The Last Run
Saturday March 14th started innocuously enough. I had returned to Alta the night before after 5 days in WY for avalanche training with my dog. Our close friends, Bill and Diane, also live in Alta for the winters, and typically Bill and I check in with each other in the morning to compare notes – is it a ski day, a reading day or a grocery shop day? It was snowing so really the only issue was where and when we would meet. We settled on Snowbird/11 AM.
Despite a rousing beginning to the winter that provided us frequent deep storms beginning mid-December, the spigot turned off in mid-February. This day, however, it started snowing early and soon there were 8 inches of “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” (Hey, it’s on the Utah license plates so it must be true!) Visibility was poor so we made some runs down low on the mountain. It wasn’t a deep powder day and, in fact, the powder (credit to Mad River here) was a tad “loud” underneath. But it was our first decent day in several weeks, so we settled into our familiar routine poking around our favorite hidden powder stashes.
And then Bill stepped way out of character. Typically, I am the origin of crazy ideas in this skiing duo, but he went big and suggested we venture up top and explore. I think I even muttered a swear at him on the windy, foggy chair ride. After a shockingly cold braille-like traverse, we ended up at the top of the Cirque – a large open steep bowl with the nearest tree hailing from the next zip code.
Great idea Bill! Not!
Did I already say the visibility was bad? Well, by now it was worse than nonexistent. But then THE moment came. From directly above came a narrow shaft of light – “God light” my wife calls it. It was that soft, slightly pink, almost eerie light. Bill turned to me, exclaimed, “Sun!” and was immediately off, carving those snappy but somehow smooth turns only known to Bill Green. It was just one of those sublime runs, and at the bottom we agreed it was a fitting end to the day.
In my musings several hours later about the day, that run stuck with me. The snow wasn’t memorably deep or soft, but there was something ineffable attached to it. Something so unexpected and unique.
Somehow fittingly, several hours later Vail Resorts announced the closure of all 37 of their mountains; within hours the North American ski industry was toast for 2020. That run down the Cirque was not just our last of the day but our last of the year. Two days later I was on the road headed to the Maine mud season.