The Last Stash

The Last Stash

It usually goes something like this: Sunny day, late April; the light, wintery snow that yesterday graced the alpine manses of Whistler Blackcomb has been kneaded into a doughy paste by sunmelt and the mill wheel of humanity grinding over mountains. The annual 10-day World Ski and Snowboard Festival-a spring fête so large it once saw more skier visits in a single day than all of Colorado-is no light traffic event after all. And you have friends in town, pleased by the taste of spring pow and hungry for more. The forecast, however, is for continued high pressure and spring temps. But you know a spot-a few hours' walk from the top-and with most hardcores distracted by the on-mountain spectacle, you're sure it won't be crowded. Your friends are skeptical but game.

So begins an annual pilgrimage to the only remaining reliable, reachable, north-facing pocket of late-April powder: the Last Stash.

As befits such gravitas, of course, something's different about this tour. What follows is an unhurried ode to the familiar-but-overlooked minutiae that otherwise blur together during frenzied midwinter powder days.

Your friends dog you down a thousand-foot, classic spring entrée-corn and potatoes-to a frozen lake where, lunching in a laser sun, they discuss the apparent inevitability of an unsuccessful mission. Leading them over the blue lips of a nearby glacier, however, you counter their reticence with Mr. Science rationale, explaining that a combination of rock-wall shadows, northeastern exposure, and glacier-cooled substrate has created a microcosm of the winter that was.

In a half-dozen chutes the ride is everything you promised-cold even in the sun, spindrift whisping from every cornice. Snow breaks over your boots, your knees, your mind, lingering defiantly in the air at every turn. Your friends smile the smiles of epiphany, and you the magus who delivered.

As the sun augers toward the horizon, you contour back to the mayhem side of the mountain. The air here is warm and heavy, lifts long since stilled, and you're alone. Miles spin past on the cat road, winter wanes, and spring is lifted to the nostrils as you finally collide with the Daytona-like party, heat, and slushfest of the base. Now you can appreciate the eternal battle waged in the hearts and minds of every skier-the need to celebrate winter's demise versus the desire for it to never end.