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Winter on Winter: #1

Winter on Winter: #1

[ January 4, 2010 - 11:26am ]
Florian Unterberger at Seefeld, Austria
Meet our new online columnist, Tom Winter. In his first post, he gives us a recap of the best powder days of his life, including the day he survived an avalanche and tore his knee to pieces in Colorado's backcountry, and he looks forward to 2010.

In this, my first column, I’m aware of a sense of heaviness. An ugly wall of gray that looms distantly, or certain kind of darkness: a glimpse of ugly Goth kids sulking in shadows or a big storm about to pulse over the horizon. It’s because I’m supposed to say something big or profound and kick things off with a bang, maybe announcing a weird controversy surrounding Bode Miller’s love child or a declaration that I’ve become a snowboarder.

But since this week marks the beginning of a new year and because on Friday, it was the first time in about 20 years that I haven’t been skiing on New Year’s day, I thought instead that I’d conjure up some of the best days in my head, my own Warren Miller movie. A personal “Best Of,” with all the places, conversations, images, and even the whisper of a snowflake or two up my nose.

There was Seefeld in 2009, maybe the deepest day ever, with Martin Winkler and Florian Unterberger. The terrain was steep, a series of gullies and ridges generously sprinkled with cliffs that dropped through trees down to the valley below. Everything was moving, waves of slough rippling next to us with each turn. On our last run, as the storm started to lift, over a meter of snow in its wake, and a thin vaporous sun that opened up visibility just enough to see all the madness we’d been skiing all day.

Or leaving an ugly Val Thorens at 4 AM one morning five years ago, the season petering out as dirt stained the snow, only to arrive at the top at La Grave five hours later. The first run of the day was in knee-deep fluff on Le Pan, the snow ample reward for both the drive and risking the fall-you-die traverse onto the face above the Glacier du Rateau.

Or the last day of the season at Vail in 1992. It was the first winter I’d moved to the mountains for good. We skied a backcountry line I’ve done many times since. It was deep and untracked and at the bottom I realized that I wouldn’t be leaving Vail any time soon.

And one of the toughest days. A day that ruined my knee and ended my season, but which was also one of the best days, because I came home alive after riding out an avalanche in Colorado’s Gore Range.

So, while I don’t know what 2010 will bring, I’m hoping it brings to you the best and the worst. The epic and the tough, and the hidden moments in between, unnoticed, but which feed the soul precious drop by drop.

And may you always come home alive. —Tom Winter

Writer, photographer, and skier Tom Winter will be writing a regular column here called Winter on Winter. Check back for his next installements.

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