Voodoo on the Slopes…and Other Winter Rituals

Winter in Texas lasts about two weeks. It starts
when people stop running their air conditioners. It ends roughly one week after
the hard freeze that catches everyone unprepared, kills all the plants and causes
500 traffic accidents in the first hour of the morning commute. The only other
winter ritual to look forward to is the spectacle of The Big Hair and Fur Coat
Exhibition. And that is pretty much it for the season.


As such, it should come as no surprise that this kind of climate does not breed
a lot of 100-day skiers. We have our die-hards, to be sure. And hordes of Texans
do descend upon Colorado every year, never failing to give the locals there
new reasons to hate them. But beyond that, the Texas ski culture defines hardcore
as two annual five-day trips to the Rockies – which gives you just enough time
to realize there’s something very wrong with your priorities before you are
forced to return to them.

It’s an abrupt change, coming down from that kind of trip. One day you’re
in the alpine, making turns and howling like a hyena, and the next day you wake
up to a sweltering morning at least 1,000 miles away from the mountains. You’re
back home, and yet you still feel relaxed and mellow, as if you are on the hill.
Eventually, the afterglow wears off and you realize that your ski season is
already over, ending as unceremoniously as it began. No celebrations or rituals
signified its arrival. There was no desperate push to get the last runs at the
local hill before the meltdown. All you had was your five-day ski vacation.

I started skiing on that type of trip. I was 29 years old. My entire season
consisted of four days in Park City, and I was hopelessly addicted by the time
I got back to Dallas. Before that trip, I didn’t really know what I was missing.
After that trip, all I could think about was getting out of the 100-degree Texas
heat and embracing the alpine lifestyle.

By some quirk of karma, my work carried me to Seattle last November-depositing
me in the Emerald City in time to get a bunch of ski days, but not early enough
to experience the pre-season rituals of anticipation associated with living
in a ski town. My ski season just sort of started.

But this year, I began to understand why skiers consider October and November
the cruelest months. We’re all amped up with no snow to rip.

It started on the opening night of the Warren Miller movie-my first ever theater
screening. The room was packed with shameless addicts and hopeless freaks, all
of us drooling helplessly as we watched some of the best skiers in the world
negotiate the sickest lines imaginable. By the time the movie ended, half of
our group was violently insisting that we make the 20-hour drive to Montana-on
a solid rumor that three feet of fresh had just fallen. The other half of the
group demanded that we stop for a snack first.

We got as far as the bar one block away from the theater, where just one beer
turned into far too many tequila shots, and road-trip bravado faded into murmurs
of designated drivers and cab service. Slogging it out to Montana was still
a tempting proposition, but none of us was sober enough to find the Interstate.

Which was a good thing, actually. After all, we were only three weeks away
from a Thanksgiving trip to Whistler and the glorious rituals of opening-day
festivities and debauchery. We had to focus. Arrangements had to be made. Someone
trustworthy would have to procure supplies.

I was contemplating these matters the next day as I stood in line to drop off
my skis for pre-season tuning. The smell of melting wax was intoxicating. The
air bristled with ski talk. I caught fragments of conversations about trips,
resort openings and snow reports. The early snowfall in the Rockies and Sierras
had everyone wondering when our local ski areas would open for the season. It
hadn’t rained in weeks in Seattle. There was no snow in the mountains. The skiers
were getting restless.

“According to the weathermen, there’s a high-pressure front parked over Puget
Sound and it’s pushing all the wet stuff from the Gulf of Alaska south to Oregon
and California.”

Even as the girl waiting in line next to me was saying it, I couldn’t believe
that I actually understood or cared about the words flying out of her mouth.
I stared at her, studying the shape of her skull before answering, “Yeah, the
weather channel is all I’ve been watching too. It’s been a daily hell.”

This snow situation was becoming a real problem. Beyond delaying our access
to the local hills, it threatened the Whistler trip. The situation demanded
drastic measures.

On my way home from the ski shop, I stopped at a friend’s house for consultation.
He has lived in Seattle his entire life, except for the years he attended medical
school – in Colorado. I figured he would be a decent source for snow rituals.

The door was open when I got there. I walked inside to find the doctor drunk
and naked, sharpening the edges of his snowboard.

“This brings snow,” he said. Then he took a long pull off a bottle of whiskey
and spit it all over his board. It was a terrifying display, and one I shall
not soon forget. As he handed me the bottle, I couldn’t help but wonder what
other perversions he was capable of. And then I realized that it didn’t really
matter as long as his ritual brought snow – and he promised to put his pants
on when it was over.

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