As we move into March, one grizzled vet puts a spin on that inevitable day when the lifts will shut down.
The view gets better. Until you can’t see for the darkness. That’s what the mountains have taught me. The lesson wasn’t learned quickly. It took years and years. The old timers don’t tell you this, the fact that wisdom is a slow seeping spring that spits out knowledge drop by drop. If you don’t notice, you miss the opportunity to quench your thirst. And if you don’t realize you’re thirsty, then you don’t stop to drink, careening into another kind of darkness, the blackness of selfish ignorance.
The awakening was planted at the end of a long cold season, my second in Vail. I sat on a deck with a grizzled local who’d seen a lot of ends, looking out into the vastness of the snow-covered peaks. Young and hungry it seemed as though shuttering the lifts was a crime. There was too much snow left, too many days in front of me to worry about the future and all that mattered was to keep arcing turns and riding the chairs as the bullwheels spun a mindless song of happiness and no worries mate, because another storm is on the way and the beer is cold at the bar and they’re not going to run out—at least not soon.
I was pissed at the mountain for closing down. Pissed but sorta happy that I was out of work and happier still with the couple hundred bucks I’d managed to save. Squirreled away despite rowdy evenings with pitchers of beer and rounds of shots for friends and too many slices of pizza late at night.
The slopes were empty on that last day, it was a lot quieter in the village back then, at least it seemed that way, with half the mountain shut and only the last of the hardcores lapping the soft bumps until it was time to go sit on the deck and drink beer and look into the great emptiness of the future. We didn’t think of hiking up the mountain then, maybe we were lazy or dumb or just too in love with the slow triple that hoisted us up Forever Ridge, the slow creak of the fixed grip bumping over the shiv wheels at each tower.
That chair was heaven to us, the storm days dark and deep and always empty as the tourists fled to the front side out of the wind. It’s gone now, a victim of progress. But back then we thought that it would be there for us always, iconic and special like the Statue of Liberty, a gateway to freedom and bliss.
“It’s fucked,” I said to the old local. “They shouldn’t close.” He looked at me with brooding, bloodshot eyes, taking his time to speak.
“It doesn’t matter.” Another long pause. “Want a beer?”
I did, of course. But didn’t realize that he was right. Then I thought it mattered. And maybe it does.
But from the top of other mountains years down the road, the realization came that it didn’t matter. There would always be more mountains, and more places than I could ever dream of and that no matter what was happening, if you really wanted snow, all you had to do was go chase it. If you looked hard enough, it would be there: cold, familiar, and yet strange and exotic down in Patagonia or far north on an Alaskan glacier.
And so we go. Chasing snow as the snow melts and the planet spins and the clock ticks. Until, as the old timer says, it really won’t matter any more and the great darkness swallows us into the void from which no one has returned.