There is the known and the unknown and when it comes to powder skiing there’s mostly unknown. That’s part of the dynamic magic of snow — each turn could be different from the last, subject to wind and sun and the vagaries of nature, and you never know until you go. But it’s not always this way. Sometimes, snow and place are predictable. Sometimes, expectations are justified. And that brings a whole different kind of magic.
I’m thinking in particular of the way a mountain can sculpt snow in patterns, creating the same surface shapes over and over again — a pocket that’s always deeper with sifted sugar, a spine that’s always softened by a coating of cake frosting. Get to know that mountain and these little treasures, these little pleasures, become yours. You can plan for them, set your line up to hit them, and count on them for that one sure thing — like your favorite berm on a mountain bike trail. It’s a promise made.
And almost always a promise kept. Except when someone else gets there first. That’s such a burn — to think that a pillow hit belongs to you and you alone, only to find that some other looter knows about it and beat you to it. To thrash your way through low-hanging branches and arrive at your secret stash to discover — dammit! — a track. It’s like returning to you car and finding it keyed.
But if you’re fast and smart and lucky, your little secret is virgin, waiting just for you. A slashing explosion and a cold blast to the face. The brief thrilling sensation of the ground falling away on a rollover. The chunneling of a loaded leeward hollow. And when that happens, the joy and satisfaction of powder skiing takes on a whole new dimension — the gift of deep snow combines with well-earned knowledge, stoked with a frisson of titillation, and paid off with the release of gratification. Because you knew.
Photo of Bernard Rosow in the Mammoth Lakes backcountry by Christian Pondella.