Powder Visions at Alta

IMG_0083Some of life’s major passages you can see coming. Others spring upon you unexpectedly, exquisite in their serendipity. One such moment burst upon me at Alta Ski Area, Utah, during the second of three spring storms dropping three feet of powder on its legendary slopes. Conditions were intense — 25 to 35 mph winds with stronger gusts enveloping us in complete white. In between the wind gusts were the booms of the ski patrol and highway department avalanche control units shooting ordnance down the valley. And in the middle of it, my 13-year-old daughter and I, both on K2 Phat Luv powder skis. She was filled with the pure excitement of youth at nature’s drama. But my own excitement was tinged with some wariness of the mountain’s might.

Because of the avalanche risk and the wind, the ski resort held off on opening the lifts while the ski patrol worked the heights, determining which parts of the mountain were safe to open. At the base, winds howled as we skiers waited at the lifts, looking like astronauts in the helmets, goggles and facemasks that protected us from the elements.

All that gear, however, couldn’t hide everyone’s exuberance at the chance to have this kind of powder so late in the season.

I love spring skiing. It’s when the beach comes to the mountains and the scent of sunscreen fills the air. You’re as likely to see someone skiing in shorts or a bikini top as you are in a windbreaker. Snow conditions start to deteriorate after lunch as the sun’s rays soften the snow, but who cares when you can kick back on a lawn chair on a mid-mountain restaurant, catch some rays and down a beer?

But for all we revel in that sun, there’s always the promise of some kind of spring storm to bring one last dump, one last chance to cut first turns in powder. And this year Alta gave it to us in spades. We moved from Park City to Alta, about 45 miles southeast of the Salt Lake airport, just a day before a series of spring storms hit, giving us three days of fresh powder. Day three, our last day, was the most dramatic. After one last and somewhat envious look at my husband and our younger daughter cozily ensconced in front of giant fire blazing in an outsized stone fireplace at our lodge, my 13-year-old and I headed out.

So there we were, waiting at the lifts, cheering with the others when Alta finally opened two of its seven lifts (it later closed one, leaving just one open). Near the top of our first lift ride, a whiteout enveloped us and wind gusts tossed our chair wildly. I used words that, as a mother, I generally try to avoid. It had been years since I’d skied in such intense conditions.

I hesitated at the top of first run. “C’mon!” said my daughter. “Not so slow!” At first I let her lead the way, and then I tossed that mama caution out the window. Sunny days are great, but sometimes stormy ones are even better. Down we went, over and over, our powder wakes making us look like water skiers, skiing close to the trees in order to see better, hooting and hollering even as the wind whipped away our voices. The runs down were too short, even though our thighs would burn toward the end of each. We’d mastered the rhythms of skiing deep powder in ways neither of us had done before. In the middle of one run I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion as I realized that this child of mine was skiing with me as an equal. We were kindred souls exulting in a rare moment.

It was a whole new stage in our relationship. I’m the kind of parent who sees time slipping through my fingers as I watch my daughters grow. But now, even as I treasure the quicksilver moments of their childhood, I know that there are new dimensions yet to come in my relationships with them. My daughters and I have many storms to weather. But now, when they hit, I’ve got a powder day in Alta to remind me of what lies beyond.

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