After a fall so warm and dry that we had no significant moisture between September and December, a storm late last week finally brought us rain turning to snow - lots of it. Our local ski area, Monarch, went from bare ground to skiers' nirvana with over 70 inches - almost six feet - of new snow on Thursday and Friday. Another storm blew in yesterday, dumping foot in the high country.
With that kind of snow, it was impossible to resist playing hooky today. So we didn't: this afternoon we piled our skis, boots, and poles in the car, along with our daughter Molly, home for a pre-holiday visit from Portland, and headed for the mountains. Twenty minutes later, we were parked in a white wonderland, with fresh snow covering trees, rocks, mountainsides, road, and no one else in sight. We laced up our boots, clicked into bindings, grabbed our poles and began to schuss uphill.
Flakes of snow twirled out of thinning clouds overhead; two ravens coasted by, silent but for the sound of air passing through their stiff black wings. Then it was just the creaking of fresh snow under skis and labored breathing as we climbed the old narrow gauge railroad grade. Ours were the first tracks - except for the twin-hoofed prints of a herd of mule deer that bounded uphill through the snow as we watched.
We skied uphill for almost an hour, then followed another railroad right-of-way around a forested ridge, swooping down and across a creek almost buried under mounded snow. We saw more deer tracks, met two other skiers, and two guys in a Jeep looking for a lost pair of dogs. We startled a flock of mountain bluebirds caught uphill by the sudden storms, and watched a long-tailed, rusty-capped sparrow hop about, foraging for seeds on the surface of the snow.
For the last half a mile, we raced the sunset downhill. We schussed around the last bend as the clouds overhead turned brilliant pink and then began to fade. Red-cheeked, out of breath, and almost giddy, we stowed our skis and slithered down the snowy road toward home as the early darkness of a winter night swallowed the landscape and its mantle of fresh snow.
This afternoon's outing reminded me - again - of the joy of simply getting outside and losing ourselves and our cares in the company of the living world. How easily I forget, and how generous and beautiful is the remembering!