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Spring of My Discontent

Spring of My Discontent

Travel
By Jay Cowan
posted: 05/31/2005

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The crocuses are pushing through the snow, and spring is just a calendar-page flip away. Great. As the days grow longer and temperatures rise, most people get all gooey over green grass, budding tulips, fuzzy foals and the rest of the heavy symbolism of life returning to the void, literally spring-ing eternal, flush with the romance of young love and new beginnings.

But for me and for a lot of other skiers, spring also evokes a wistfulness for the rapidly dwindling snow and the rapidly decreasing opportunity to do the thing we love: skiing. After a lifetime of viewing the seasons through a skier's eyes, I've figured it out: Spring is my autumn-full of the self-indulgent melancholy the rest of the world likes to heap on fall.

Of course, skiers can avoid the sadness of spring by chasing snow year-round, as does my friend Don Birnkrant, who pursues it from Colorado to Utah, Alaska, France, Australia and Argentina. "I'm happiest when I'm on a mountain in full winter conditions," he freely admits. Given his druthers, he'd only surface infrequently for jolts of warm weather and flyfishing before heading back onto the world's ski slopes.

Most of us, however, are not quite so...fiercely dedicated. And the flip side to my spring discontent is that while it's happening, spring skiing rocks like no other season. It's much too brief, but that's what makes it a treat. I love everything about spring skiing: the mystical corn snow, female skiers in tank tops, the mingling scents of warm earth and suntan lotion.

One of my fondest ski memories is of dropping down from the snowy heights of the Eiger and Wengen in Switzerland in late March to a Lauterbrunnen Valley so green and fresh it looked like a Rousseau painting and smelled like paradise. It was the perfect transition from winter into summer, captured right there in one place at one moment.

As short as spring is, resourceful skiers can stretch it into three months of perfect moments. Slush bumps on Aspen Mountain's Mine Dumps on April Fool's Day. Bare skin, big beers and blasting music on the deck of The Mangy Moose in Jackson Hole for Easter. A shade of frosted plum you see nowhere else on Earth except on the glaciers at 7 p.m. on a Memorial Day heli-run in the Chugach. Bright sun, high mountains and heavy bass at the June tailgate parties in A-Basin's parking lot, when everyone else has been riding a golf cart for two months and calling it exercise.

The end of the season at ski resorts is full of sanctioned hijinks (think shovel races and pond skimming), impromptu parties, season-high snowpacks, silly-long ski days and an atmosphere of crazed abandon not just confined to the beaches of Fort Lauderdale and South Padre Island.

It's all part of a kind of mad-boogie, Last-Waltz, 1932-Berlin fling by skiers and riders who know the end is truly near. Sure, some might make it to Mammoth after Easter or out for a day or two of hiking and sliding at a local mountain pass. But for most, that's a long shot.

So in reality, three weeks of spring skiing are about it. Enough time to lay down a few more arcs, wind out a few more eye-watering downhill charges, soak up the sight of white peaks and the feeling of being on top of your game and on top of the world. Then call it a season for another seven months. That's enough to make anyone a little crazy. But time races on, and if spring is a skier's autumn, then fast-approaching autumn is our spring-a time of optimism and hope, when winter's cold embrace is just a calendar-page flip away.

MARCH/APRIL 2005

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