Snow has returned to the Cascades and I was fortunate enough to steal away three times this week to get some quality runs in. Last Friday I had a great day at Steven's Pass trying to keep up with my younger brother, Joe, and, just as was the case 3 years ago when he last visited, my boarding has improved dramatically. It may sound weird to non-snowboarders out there, but one full day with someone who is a little better than you can really make a difference. My technique may not be any different, but my confidence is.
For the past couple of years I've thought of myself as an "advanced intermediate" when it comes to snowboarding. I would ride anywhere in bounds so long as it wasn't the double-black diamond runs or anything extemely narrow, extremely steep, or with dropoffs. Typically I would seek out the glades and look for little jumps here and there to catch some small airs off of. I'd usually get a railgrab in or maybe a nosegrab, but nothing substantial.
So last Friday I learned that not only could I handle terrain a lot steeper than I thought I could, but that I could also start hitting some of the 5 to 8 foot boulder-drops that I used to steer clear of. Best of all, I land them clean.
While at Alpental today the upper chairlift opened just as I was exiting the main lift so I skated over to it and hopped on. I had been up to very top -- the "experts only" area on two previous occasions. And both times I took the so-called easy way down via the bowl to the left. It's a fun area, but I've always heard great things about the really steep trails that drop off the frontside of the mountain. I made a deal with myself that, since I almost always ride alone, I wouldn't go over there without a helmet. So last year, for Christmas I received a helmet (with built in headphones!) but the snow sucked and we never made it to Alpental once. So today, with helmet on and with nearly three days of constant snowfall ready to be tracked through, I exited the lift and went to the right.
As luck and Murphy's Law and whatever else you chalk ironic hapennings up to, I faceplanted getting off of the lift right in front of a large "Experts Only" sign. Perfect. I laughed it off, skated over to the entrypoint for the run, and strapped in.
I dropped in away from the lift, banked to the left, and came to a sudden stop. From my vantage point all I could see was the edge of the world with a blanket of clouds and fog in the valley. Down there, through the clouds, somewhere was a trail that lead nearly 2,000 feet down to my truck. The problem was that I couldn't see the ground. I thought of how those pre-Columbus sailors must have viewed the horizon -- just a line across the sea where all matter stopped and a vast expanse of nothing began.
But I thought of the steeps that I rode last Friday with Joe and I slowly inched my way over to the precipice. Holy shit. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. The initial entry was an extremely steep slab of rock and ice that one essentially has to dive over to get to the good stuff. As one skiier next to me put it, "if you fall on the entry, you'll likely slide for a good 600 feet before coming to a stop." Again, perfect.
I was scared but the snow beyond the drop-in looked so perfectly untouched and fresh that I just had to give it a go. Besides, I'm better than I think I am. Right?
I nailed the entry and before I knew it I was carving back and forth down the steepest all-powder slope I had ever even seen. Not only was I going to make it down the run, but I was doing a kick-ass job of it too. I passed people, I hit a little jump near some trees, and I was in control. I was flying. I was floating. I was cruising the Upper International trail as if I had ridden it a hundred times before.
I paused where this upper area feeds into the trails accessible by the lower lift to allow my quads to rest for a moment and to just sit there feeling great. I pushed through another barrier today in my progression as a snowboarder and I couldn't wait to call my brother when I got back home -- he was completely stoked for me. I took a few more runs today, each time going somewhere I hadn't been since two winters ago. I found some nice little tucked away areas where the masses hadn't yet gone and I even surprised myself further by negotiating a couple of bigger dropoffs and boosting a pretty good size fronstide air off a natural hip in the glades. I'd like to think that I looked as stylish as the guys I crane my neck to watch while I'm on the lift. I know it's probably not likely, but one never knows for sure.
Until they try, that is.