By John Heggelund
It's our last day on the mountain, and the snow is just perfect, man. These thick-ass gray clouds are all hangin' in front of the sun so the snow don't melt, and it's not so cold as to freeze it either. A cushion of fine powder sits on the ground like a layer of weightless down till the wind comes whipping it up into the air again.
Champagne powder is what the locals call it. It only forms in, like, very specific conditions: gotta have the right wind speed, perfect temperature, and absolutely no humidity. Colorado's 'posed to be famous for it, but I ain't never seen it, and I've been coming every spring break since I was ten. I'm sixteen now.
Anyway, my brother Louis and I are one hundred percent pumped. We get to the lifts fifteen minutes before they open so we can be the first up the mountain, but I guess no one else got the memo or looked out the damn window 'cause there ain't no line for shit. We hassle the lifties to let us on early, but they make us wait till 8:30 like it makes a goddamn difference.
Finally, we get to goin' up the lift, but the friggin’ thing's running at half speed 'cause of the wind and whatnot. I'm tryna tell Louis we should hit the wide-open blues 'cause they's 'posed to get the most snow, not having trees to catch it and all, but he won't shut up about how we need to be the first ones running through the trees.
I can't tell if he's messin' with me or just tryna force a difference of opinion, him bein' older 'n me by three years, but eventually I talk some damn sense into him. We agree to hit the blues while we make our way up the mountain, skirtin' their sides for some choice trees along the way.
We come off the lift all hot and ready to tear up till we toss up so we slide over to Buddy's Run. Man, it's almost too gorgeous. The slope is like this deep valley running all down below me, and across from me is another side of the mountain, risin' up all majestic in the distance like a damn museum painting. The clouds are so low the surrounding peaks poke up through them.
The snow is absolutely dumping too. I can't but barely see halfway down the run. This sick jump over a CAT track, which is like a flat trail for tractors cutting laterally across the slope, is carved every year down there. I can't see it, but I know it's there and Louis does too, and we both know riding's easy, but that dang jump is where you prove yourself.
We strap into our boards, and I let Louis go on down first 'cause I hate looking over my shoulder every half second worried about him. I always wind up gettin' goin' faster 'n he can anyway. So he heads down, and I watch him eat shit as his board catches the snow goin' from toe to heel side. That’s trickier in powder than slush, and I make a mental note of that.
Well, Louis ain't fazed one bit. He just rolls all into the fall and pops up in a mushroom cloud of snow still ridin' away. He throws a thumbs up over his helmet and don't waste no time beatin' himself up about it.
I smile 'cause that's my damned brother in a nutshell. Cool as an Eskimo's cucumber whether he just totaled his car or took a tumble like a toddler. He scares the crap outta me.
Anyway, I stand up and get to tearin' down the mountain myself. It feels damned beautiful. I been doin' this so long my board is a fifth limb and antennae all at the same time. I read it like a book and follow it like a compass as I plow through the snow, whooping and yee-hawing. Adrenaline punches me in the gut and spits stars in my eyes. It's, like, a violent kinda excitement.
At this point, I'm thinking I'd be just fine if I never stopped boarding, but the idea of being a professional snowboarder isn't so cool when you think about it: you've dedicated a stupid amount of time to being able to move from point A to point B so long as it's snowing and downhill from you.
Before I know it, I'm bombing down the run like a bat outta hell, practically foaming at the mouth, right? I see my brother fly off over the CAT track and pull a little melon grab and land it smooth as silk, so I get to thinking 'bout what I wanna hit. Only I get to going so fast it feels a damn shame to slow down. So, here I come haulin' ass toward the jump, and I can't but barely get my stance set up for this 180 I'm tryna pull. I twist my feet in opposite directions, and, my god, I swear I'm being cradled by physics for a second: the g-forces reinforce my posture like an invisible chair as I start turnin' while running up the ramp.
Well there I go soaring through the air, but I can’t stop spinning. I flex my core tight and try not to flail but that’s pretty dang hard when you see the ground coming at you like a curve ball. The world’s a cyclone, and all I got to do is fall. It’s all I can do.
Lucky enough I get the 180 so wrong it falls into a 360 before I touch down a skidding mess spitting snow like I’m clearing a driveway. But I don’t fall. My brother sits on his knees a little ways down, throwing his hands in the air like I just won the Olympics. You can't pay for that shit, man. I fly by 'im, and he comes in tow so that we meet up at the lift.
