Topic: Profiles

Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 10

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Dreaming on Dreamweaver

Silent Ice

Solo on Tuckered Out

All photos/art by Josh Allen

If you’ve never had bright orange and yellow tassels on your ski poles, you’re missing out big time. Not only do my newly acquired pole decorations add color to any overcast day, they instantly make me the coolest patroller on the mountain. Why else would every guest on Mountain Road turn to watch me go by today, if not to admire—and perhaps be slightly jealous of—my incredibly fashionable, stylish ski poles? The best part is I wasn’t even the one that added the impeccably crafted tassels. Nope, I walked outside of the main hut sometime after lunch, I believe, and found my poles not as blue as usual. They were still blue… and yet so much more. Pure brightness and joy had been added by someone who yet remains a mystery. Clearly, this mysterious person cares a lot about me—enough to sacrifice their time and effort into affixing these rare, treasured additions to my ordinarily boring poles. I think I’ll leave them on awhile. They’re just too darn awesome to remove. And I’ll keep watch for the gentle stranger who gifted me in this way, so perhaps I can return the favor one day…

Okay, so perhaps it’s time for a little explanation and elaboration. The tassels, you see, are the result of a certain habit of mine. Also, my name tag now has butterflies, flowers, and a rainbow on it. I think this is to show me what an awesome job I am doing, and how much my fellow patrollers care about my happiness. I really appreciate that, and I want them to know that I also care. That is why I spray them all with snow, whenever given the opportunity…Also it’s just irresistible to stop just close enough to cover someone with a fine white mist of frozen precipitation. I only do it in the most caring way, you see. And I don’t do it to supervisors…well, except for once. And I was rewarded for this activity even more today!

The emergency phone rings. Uh oh—I’m at the top of the bump, or list of patrollers to go out to accidents. I was mid-chew of a small piece of chocolate [we were given 25 lbs of tiny chocolate bars…yeah it’s a problem]. So I finish my chocolate in a ravenous gulp, throw on my medical gloves [which always seems to take forever, even if it’s a few seconds], thrust my glaring red neck warmer, helmet and goggles onto my face, and I’m ready to help! Rushing out the door to assist a potential patient is quite a rush, and in no time at all I’m flying down Jolly Green Giant in search of my patient, to be found on To Snowtrak. Now, To Snowtrak is a trail that no one ever skis down. It is a dead end, at the very base of the mountain. Actually, it’s below the base of the mountain, so it leads to no lifts whatsoever. Only a winding road for cars with excellent traction. Nevertheless, I race across below the base quads with my toboggan in tow, reach the entrance of To Snowtrak, and begin carefully scanning the terrain in search of a bit of red, or any sign of life. Movement catches my attention off to the right. My heart jumps, I’ve found my patient! Err, no…that was just a crow. My legs notice that it’s flat, and actually uphill, as I hike with my sled, feeling sweat beginning to spring out on my skin. I see blue shapes near the next apartment, and I know that must be my destination. As I close in on my patient, I realize it’s just two sleds standing up against the building. Hmm…I keep struggling with my cumbersome toboggan, skating more than skiing. I notice the road in front of me. But before the road, there’s a familiar shape. A familiar color. A stick of bamboo with a bright orange disco. It reads: “Gotcha. Consider Yourself Sprayed.” Nice…

Beautiful sunny day. Not much more to say than that. Well, my skis were zip-tied together, but I handled that with a swift swipe of my knife. I have a feeling that was also out of the kindness of someone’s heart. I may have to cut back on that snow spraying after all…

Sunny days on the mountain are hard to beat. The views were incredible from Jackson Gore in the morning, and downright epic from South Face in the afternoon. Dreamweaver was really a dream today—the pale blue horizon mixed with an almost autumn blend of colors as the clouds ascended towards the Sun. Sparkling, ice-encrusted tree branches spread brilliantly along the side of nearly every trail, channeling the Sun’s light into a rare wintry luminance. Drifting down Tuckered Out in the morning, I was entirely alone, encased in the cold sunlight, surrounded only by distant mountains and motionless trees. I felt as if I could shout and shatter these frozen branches, but wished only to remain silent and admire the beauty, instead. One of the best parts of being a patroller, by far, is to blend into nature on days like today. I am there first to help any guest in need, but high up there on my list is to appreciate where I am each day. I won’t be on a mountain forever, and for now I will do my best to soak in the winter Sun and store the unique beauty of the mountain in my memories…

Lift conversations are unpredictable and sometimes, even if they are just a few minutes, fascinating. Each day as I ride the lifts back up the mountain, different guests sit beside me. Some are quiet. Some are talkative and eager to ask about my job. No matter who is riding with me, though, I always ask how they are doing, and in return I am asked the very same. Today the nearly universal response was, “Just great!” After all, it was another beautiful sunny day. And I was greatly enjoying it, too. One guest, an older gentleman, asked if I thought I had the best job in the world. Hmm, now that’s an interesting question. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. But I went ahead and said, “Well, the snow is great, it’s sunny, and there’s no wind—yeah, I think it’s pretty darn good right now.” I realize that each of those factors is so temporary, so fleeting, that from one day to the next it is so easy for my attitude to change towards what I am doing. But then I remember very early in the season when it was raining, and I was soggy but still smiling. Now in the cold heart of February, I’m looking forward to the spring, even if it means wetter weather. It will mean something different, something unpredictable. The clothes that I rely on now will be inadequate, and I’ll no longer feel like a giant red hulk in my massive bundle of layers.

Recently I have realized that Okemo and other eastern mountains have something that the powder giants in the West lack. We have ambiguity, and in that, a chance to seek comfort in what lies behind and beyond us. When the wind rips across the hills and lashes my cheeks, I look forward to the possibility of a calm day tomorrow. When it’s beautifully sunny and calm, I look back to the relentless winds and feel even better about existing and thriving where I am today. On some of the Western peaks, there’s little wind. Sometimes there are spans of weeks, or months in certain areas of the world where the weather is the same from day to day. There’s little reason to look back and feel better about now. We have that here, though, and so we have an endless sanctuary in our minds. Soon there will be warmer temperatures, and my right foot will not feel like a block of cement as often. But even then, one must ask whether it is better to dwell in what is past, what is now, or what is perhaps to come? For now, I think I’ll continue to enjoy what I’m doing, and sometimes rely on that nearly artificial knowledge that warmth awaits. Of course, when it arrives, I may crave the cold, perfect snow again…So the answer remains like the East—uncertain. But that, I think, is how it should be…

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