Take the Ride

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Take the Ride

After a bumpy, twisting snowcat ride, I was standing at the top of the resort at 11 p.m. on a February night. Naked. The pieces came together quickly when we were offered the ride up from a friend who worked the graveyard shift grooming trails. Girls weekend. Full moon. Snowcat driver willing to discreetly give us a lift. Fate was telling us to do this. 

At the summit, the wind was howling at 30 miles per hour and snow was falling fast enough to erase our tracks almost as quickly as we would lay them. Next to me, four of my friends had also foolishly shed every square inch of Merino wool and Gore-Tex in anticipation of a top-to-bottom lap under the full moon. 

Shit, I thought as the five of us watched the lights of the snowcat slowly fade behind the fat flakes of swirling snow. None of us anticipated that a full moon during a mid-winter snowstorm was, well, not going to be very helpful at all. I wished I’d taken one more swig of Wild Turkey. 

I tried and failed for the third time to clumsily click into my bindings before one of the girls stumbled over and helped knock the ice off my boots. The others were belting the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” at the top of their lungs, a soulful attempt to keep warm. We were dizzy with cold but also with laughter as we shouted at each other and waved our arms like a bunch of nutcases trying to keep our blood flowing. There was a collective shiver as an even stronger gust threatened to knock us off our feet before Sophie shouted “Go!” and we collectively took off into the night. 

Spontaneity makes my palms sweat, but it’s also what made me fall in love with skiing in the first place. | PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe

We shrieked and hollered as we rocketed downhill, the wind finally on our side as we wiggled through the darkness, gaining speed. I could hardly see past my ski tips, my butt cheeks were numb and pins and needles stung my arms and legs. Everything was stiff in the frigid air, but I still felt lucid, dancing through the newly fallen boot-top snow. The glow of my headlamp became fainter and fainter, until it dimmed to the point of uselessness. I closed my eyes for a few seconds at a time, floating down the wide open slope with a newfound weightlessness, snow gently tickling my body. At the mercy of the elements, my mind was at peace. Everything else faded away and I tuned into the moment.

As we chased each other through the night, our headlamps and the full moon both feebly lighting the way, the flittering snow blinding us, a euphoric feeling overcame me and I thought about how easy it can be to avoid spontaneity in our adult lives. It’s common to operate within our comfort zones, coasting through our days without shaking up the status quo. Getting dropped off at 11,000 feet without anything but gloves to keep you warm certainly isn’t on the short-list for “comfort zone” experiences. And it made me realize something. 

As someone who dislikes unpredictability and discomfort, flying down a stormy mountain in my birthday suit during the wee hours of the night was the last thing I would have expected to be doing on a Saturday in February at 21 years old. I’ll admit, I can be pretty Type A: I like to have a plan and, while I have my moments, “going with the flow” is not my strong suit. I often forget that many of my best memories—on or off skis—are based in experiences I almost avoided. It’s just easier to say “No.”

Spontaneity makes my palms sweat, but it’s also what made me fall in love with skiing in the first place. Being spontaneous doesn’t mean taking dangerous risks. Stripping down in the midst of a Colorado snowstorm wasn’t fraught with danger, it was something else: impulsive and exhilarating. Sometimes all you have to do is take a deep breath, let go of the plan and let your skis do the work. Skiing is inherently free-spirited, as long as we remember to give in to it. 

As we neared the base of the resort, I saw the lights of the grumbling snowcat below, waiting for us at our meeting spot. Although the unforgiving chill of the midnight wind hadn’t lessened on our ride down, suddenly the comfort of warm, dry clothes seemed less enticing than it had when we first hopped out into the piercing air up top. I didn’t want it to end. 

This story originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of FREESKIER (23.2). Click here to subscribe to FREESKIER magazine.