Broken promises can lead to broken hearts. And no matter how many times meteorologists are wrong, if their promises involve a lot of snow, skiers fall for it hook, line, and sinker. And when nature doesn’t co-operate, when La Nina is off picking flowers instead of bringing snow while frantic skiers build bonfires of skis to her, to Ullr, to anyone…hearts break. Morale deflates. Motivation plummets.
Powder is the goal, but that is not all that skiing is. Sometimes you have to find inspiration when it is a little less obvious. Like when the snow, or lack thereof, is keeping everyone at home, hungover with the covers over their heads.
Brush sticks up under the lift, and the trees are green, snowless pines, as they have been for weeks. Favorite backcountry lines look like mixed rock and ice climbs. Bur for the time being, you don’t mind. In fact, you love it. It’s nice to switch it up. It’s nice to just go skiing, to run into friends, and do silly things.
When it’s deep, you put a lot of trust in the softness of the snow. Powder can make even mediocre skiers look good. But in thin snow, you can only trust yourself, because the snow is not going to help you, not even a little bit.
In thin snow years, inbounds is the new extreme. Little cliffs are huge; branches and rocks lurk. Ordinarily buried cliffs stick up, begging to be navigated at speed, utilizing some old school, billy-goating jump turns—straight into bumps. Terror of miscalculating an obstacle, plus the sharpening of reflexes, so you can make it down as fast as you can, in one piece, is exhilarating fun.
You meet friends and ski like a pack of 12-year olds. You have a contest to find the worst snow on the mountain where you ski long, frozen, deeply rutted, coral reef bump fields. Reflexes become catlike, and technical prowess skyrockets. Everyone laughs, and no one is showing off. You are not competing in your mind against ski movie images. This crap will never be in a ski movie. But it might just be some of the best days skiing.