A story of mythic precipitation and fire (with a nod to “Dos Pesos de Agua,” by Juan Bosch)
It was dry in Dogsleep. Too dry for December. Too dry for any month of the year. There hadn’t even been a drizzle since September, when the great fires burned in the West and you could hardly see across the street from all the smoke.
But now the sky was so deep and blue, it seemed unbreakable, a permanent window across which nothing moved. Not even a stray cloud. The ski lifts sat idle. And without tourists, or work, only the rich kids were out at the bars. People were starting to get nervous. Maybe a little scared.
It’s funny how whatever weather you are having feels like it could last forever. Like that is the only weather in the world. That sad way a lost winter feels like a lost year of your life—because it is.
It was Mina who suggested they needed to host a snow dance. Sweet Mina. She always knew just what to do. She said it needed to be serious, driven by intent and purpose. And it needed to shake the snow gods right out of their slumber.
She said, “We need to have the greatest snow dance in the world!”
Preparations for a Party
The invitations went out the way they always do, by word of mouth. The party would take place in the field behind the old Waggoner Farm, as pretty and green and wide as a pasture, and right next to Mina’s cabin with the wooden snowflakes carved into the door. Everyone put it at the top of their calendar. Their top of everything, really. There was nothing else to do.
Kegs were bought. Trees were chopped. Joints were rolled and ciders brewed. Weird Bob, who made moonshine, filled 20 Mason jars. Ten with White Lightning. Ten with Mountain Dew. People who lived miles and sometimes days away made plans to drive over. It was all anyone talked about.
In preparations for the party, a few ski patrollers put a makeshift band together and named themselves “Snow Burn.” They found a place they could plug in their amplifiers behind the barn. Some lifties made T-shirts—“Snow Dance of the Century”—with a drawing of a dragon spewing fire onto a pile of stacked skis and snowboards.
More than anything, people figured out what they wanted to burn, and they wanted to burn a lot. Old skis. Old snowboards. Old boots, and lots of plastic knickknacks to pollute the skies in this sacrificial fever for snow, including old Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever albums and cassette tapes. T-shirts and documents and old photos of those old lovers you love to hate.
Holding a ski pole torch wrapped with kerosene-soaked towels, Mina got it all off to a fast start. She stepped up to the pile and said, “The season starts now,” and dropped the torch.
“Snow! Snow! Snow!” the crowd chanted as the flames slowly kindled, popping at the ignition of every lonely ski bum’s stack of nudie magazines and each pile of dry sticks. Until suddenly with a “BOOM!” the whole thing blew up.
Literally. Because Ricky from human resources brought a tank of gas.
There was a stunned silence at the mushroom of flame. Then howls erupted from their throats, guttural screams of release and wild Viking cheers into the abyss as all hell broke loose.
Fire and Sleet
They put everything they could on that fire. More albums, T-shirts and every single scrap of cardboard anyone could find. The chairs off the patio, then the couch. Hammocks, maps and just about anything that burned—like all the unpaid electricity notices because everyone was broke. Some drunks even threw the shoes off their feet.
The snow gods were impressed. “What madness for the promise of precipitation,” they laughed. As the flames kept growing, they began to add their own contributions to the growing black cloud across the darkening skies, including little puffs of graupel that at first the people below thought was only bonfire ash.
“It’s snowing!” some amateur meteorologist screamed, throwing his cap onto the pyre in one last sacrifice as the roof between Earth and the heavens was ripped right off—the people offering fire to the sky as the snow saints and cloud-riding elves responded with sleet, snowballs, and belly laughs of cold thunder, rumbling and roaring as they got into the wet work.
That fire might have burned for days, or even weeks. It might have set the whole county ablaze. But slowly and surely, the accelerating pace of accumulation began to put it out. A hastening deluge of wild wet snow and a growing wind that rang the steeple in the town church, then started whipping across the field, blowing away the impromptu lean-tos and tents.
In an hour, more than 5 inches fell. In two hours, a foot lay on the ground, and the pace only quickened as the wind began to pile up the drifts. And, still, the awed, honored snow gods proclaimed, “We have to reward such a snow dance, our most special sacrificial gift!”
For two full days the pace quickened, until the whole valley was deep and white. And the beams above Mina’s cabin creaked and the trapped ski bums wondered if they could get out of their stranded trucks one more time to clear a little path.
It snowed and it snowed and it snowed until finally, late on the third night, a rumbling sound filled the sky like an unending explosion as all the accumulation began to tear free from the highest peaks, ripping the slopes beneath it bare as waves of powder came crashing down on the village. As if the mountains themselves were falling down in great columns of broken glass.
Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of the God of Skiing and American Snow.