By Tom Boyd
In Vail's Back Bowls, no fallout from the whiteout
January 30, 2008 —
Exposed on the razor’s edge of the ridge to Rasputin’s, John and I were buffeted by wind which was determined to rip us from the face of the mountain and drag us all the way to Summit County. With no trees in sight we floated, dreamlike, through a landscape which was never meant to host human beings or anything else which wants warmth and a heartbeat.
Of course, we thought it was fantastic. We were all alone, yet still somehow within the boundaries of the so-called “crowded” slopes of Vail. There was not another rider in sight (although, I must admit, any rider more than 20 yards away would have been “out of sight.”) Either way we felt like backcountry wanderers, explorers in a new universe where the standard dimensions of time, length, breadth and width have been replaced by one thing and one thing only: whiteness.
The dark shadow of John, barely visible 20 yards away, was the only thing which broke the spell of the whiteness.
Eventually the terrain arced downward toward Rasputin’s Revenge, where a massive cliff loomed somewhere, unseen, ahead of us. I expected at any moment for John to disappear in front of me like a lemming, with me following, and for both of us to end up crumpled at the base of the cliff.
Yes, it was fantastic. You know what I mean. You, with the day that's pretty much the same every day and you want to try something new, something unusual, something which feels like a carnival but has no safety belts. Every dip in the terrain felt, for a moment, like free-fall, leaving the stomach churning like it used to on the Twister roller coaster at Elich Gardens. The parts of the body which figure one’s position in the world had no reference point, no way of telling the brain where we were, what was ahead, or how fast we were going. Turning required faith.
Sensing the moment, John veered left, taking us onto the windpack of a wide-open face. The snow was whipped butter, or maybe birthday-cake icing. We began to see enough to make turns, gain speed, even gather a few face shots, and to eventually rally at the windblown track and pierce through the wind to the Teacup lift and up, back to the frontside, where Prima, Riva, and other runs promised the same incredible snow we’ve come to expect lately, to where the trees cast a faint, emerald shadow on the slopes – enough to give distinction to the terrain.
It would have been another great day (ho, hum) on Vail Mountain had we only stayed on the front side, in the trees, where visibility wasn’t so rare, where everybody else seemed to congregate. But would I have remembered such a plain-Jane day? Not so much, I think, as I’ll remember this one.
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