I got waxed up in the parking lot around 10AM.
“It’ll be easier to turn,” assured my fellow boarder as he spread wax on my snowboard.
“But you might fall getting off the lift,” he warned and laughed, then, “Meet you back here.”
It was a powder Thursday in February at Monarch Mountain, just west of Salida, Colorado. It was also deathly cold, with temps on the wrong side of the integer line. I was layered in wool, fleece, then my Helly Hansen coat. After one walk to the car, I knew I needed a longer, bulkier outer layer for these conditions. I stopped by Mt. Shavano Ski and Snowboard Shop on the way to the hill for a new snowboard coat. I walked away with a Boulder Gear Serena Jacket. The description on their website is spot on–I was looking for something warm but not bulky; stylish but not poser-y; internal storage for cards and key; and a hood for dastardly windy days. Like today.
I learned to board at Monarch in the late 90’s. I had lived in Tahoe a few years earlier and tried, repeatedly, to learn how to dowhill ski on straight skis. I was an avid cross-country skier and couldn’t wrap my head, hips, legs, or shoulders around the “pizza french-fry” technique.
So I turned to snowboarding, graduating all the way to double-blacks ten years ago. But there have been head injuries, car crashes, and even a head-on collision with a snowboarder a few years back. Now I like to warm up on the blues, hit a few blacks, then warm-down on the blues. I prioritize empty runs, and if I find an empty run with enough challenge, I’ll start lapping the mountain.
And that’s what I did for two windy, chilly powder days at the end of February. I started on the eastern Breezeway lift, noted the empty trails on the chair ride up, and as prophesized by my parking lot friend, fell getting off the steep lift ramp. I dusted myself off, going through my top-of-the-lift ritual of tightening the Boa system on my snowboard boots, one cinch at a time. He was right, I was turning more easily, but only when I could see the contours of the trail. Which wasn’t often.
Blowy snow and overcast skies meant seeing the run, finding a line before you got there, was out of the question. I headed toward the fluffy bumps on Upper Halls Alley and B’s Bash, both empty but hard to see. I was being bounced around by large moguls, willing myself to find curves to turn into and keeping my tail up so I wouldn’t fall. As the days progressed, I moved west across the mountain, dodging loose trees off the Panorama lift and finding fun blues and blacks to drop into off the Garfield lift.
I was having fun but I was working for it–huffing my way through invisible turns, thumping off the top of moguls, leaning back to keep speed up on the flats. My hands, face, and toes were alternating to win Coldest Part of the Body. Between the altitude (summit elevation is almost 12,000 ft.), the bitter cold, the wind, the too-tight sports bra, and the powder challenges, I tapped out after a few hours.
I took my first snowboard lesson here at Monarch, and my Kiwi instructor, after watching me connect turns, noticed I was working too hard. “It’s the slackuh spawt, Tracey. You’re trying to hahd. Just point yaw shoulders and lean to turn.” Almost 25 years after that first day I was trying to point and lean, conserving energy for talking, slogging through the lift line, and driving back to Salida.
As I was trudging back to my car the second day, who should I run into? “Told you I’d meet you back here. How was your day?” We traded stories, preferred lifts and runs, and which parts of our bodies ached the most.
“It was hard to see.”
“Because of all that powder!”
We dusted off our vehicles, blared the heat and music and changed into better footwear. I flipped down the visor to remove my contacts and noticed, just like after a day at the beach, that I had accumulated blizzard curls. I laughed at the hairy icicles. And my eyes had that faraway stare that comes with extreme physical exhaustion.