After seeing Jared Hargrave’s epic early season powder shots, the bug bit me. While it is always tough to see the backpacking and hiking season end, there was no more denying that it was time to play in the snow. It initially looked like I had missed the boat; Ullr dumped 30+ inches on the Wasatch Mountains the week before, but thanks to a healthy dose of laziness I had sat back while it melted in the 60 degree temps the followed the storm. Instead of having to wait for opening day at the resorts, redemption came in the form of another solid coating of snow- 15 inches of fresh fell over the weekend and I wasn’t going to miss the boat.
I rose early (7:30am, an achievement by my recent standards) and assembled the gear. Snow jacket and pants were donned for the first time since May, and my goggles, gloves, snowshoes and boots were thrown into the truck. A minor roadblock arose when I received no response from my hiking partner… it seems that an alternatively fueled birthday cake from the previous night had rendered him unavailable. It mattered not, I wasn’t going to be deterred. We had planned to hike Alta, but as I am completely unfamiliar with the resort I decided on a solo of Brighton at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon.
I arrived at the parking lot and to my delight there were only a handful of cars. The place was dead save for a few employees shoveling out the chairlifts. I quickly geared up, finally coming to the snow shoes. First off, I have never put on a pair of these things; and of course, I didn’t bother with a dry run at home. It quickly became obvious that the shoes were not an ideal fit for my snowboarding boots. Several attempts at creating a good lock were fruitless, so I did the only logical thing: set off with the snow shoes half clinging to my boots. Needless to say, initial progress was painstakingly slow and inept. The further I walked the more I began to realize that snow shoes were created with the purpose of infuriating the wearer and detracting from the enjoyment of an otherwise amazing morning. Despite the handicap of the shoes, I plodded up the mountain. I caught sight of a lone skier just ahead of me; I tried to mimic her pace. Her effort to leave me in the dust was both Herculean and successful… she soon disappeared around a corner into the woods. After her exit my only company were the snowcats buzzing around the mountain, two of which I am sure were looking to run me down. Some agile movements thwarted their efforts and I arrived at the top shortly after. I threw off my pack and happily kicked the snowshoes off my feet. It was gorgeous. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds, the trees were coated in fresh snow and there was not another hiker in sight… success!
It had taken me far too long to reach my current point, so to maximize my effort I decided to continue to the top of Pioneer Ridge. Much good karma to the hiker that had kicked out snow steps to the top! I followed the path and arrived at the crest… a couple of recent lines were the only blemishes in the snow. I strapped in and pointed it… and there it was: that old familiar feeling of virgin snow giving way beneath me. To ride powder is unequaled by any sensation I know; there is no sound save for the barely audible movement of the snow, and the excited yelps coming from deep within me at every turn. Amazing! I bombed down the hill, doing my best to find the deepest pockets of snow. Halfway through my run I realized I had forgotten to don my googles; the snow stung my eyes but I didn’t care enough to stop. I stepped on the gas and flew by two figures working on a snow gun… my early season style was good enough to receive a fist pump (said fist pump may actually have been the universal “Eff you!” sign, but I can’t be sure). As the slope mellowed out I dodged in and out of uncovered sticks and branches; it is definitely still early in the season.
As I stripped off my gear with a shit eating grin, I noticed a couple carloads of fellow hikers getting set for their trip to the top. No doubt they found the same euphoria as I did high on the mountain.