The Last Powder Dance

The air is brisk, but the sun shines warmly on our faces, as we reach the summit of a small mountain and prepare for the descent. The views are magnificent, and our minds approach Nirvana as we quickly strip our skins, and prepare for the descent.

The snow is knee deep and the whole mountain is covered with a magical blanket of untracked virgin powder. Our young brains are almost overwhelmed as we hurriedly decide what the best descent route will be. We have experienced this pleasure before, so the descent is anxiously awaited, and our minds awaken to the thought of sheer bliss. A short traverse reveals a 30 degree slope that cannot be passed, and I suddenly find myself dancing in the deep snow. The gentle gliding of skis over the beautiful crystals of frozen water is mesmerizing, and the rhythm of symmetrically carved turns pulls my mind into a trance.

Dancing is an elegant form of art and deep powder skiing is like a grand ballet. The skis become part of my body as they float back and forth with a magical rhythm while my upper body gently floats along enjoying the pure thrill of the flying snow and bright sunshine.

The joy of deep powder skiing combines the merriment of an athletic body with the wonders of nature and is one of the greatest thrills that I have ever experienced. I can easily understand how these thrills can drag someone into a very dangerous situation.

The snow is so beautiful and the interaction with nature seems perfect, but the danger is hiding and waiting to strike. It is hard to fathom how something this beautiful could be so dangerous. The thirty degree slope is very enjoyable, but a steeper slope keeps tempting us, because we know that the thrills will be even greater. My previous experience tells me that it’s dangerous, but the snow feels very solid, and my silly brain is suddenly overwhelmed and not thinking clearly. The fears of a big avalanche are suddenly erased by the quiescence of the day and that untracked forty degree slope looks so inviting. My heart is pounding, but my mind has already made the decision, as we venture up to the summit once again.

We are both eager to go first, but my partner charges into the realms of the untracked bliss. I watch in envy as he carves effortless turns through the virgin snow, but the envy quickly vanishes as I watch a small sluff break into the second layer, and continue to the ground. The innocent slope suddenly turns into a raging tornado of powder combined with large slabs of wind packed snow, and I watch helplessly as my friend disappears into the maelstrom.

I stand for a moment in total shock, and then quickly rush down to look for him. We are both wearing beacons, and I quickly find his location with my probe, but he is deeply buried in a tomb of frozen crystals that are nearly as hard as concrete. I dig frantically for almost half an hour, and know that his time is running out. My arms are totally exhausted and my knuckles are bleeding as I struggle desperately to find him and free him from the frozen snow. My heart is pounding as I finally reach his body, but the sparkle in his face has vanished and his pulse is gone. I struggle with CPR, for more than an hour, as I watch his body gradually die and turn into to a cold lifeless mass. He has been a great friend, and watching him die will leave a memory that I will never forget, but I hope this story will prevent other such events.

Fortunately this tale is fiction, but there are many similar ones that are not. There is an old joke that a human male does not have enough blood to fill his penis and his brain at the same time. This same logic can also relate to deep powder snow. The anticipated thrill can often cause the brain to forget about the imminent danger. Avid skiers have invented a word called “foaming” to express this feeling. I have experienced foaming on many occasions, and I have relied on luck a few times, but that is like playing Russian Roulette. I have learned to calm my brain by stopping to dig a pit, and thinking about my four old friends who died in avalanches.

New Review for “Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet”

 

Wild tales of adventure and a bit of inspiration is the subtitle of this book. Wild tales, indeed!
Author John Mattson may have started life on the lonely prairies of North Dakota, but boy oh boy did he ever pack a hundred years of adventures into one life. From page one to 252, I don’t think anyone could jam more sights, adventure, craziness and unharnessed will to live into one book. This was a fun one to read.

 

Starting out a college student who decides to try alpine skiing on a whim, then moving on to being a rodeo cowboy, a rock climber, a free spirited kayaker , a river explorer, and more, this is a story that made me think how I wish I could have done just one of these things! Full of old photographs and tall tales galore, Mattson easily and humbly describes his life enjoying the many natural splendors of our planet–and the dangers as humanity’s greed and evil lay bare the ecosystems that Mattson holds dear.

