Dog Days of Winter

First Tracks

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Poe’s tail was whipping into the wall so hard it sounded like gunshots. It actually woke me up-never mind that I was already standing in the kitchen in my long underwear. THWACK. Poe, my black lab, loves to ski.

It was another dark January weekday morning, and we piled into the car to drive over to Parley’s Summit. Poe did 360’s in the back. THWACK, THWACK on the windows. Panting now.

I half parked, half rammed my car into a snowbank, then circled to the back hatch to find Poe with his head pressed against glass. Cracking the door, he pushed it the rest of the way open before bounding into the woods. Of course, since it was 6 a.m., there was already a skin track up the ridgeline. Parley’s Summit is in Utah’s Wasatch-and people in the Wasatch are out of their minds. Boots buckled, skins strapped on, headlamp shining, I began the 45-minute climb. Poe blinked: I always clip a red LED to his collar to keep track of him leaping through the snow, burying his head.

A half hour later, I barely noticed the sky going cobalt and the snow beginning to twinkle. Between labored breaths and uphill kick turns, I’d lost myself to the ascent’s rhythm-plant, step, stand, plant, step, stand.

The sun peeked above the Uinta range just as we gained the summit. What was once blackness now revealed itself as perfectly spaced glades and a thousand plunging feet. When I stuffed my skins into my pack and pulled on my helmet and goggles, Poe quivered, eager for the snowball.

Poe has spent lots of time in the backcountry and he knows the game. He always gets first tracks. I packed a white snow-wad and tossed it. Poe dove, leaping and swimming through the powder. With each pounce, the snow exploded, and soon the only way to distinguish him from the fluff was his ever-looping tail. He popped up about 300 feet below, waiting. I pointed my fat teles down the fall line and dove after him.

As usual, Poe followed my tracks back to the road; it took all of about three minutes. If the snow was exceptional, we’d huff up the ridge for another run. But today, as on most days, that was it. One run. And one run was all we needed. Quality will always trump quantity.

We drove back home and ate breakfast (no dry food for me, thanks). As I walked out the door to go to work, Poe was back in bed, asleep, his legs twitching in a powder dream.