"Yo, sick 360, bro. That shit was tight.” We slap hands and grab mitts. “You see that melon grab?" Then he makes like he's doing a melon on the ground. "Uh! Nailed it."
"Sick as hell."
The lifty, this total long hair stoner type, comes outta his little office by the seats and says something like, "shred the gnar-gnar, bros." Then the chair catches us behind the knees and it’s up, up, and away.
My brother tells me the lifty was usin’ mountain talk to say “tear it up,” but I say it sounds stupid regardless of what it means.
I don't even think about smoking a cigarette until we're pushing off the chair, but Louis is already moving on to Pony Lift Line and I don't wanna lose him 'cause the snow is really coming down up here. I finger the pack in my pocket and follow close to him.
We strap in and start down the run, but the wind really gets to picking up. We can't make out the ground it's so dim. My feet start moving against the board like I don't expect, and I get all topsy turvy 'cause looking at the snow is like staring at a blank sheet of paper—nothing. I take a tumble running over a mogul where there's this three-foot drop that I don't see for shit.
Louis keeps it together. He gives me that nod like he's saying, "Don't worry about it, this is some booty, bruh."
Still we cut across to the trees 'cause we know 'em so well up here. 'Tween the trunks, it’s all short stacks and tumblers, rolling little ramps for keeping speed where it flattens out. We pump around the lifted curves and rollers knowing what to expect 'cause what fuckhead blazes a tree run that dead ends or runs into a boulder or some shit, right? Anyway, I'm really feeling my blood now, too. The pulse is so strong in my teeth, I get that copper taste in my mouth.
When we finally come outta the trees, the weather is freakin’ gnarly. We gotta come off this high-ass hill, real steep-like, and I swear I can feel my board blowing like a sail. I can't hear nothing over all the wind. My brother is, like, barely more than a shadow only fifteen feet ahead of me.
We ride down slowly, taking breaks to plan our route since you can't see anything when you're moving anymore. It's hard work, but by the end of it, we make it to Storm Peak Lift. It's still running, at half speed too, but don't look like for long so we slide in real quick and hop in a chair without even strapping out of our bindings. The lifties really hate that shit, but we don't care 'cause we're already going up the lift.
We high five, and I say sorry over my shoulder, but the guy just flips me off so I moon him—put my whole ass out there and shine it back properly. He probably didn't see it, but it was funny as hell anyways. Louis laughed at least.
I really know we're in for it when the lift stops half way up Storm Peak where it's like three damn stories in the air. The chair is rockin' and rollin' all over the place, and I'm grabbing onto the bar 'cause my board is going crazy in the wind but Louis is calm as can be even with his legs flying around like a damn marionette's.
While we're waiting, I hear Louis's music blaring from his headphones and tell him he's gonna go deaf like that. He says he already practically is. I say that's not a damn reason to make it worse, but he doesn't care. He’s just like Dad. I wish I could lean over and smack some sense into him.
Before I can scrounge up the nerve, the lift gets to going again. We’re still up there a while, but eventually the lift station appears through the storm. The bar froze down. I barely manage to rip it loose with Louis’s help before we’re sliding off the chair onto the slope. Just as we stop to figure our next move, a lifty kicks open the metal door to his office and shouts at us like, "How the hell did you kids get up here?"
We look at each other and say, "On the lift," like a couple of fuckheads, but it gives me a kick.
The lifty gets a little ticked but don't get too bent outta shape, like he probably deals with fuckhead teenagers a lot. That makes me feel a little guilty, but what the hell? Can't a guy have some fun?
Anyway, the lifty says the lift is down and so are all the rest of 'em 'cause the storm is really turning sour, says we coulda died up in that chair so thank god we didn’t, says we need to run down the slope to the left and follow that trail hard or we'll get stuck back at Storm Peak with no lift to take us back up or slope to get us back down.
We get to going, actin' like, “Yeah, bro, we know what the hell we're doing,” and he just shrugs like, “Fuckin' kids,” so we leave feeling like, “Fuckin' old people.”
When we get to the top of the slope the lifty was pointin' at, there's so much fresh snow we can't get up after sittin' down to snap into our bindings. We go to push on the snow to stand up, right? But our hands just fall through it so by the time we do manage to get up, our damn boards are stuck under a foot of the powdery crap. We gotta get outta our bindings and try all over again.
