Stretching the Season

Photo by Ryan Krueger

Stretching the Season

England, Mike
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Reasons to earn your turns this spring

If you’re a skier, April may indeed be the cruelest month—it’s when the ski areas close for the season. For many, this marks the last turns of the year—no more long days on the slopes, carving effortless arcs down the mountain. Gone is the lively chairlift banter and hard-charging, turn-till-it-burns bravado—April is time to grumble about global warming while summer-waxing skis for their off-season hibernation in the garage.

But there are others—the downhill diehards—who ignore resort closings and other arbitrary ski-calendar benchmarks, setting their own boundaries and following their own timelines. For them, the white season is far from over. Snow tires stay on cars, skis remain in roof racks, and torn bibs still get their weekly duct-tape tune-ups. From the Bridgers to the Beartooths, Montana’s entire alpine landscape is a playground. April simply requires an adjustment, a slight shift in modality—from ski passes to skins, purple wax to pink, and steaming nachos in the lodge to cold PB&J with your butt in a snowbank.

The shift is, at worst, a lateral one. For every turn lost, there’s a commensurate gain in lung capacity. Subtract the total vertical, but multiply the breathtaking vistas. Take away the comfortable amenities; throw in wildlife, solitude, physical fitness, and a much smaller price tag. Camaraderie continues unhindered: at the end of the day, shared exertion and unspoken appreciation of the experience often surpass the most jovial après-ski session in the lodge.

And then there are the more subtle virtues. Backcountry is the Zen of skiing; it’s good for the soul. As distractions disappear, our pragmatic minds recede and intuition engages. Instead of negotiating lift lines and bustling lodges, the backcountry skier moves placidly across empty snowfields, weaves through dense stands of lodgepole and Douglas fir, and zigzags up steep, pine-flecked spur ridges. The only sound is the rhythmic swish-swish of skins across snow. Eyes open to a new and interesting world: on a near-vertical rock face, pine saplings emerge from narrow cracks; a short-tailed weasel scurries across the trail; alpenglow bathes a distant ridgeline. One unhurried skin-slide after another, we silently contemplate the beauty and meaning of it all.

Later, as we reach the top of another snow-filled chute, blood coursing through our veins beneath sweat-soaked skin, we discover the value of patience. Two hours of skinning for a single run—but a blissful, incomparable run it will be. Clear now is the notion of relativity, of environmentally dependent value: every turn made here is worth ten at the resort. Every slope skied safely is cause for celebration, and one good run for the whole day is, more often than not, enough.

With every turn earned and every run appreciated, the pursuit becomes distilled to its essence. The individual turn—the foundation of all skiing—is no longer assimilated into the immeasurable collective. It is savored, measured, treasured. It’s as if we’re suddenly able to apprehend the source of it all.

So remember, April need not trigger a case of post-ski-season traumatic disorder. There are turns aplenty for those willing to put in the effort. Get a workout, commune with nature, discover the dharma of the Montana backcountry—and extend your ski season by a month or two. Earn your turns this spring; you’ll be glad you did.

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