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Listen for the hoots and hollers of powder hounds just like you on the hill. (Bruce Kirkby/Bruce Kirkby)
Listen for the hoots and hollers of powder hounds just like you on the hill. (Bruce Kirkby/Bruce Kirkby)

The magic of powder day in a ski town Add to ...

The first thing you'll notice is the muffled quality of sound. Everything – from the cheep of a chickadee to the slamming of a neighbour's door – is dampened, as if a great down duvet has been tossed over your house.

Creaking out of bed, shuffling toward the bathroom, thinking only of coffee, you absently cast open a drape, and – HOLYMOTHEROFGOD – it dumped! A metre of fluffy, unblemished powder fell overnight. In the tangerine light of dawn, gravity-defying loads wobble atop birdfeeders, fence tops and even clotheslines. Vehicles have been reduced to bumps beneath a white rug. This is serious; the type of snowfall that happens just once or twice a year.

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In a fraction of a second, your day changes. Clearly, you are going skiing.

Why else would you live in a ski town? Work, conference calls, meetings, deadlines, bosses be damned. The only question: Can you make it to the hill before first lift?

Sandwiches are slapped together, Thermoses filled. Breakfast is eaten even as ski pants and jackets are being yanked on. You might telephone a friend or two – the need to share the euphoria verges on excruciating – but such calls are pointless, because you know perfectly well your friends are doing the exact same thing as you.

Outside, a blast of unexpectedly warm air greets you – for it seems the great dumps often ride on a warm front – and for a brief moment you worry it might all be for naught, the snow might be too heavy; “elephant snot” as they call it on the West Coast. But no, you give it a kick test, and the flakes float over your boot like the fluff of a thousand dandelions. Hallelujah!

After hurriedly brushing the snow from your car (just enough to open a door and peer through the windshield), skis are tossed in, the engine redlined, and a shapeless form emerges from the drifts with a mattress-load of fluff on the roof.

You recognize every car in the ski hill parking lot; friends, neighbours, the butcher, your banker, an RCMP cruiser, the mayor. The crowd stomps its feet and bounces in anticipation. Soon the great flywheel buzzes to life. Before you know it, you're floating upward over a milky, untouched canvas. It won't stay this way for long; the new snow will get sliced and diced and shredded just as fast as eager legs can devour it. So you strategize: If I hit this run first, I should be able to get over there next, and perhaps even rip up that farther run before anyone else beats me to it.

Then it begins; cheeks crisp from the ride up, you smack your gloves, take a deep breath, and then point straight downhill. Instantly, clouds of snow explode over your shoulders. Other skiers drift past in your peripheral vision, also straight-lining it, leaving swirling trails of smoke behind. Hoots and hollers echo across the runs.

At its heart, powder skiing makes the old feel young again, and the young feel invincible. Once you have mastered the basic skills – which isn't hard, but can take a few frustrating days – skiing powder becomes insanely addictive. So addictive that heli-skiers pay thousands of dollars for just a handful of runs. And ski tourers clamber upward all day long just to schuss down the entire mountain in 20 minutes.

Before long, you're completely spanked. The pace eases and crowds begin to linger at the base to jaw-wag between runs.

Though you'll see the “There are no friends on a Powder Day” sentiment plastered across bumper stickers and T-shirts out west, in reality, everybody's a friend on powder days. There's a shared joy, and the sense that everyone tumbling through the soft snow – whether greenie or redneck or logger or hippie – is living for this exact moment.

By late afternoon, the snow has softened to the consistency of ice cream. Your quadriceps scream with every turn, and you're vaguely aware that you're probably headed for a severe case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which will render you unable to walk up or down stairs for a week. And since the snow hasn't stopped, you realize, limp or not, you'll be right back here again tomorrow. But for now, because the lifts are still open and your friends are still here, you take another run.



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