 

Although it is not a literary masterpiece–there are a few typos, and the oversized manuscript is a little unwieldy, the typeface choppy–I don’t doubt for a minute that Mattson ever intended for it to be a highbrow book. His wild storytelling feels like you’re sitting next to him at a bonfire, sipping coffee, swapping tales. His enthusiasm for life and extreme sports is never told with a haughty swagger, but almost with an innocent, slightly crazy daredevil’s smirk, in natural country boy I can’t believe I actually did that twang that makes you feel entirely at ease–even as you are stepping off an alpine cliff with him, ready to slalom to the bottom on homemade skis.

 

Dancing on the edge takes you from country to country , from the US to Belize, Nepal, Chile and more, as cars break down and are left roadside, as small groups of hardcore adventurers sleep in caves and under the stars, as avalanches and river rapids and danger-filled landscapes threaten them at every pass. I truly appreciated Mattson’s descriptive talents as he took the time to look for and tell the reader about natural wonders along the way: sunlight sparkling on river rapids, flocks of ewes on mountaintops, the simple but delicious foods he enjoyed. He speaks often of the friendships he made, and often cites near strangers by name, as if tipping a gloved hand to them for the warm memories they made together.

 

I found it fascinating that he also includes great mechanical and engineering detail about equipment used and locations visited (in between jumping off mountains and sliding down rivers, he earned an engineering degree and is a designer-builder). Because of this attention to minuscule details and embellishments, I really felt like I was there, too.
If you’ve ever wished that you could just lock up your house and take a wild trip around the world, with no luxurious hotels and a/c to distract you from enjoying the natural planet and its people, take a copy of this book and read away. You’ll be wiping sweat off your brow and steadying your heart rate in no time.

 

Review by Alicia Accardi
Closed the Cover

 

 

More Reviews

Skiing Volcanoes in South America

The Mute Devil and the Volcanoes of Southern Chile

“Trust in dreams for in them is the hidden gate to eternity.”  Kahlil Gibran

Volcan Villarica erupting in 1985

The first time I saw Volcán Villarrica, it was exploding, and torrents of fiery lava were pouring down its slopes. We were busy kayaking the Río Trancura, and the thought of skiing this pristine mountain never even crossed my mind.

Kurt Casey skiing Volcan Villarica

Volcan Llaima at sunset, 7000 vertical feet of perfect corn.

The magnificent rivers of Chile held me in their grasp for many years, and I enjoyed some incredible voyages, but the great mountains kept beckoning, and I finally answered their call.

Volcán Villarrica towers above the trendy tourist village of Pucón, Chile, and climbing the volcano has become one of the most popular pastimes in town. During the warm, summer days, dozens of adventurous tourists put on crampons for the first time in their lives and amble up a well-worn but steep glacial trail to the summit of the lofty volcano. In good conditions, it is an easy climb. But in bad weather, which is very frequent, the throngs of novices on the icy slopes have suffered many accidents and a few deaths, so the authorities managed to convince us that we had to have a guide.

Peruvian ski lift for Nevado Ishinca

Guiding climbers up the volcano was the biggest gig in town, and the rates were very competitive. But finding someone who would also rent skis — and allow his clients to take off by themselves — took some doing.

“You want to ski the volcano?” the skeptical owner of Sol Y Nieve (Sun and Snow) asked.

Though there was a small ski area on the lower part of the mountain, the idea of summer skiing had not yet arrived in Chile, and he looked at us like we were a bit crazy.

John skiing perfect corn on Nevado Ishinca, Peru

But, he didn’t want to turn down business, so he found the key to his ski storage area and rented us the necessary equipment. The skis were somewhat ancient, but they looked reasonable, and he seemed to be the only source in town, so we paid a small deposit and made plans to meet him the next day.

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Traveling in Peru:  

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