I never really have had much trouble hitchhiking. Maybe it's the fact that I'm a girl, or some crazy telepathic process that lets folks know I won't kill them. But today for some reason my telepathy or my incredible hair wasn't doing the trick. In retrospect it probably was a car size verses ski size thing. But in the moment I honestly didn't really mind just standing there. I was on the side of the highway in the Pyrenees the sun was shining and I had several thousand feet of incredible skiing just recently behind me.
I'd arrived to Andorra just three days before. People joked that I had brought the snow from North America, it has been one of the driest seasons Europe has seen in years. While I was happy to bring the snow, the wind which came with it is what made things difficult. A shallow weak snowpack now saw a meter of fresh wind loaded snow. The majority of the lifts were closed due to high winds. Avalanche hazard was high and visibility quite low. So we decided to do what I prefer anyways: stick our skis on our backs and go for a walk. After walking for a while things started to change. The landscape, that we had been so oblivious too for the past three days, started to appear. Vast giant peaks emerged, all skirted by a blanket of smooth white snow. With this clearing our objective came into view. Big cornices loomed over our planned run. We decided against our original goal. With the wind loading and weak snow I was concerned about we were going. We rerouted. It wouldn’t be the same descent but it would be some fresh turns down into the next village, hitchhiking and skiing through resort would be involved, but I felt relieved with our change of plans.
We started to head down. We turned away from the cornice I was stunned: a huge field to ourselves, a view that could make the antichrist see god, and the company of one of my best friends. This is the kind of moment we all crave. We looked around one last time before we skied back into the open resort. When in the open area we suddenly found ourselves immersed in a maze of one pieces, tight white snowsuits that the Russian tourists seem to love, while words from at least 15 developed countries rang in our ears.
I was expecting this maze to continue until we skied into a tourist filled base area, when all of a sudden my partner turned to me. He explained that there's one run he's always wanted to do but never has. He made a sharp left turn towards an electric tower. We stopped by it. He explained to me in Spanish that he thinks it goes (is skiable) but cannot be sure that it doesn’t end in cliffs or have horrible snow. Was I game?
This was the kind of adventure I loved! The powder up top and a storm clearing high in mountains had already made my day…Skiing clear cut under electric cables with uncertainty of cliffs? I felt like a little kid without parental supervision who found a bucket of maraschino cherries…and a cake.
What to say about the run? The bottom did have cliffs and very variable snow (lower elevations saw three days of rain). But it also had powder up high, steep rollovers, an incredible view, and most importantly “the feeling.” The feeling that you’re somewhere incredibly special, that by just being in this place you had received a gift. If you’d have asked me if Russians in white fur snowsuits existed in this moment I would not have known nor cared. Time had stopped and it was only the mountain and us. I felt in love, in love with the world, in love with skiing, in love with my life.
The snow got sticky as we rode onto the valley floor. We took off our skis and walked across the road. What do you do when you feel this kind of love? When you are so stunned with gratitude you can barely think (nor do you want to)? Do you just stand there? Stand there brimming with joy?
I do, I stand there in the sun next to a snow bank on the side of the highway between Andorra and France. I stand there and bask in the shock and awe of it all… just standing there is fine. It is fine as long as you don’t forget to stick your thumb out.
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