Saturday, January 21, 2012
Sarah Burke September 3, 1982 - January 19, 2012
Too Soon, Too Young, Too Pretty, Too Smart, Too Talanted - this is for Sarah Burke.
It's just after 4 and the lift line is no longer a line. I slide in, catch a chair just as the ropes go up closing the line for the day.
The chairs going down The Mountain have their seats flipped up to keep the snow off of them during the night. But it's also a symbolic gesture to The Mountain that says we are done for today.
The soft rumble of another tower and a hard wind lets me know I'm about half way to the top of The Mountain. A few boarders slip over the ridge line below, as a lone employee passes me going in the opposite direction, for he is done today as well.
The air gets colder and the wind blows even harder as I near the top and the skiers are extremely few. Most are in a hurry to get off The Mountain.
The bar goes up and I slide off the lift with a hard push to the right "taking a road less traveled".
The last run is always my time, just me and The Mountain. I risk freezing to death on The Mountain at night and avoid the ski patrol making their last sweep of the area by ducking into the tree line and coming to a stop. I wait, as the red jackets glide by, escorting the last of the other skiers down the slopes.
Daylight fades swiftly and soon I am the only person on The Mountain. I pick a groomed intermediate trail and take my time. Before long I've stopped again. I don't want to leave, not now not ever. The silence is deafening. The silence is paralyzing, mesmerizing, seducing, and intoxicating. The silence is the way The Mountain really is, for this is how The Mountain was before and will be after. She spends her nights in silence.
I push off again; quick pole plant and pivot down a double black diamond run known as "Birds of Prey", it's steep, with an easy rhythm and a short jump I get a little air, a prefect landing as I continue to push my limits. It's a world cup run but gets little use so there's plenty of good snow. The silence is replaced only by the sound of my skis against The Mountain and the rush of the wind.
I break off just before the run goes to vertical and cruise down a long wide blue trail.
Speed is all relative and with no one around I press the edges only slightly and let them run. A trail crossing and another chance for air, this time big and long, I tuck and travel fifty feet before touching down gently and making a big sweeping turn up slope to bleed off some speed. I love big fast sweeping turns.
Without the sun the Colorado air has turned cold. The speed and the rush of wind feels like flight and heaven all at the same time, but the cold is a reminder that it is only The Mountain.
She gives freely this feeling of flight, of being very alive and of limitless freedom, for these are The Mountain's greatest gifts.
I slide into a stop at the top of Centennial Trail, with Beaver Creek village still 1000 feet below. Further down valley I can follow the trail of red tail lights to the Town of Avon.
The smell of a hundred burning fireplaces fills the air, punctuated with the sound of a dog barking five miles down valley. The clanking of a snow plow working a parking lot far below before the next snow fall. The chains on the shuttle bus making the last stops of the day. I want to go back, back up, higher where there is no sound but the wind.
There's a plane overhead, perhaps 35 thousand feet or more and the silence is interrupted by sound of engines trailing far behind, along a silver shimmering contrail illuminated by the full moon. A moon that will guide my final turns back to the real world filled with laughter and the sounds of china, silver and glass. A band tries hard to cover Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, but the timing is off and I pray for silence.
Looking out over the starkness of fresh power and a full moon, where even at midnight there is so much light that I can pick out of my favorite runs. Even the moguls look more menacing under a full moon. The bumps, this year I've noticed I have avoided them completely.
As the night progresses, lights on the mountain will appear, they will move in pairs, two lights moving in tandem back and forth and up and down the long ribbons of silvery white. The snow cats work throughout the darkness and into the new day. They work against the silence of The Mountain.
I must be getting older, because I find myself wanting to spend more time on The Mountain in silence taking it all in and less time racing to the bottom.
All of this reminds me of what I have always accepted, that The Mountain will win, and one day I'll become one with her and the silence, and I will find the peace offered by The Mountain for all eternity and one day, only The Mountain will remain.