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. 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 anticipated, and our minds awaken to the thought of sheer bliss that beckons us.  A short traverse reveals a safe 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. I take some very deep breaths of the fresh air, and listen carefully to the sound of the frozen crystals below me, and thank the Gods for granting me this fine day.

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 as it enjoys the pure delight 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. So, I can easily understand how these sensations 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 is a bit 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 thirty-five 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 torrent 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 carrying beacons, shovels 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 tomb. 

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 fade 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 that appears so subtle.  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, and the thrill is not worth the risk.