my dad) chose.
Padre led the way and I was close behind until a branch caught my jacket sleeve and I stopped. Sunk into the snow. I was waist deep in an area I had never been, my dad was out of earshot, there were such things as cell phones but digging furiously to reach the one in my pants pocket took 15 minutes as more snow fell down to replace what I pushed away. It was 19 degrees but I was burning hot. No reception. I couldn’t breathe. My inhaler is in another pants pocket, buried equally deep as my phone. Take off my face mask. Decide I’m might as well prepare myself to die. Decide that’s a bad idea. Grab hold of the branch that stopped me and with adrenaline and desperation flooding my senses pull myself from captivity.
I make it out of the trees and finally down to an actual trail.
“What happened to you?” my dad asks.
I was smiling ear to ear, high on that mysterious energy of exploration and adventure that strips the rest of the world away.
I don’t recommend getting yourself stuck in the trees on stormy days. But that moment where nothing else mattered has stuck with me my entire life. And it’s easy to find on the slopes, even when the weather is nice.