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Anticipation

Jacksonville Street, Arlington, Virginia, December 1966—In a world of white viewed through the fogged thickness of storm windows in the dark of a child’s night, the only way to tell if it was snowing was to watch the pool of light beneath the street lamps. My sledding dreams lived and died by the intensity of the snowfall on the steep street down the hill behind my house; every time the storm gusted in frenzied swirls beneath the pale bulb, I stood higher on my tiptoes, and excitement surged through me, adding fuel to my determination to stay up all night watching the blizzard.

For once, there was justice in the world, and school was canceled the next day. The sledding on Jacksonville Street was epic. Cars, respecting our masterful displays of sled-handling or simply too chicken to try the hill, stayed away. For a day, we ruled.

And yet, 25 years later, few memories of that day remain. Surely, the knowledge of the day is acute, for it was the beginning of the three-day storm that paralyzed Northern Virginia as few storms have, but the actual sights, sounds, and sensations are as elusive as a dream you struggle to remember upon waking. They’re gone. What remains, as sharp and clear as a winter morning in the sun, is the anticipation and all that went with it: the feeling of a warm nose pressed to cold glass, the smell of the aluminum that held the windowpane, the snow streaking across a cone of light late at night.

Anticipation, expectations, dreams…they’re all tied together in a package that’s easy to touch but difficult to comprehend. They are the fuel for adventure, romance, and fear, and they shape our experiences in ways we can’t know. Sometimes they leave us pleasantly surprised, other times they set us up for disappointment.

Thinking about all this seems particularly relevant now, as we stand on the edge of winter. Summer in the West was wet, and most ranges from the Sierras to the Rockies were heavily dusted with snow in mid-September. That’s not unusual, but add the recent lean snow years, a nascent El Niño, and all the rumors about Mt. Pinatubo’s particulates acting as cloud-seeders, and you get a continent of skiers jumpy with expectation. We want snow, we want lots of it, and we want it now.

Sometimes I think we have it all backwards. The first ski magazines arrived in the heat of August, followed quickly by Labor Day sales. Then came autumn’s post-buying-binge blues, when you realized you couldn’t use any of that new equipment for months. Now we find ourselves in the season of anticipation, those accelerating days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, dying for powder but resigned to skiing hardpack made back in October. Then, come January and February, we’ll be drooling for the big dumps, all the while forgetting the best storms come knocking in March and April. Finally, by the time winter really gets here, we’ll be burned out on all that snow and ready for mountain biking, windsurfing, and Mexico. Most of the country’s major ski areas will close due to lack of demand, not lack of snow.

Such is the nature of anticipation, I suppose, and the human condition, too: always focused on the future, always looking to the “best” of whatever it is you’re anticipating.

The theme of this issue, “The Lost Resorts,” is the inextricably tied to this concept of anticipation and expectation. The ski areas you’re about to discover, from Fernie Snow Valley in British Columbia to Big Mountain in Montana to Ischgl in Austria, have been overlooked, underappreciated, bypassed, mistakenly judged, or just plain ignored. Why? I don’t know. It certainly can’t be from lack of snow or terrain, because each of these resorts has conditions that rival the best in the world. It may be because they’re smaller, or they’re out of the way, or they don’t have sophisticated marketing staffs. Or maybe it’s because we’ve been culturally conditioned to think that bigger is better, that mainstream is more satisfying, that world-famous Jackson Hole is more hardcore than Whitewater, B.C.

Which brings us back to expectations. When I went to Ischgl last winter, I knew almost nothing about it. The trip to Austra was based on an ambiguous tip from a friend who’d been there once, briefly. Ischgl was a place I’d never heard of and about which I could find no information. Who could have expectations? Who could help but be thrilled at the discovery of a vast “new” playground?

The point of all this, I suppose, is that anticipation and expectations can be wonderful tings, but they also can limit you in ways you could never guess. As you stare out the window for snow, be aware how your desires affect you when you finally get out on skis…because sometimes you go to sleep expecting awesome sledding in the morning, and sometimes you get it. Sometimes you go to sleep expecting awesome sledding, and you strike out. And sometimes you go to bed expecting nothing, and you wake up, and there it is: Jacksonville Street, gleaming under a foot of snow, and not a car in sight.—Steve Casimiro

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 20.4, December 1991. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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