Ankle deep

"Would someone please tell me what's so damned fun about this?" the man shouted to no one in particular and the world at large.

Decked out in a flashy, one piece and sporting the latest in parabolic ski technology, he represented a flavor of visitor we don't normally see in Durango until the holiday peak. In spite of below-freezing temperatures, he wore his mousse on the outside, proudly displaying the work of a chic Texas salon. Covering his eyes were those polychromatic lenses that came into fashion just as the beloved Vuarnet cat-eye went out. And I had the strong feeling that he'd parked his "W" bumper sticker in the $10 lot to avoid hoofing it the 100 yards we plebeians hope ends in a short lift line.

"I can't get up speed," he proclaimed to his companion as he pointed to the 4 inches of super-light fluff. "I can't turn. I run into it, and my skis just stop."

By way of demonstration, he directed his twin parabolas down Zinfandel, a run that had been transformed from one of Purgatory's respectable blue squares into one man's personal, powdery nightmare. Somehow, the almost transparent powder immediately snagged his right ski and started pulling him into the splits.

"Crap!" he shouted.

His left tip took the hint and responded by heading on a sharp parabolic arc in the other direction.

"Double crap!" he cried out, barely holding it in check, his skis accelerating in opposite directions. The great snow gods had obviously been insulted. As if pushed by an unseen hand, our fearless hero double ejected from the parabolics and flew headlong through the air.

"Triple ," he yelled out, his final "crap" muffled beneath the pure white of the powder. Flailing around on his oversized belly, he resembled nothing more than a man slowly drowning.

That moment, that absolute discomfort, that complete unfamiliarity with snow somehow rekindled a strong memory of the five years I spent exiled away from Colorado's light fluff. Four years at an East Coast university, followed by a year working for a Mid-East think tank in Washington, D.C., showed me the relationship the rest of the world has with fresh snow. I'm sorry to report that my friend in the one piece is not alone out there.

In the real world, most consider an obsession with storms and snow perverse. The mere forecast of expected snow triples lines at grocery stores, sells out entire displays of Duracells and puts smiles on the faces of generator dealers. A trace of snow shuts down stores and restaurants, halts school buses, closes college campuses and gridlocks traffic. People hunker down inside, blankets and generator at the ready, fearing the worst. Anything beyond a trace is routinely referred to as "The Storm of the Century." Four inches of light powder equals apocalypse.

I've proudly owned a pair of skis every year since the tender age of 2. I was brought up worshipping foul weather. I had little sympathy for that East Coast phobia. But, outside my little Colorado bubble, I could finally appreciate our peculiar ski town psyche. Storms paralyze most of the outside world. We're paralyzed without them.

As mentioned, my life of devotion to fresh snow started when I was still in diapers. However, it wasn't until six years later that the powder buzz was actually explained to me by ski bum extraordinaire Jack Carey. Captain Jack's leading passion was hang-gliding. He was among the top brass in the "Telluride Air Force" and reportedly held the record for highest recorded flight for well over a decade. In the winter, Jack traded in the wings for a pair of boards and a position as one of Telluride's top ski instructors. As he eventually explained, the passion was still for flight.

"Skiing powder is really the most incredible thing," he said wistfully. "You're actually making almost no contract with the ground. You're literally floating, flying on a pillow of snow and air."

If only Jack had been there that day on Zinfandel and whispered those magic words. Mr. Mousse may have been tempted to dump the Revos, trade in the parabolics and have the "W" professionally scrubbed from his identity.

Most people only dream of flying. The rest of us get to spend the entire winter with our feet off the ground.

- Will Sands



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