I crawl over to this aspen not far from me and use it to pull myself upright without burying my board. I stand there watching Louis take less time getting things right with each screw up and tell him, “You gotta bury it a little bit or you can’t stand,” “Try digging it out with your hands,” and “Don’t stand up till you getcher damn bindings done, dude, just come over here and do it like I done. Goddamn it.”
He scowls from the pit of snow dug out by his flailing and falling. “Shut up already!” He flops on his back for a break. “You’re no damn Sean White for getting up in this shit.”
I want to leave him there. The thing is, he's just the kinda guy to break his neck playing chicken with a tree, so I wait till right when he seems to have it and take off without lookin’ back at the ungrateful bastard.
My speedy exit starts with a damn slow crawl across an all but flat field. I gotta crank my front end up to plow through all the powder, which is a mighty bitch on the thighs, 'cause if you lean forward at all, your tip catches and pole vaults you face first into the snow.
Eventually the slope opens up and gets a little steeper. I pick up speed and give my back leg a break as I make a few turns, but I musta waited too long to check on Louis ´cause when I peek over my shoulder, he ain´t there.
I curse and stop in the middle of the slope. I can't even see to the sides of it. Louis could pass right by me, and I'd never notice. Worse yet, he might run right smack into me. I get to shoutin' for him, but with the wind roaring like it is, I can hardly hear myself. He's always got his damn music on anyway.
I get this bad vision of him trying to run through the trees for some short cut and winding up six feet under in a tree well, so I start panicking, right? I know that lookin' for him is stupid 'cause there ain't no damn way I'll see 'im or hear 'im, but I can't just ride down like I know my brother's gonna be A-okay. I get to the side of the slope where the trees are and look down this crop of aspens and think God almighty this is one sick run and know that my brother would think the same thing.
I sit down at the edge of those trees for a while and feel the snow covering me up in a nice little blanket. I make like a ball and pretend I’m an igloo. The cold starts to bite through my jacket, first around my neck and ankles and toes, then spreads to my legs and arms like an army of pins. I’m freezing, but I tell myself it’s just another way to feel until eventually I start warming up, like the ice maybe is starting to insulate me or something.
Bein’ hot gets me thinkin' 'bout a cigarette, and I figure it's as good a time as any but my damn hands are shaking so bad I can't light the friggin’ thing. I drop the pack and notice my nails are turning blue, but the only thing I can think to do is smoke. Still no matter how hard I try, I can’t get my fingers to wrap around that stupid little box or flick that damned little wheel. I can’t even crush the skinny tubes in my frustration.
I know it's for the best, but I still hate it, and I can't find my brother, and I'm really scared, and someday Dad's gonna smoke his last cig, then drop dead, and Mom is going to be old and alone, and Louis might make it out alright today, but someday he's gonna wind up around a tree with his car for a bowtie, and even still I sit there waiting 'cause I have to do something even if it means doing nothing, and I know it's all I can do, but I still hate it so I stand up and wiggle my dick out of my drawers to piss on the world 'cause fuck you.
What happens next is the wind blows me over, and my legs are too numb to keep me up. I fall in my own puddle of yellow snow. It’s so warm I can’t help but keep peeing even as it backwashes into my pants. I go to push myself up, and my hands punch through powder. Rolling over is as hopeless as smoking. I’m stuck.
For a while, I keep my head up, but eventually it’s just too damn hard. The ice doesn’t freeze so much as burn. My thoughts drift further from the last like falling asleep. My ears start ringing, and the wind fades away. Somewhere in that empty sound, I get to hearing this steady crunch crunch like somebody coming. I start wonderin' whether I'm in trouble for pissing on the mountain and figure my last thought might just be screw whoever that is till I hear my brother’s voice, and my neck rips my face up. I still can’t roll over, but I get my head twisted around and sure enough there he is, Louis, stuck waist down in the tree run below me yet smiling and trudging inch by inch my way.
I shout, but I can’t make a sound. I have to wait. It’s all I can do. With one twisted eye, I make him out crawling toward me like a soldier under razor wire. He seems miles off and then suddenly right next to me, rolling me over, and I can’t stop crying but I don’t care. Louis can’t see it through my goggles, and I don’t let my voice crack when I tell him, “I’m sorry.”
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