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Local Knowledge

A late spring storm had been dumping snow on Verbier, Switzerland, for two days. The flakes had slowed to nothing, but the clouds hung low over the rocky, treeless peaks, and visibility was next to zero. Brooklyn Bernie, Buddha Bob, Dr. Les, and Bob the Mayor were making powder laps in the Lac des Vaux area, one of the few open parts of the mountain where there were no major cliffs or obstacles and you could ski by Braille safely.

Each time Bernie and the boys got back to the chair, they’d run into John Falkiner, a Verbier instructor and longtime local, who was teaching a class, and Bernie would lean over to John in the line and say, “What do you think, John?” and John would say, “Not yet.”

They’d take another lap, chew on a little more pow, and see John in line with his class again.

Bernie: “John?”

“Soon.”

The next time down: “Go now, Bernie.”

At the top of the chair, Bernie led the crew along the traverse they’d been taking into the Lac des Vaux bowl, but instead of dropping back to skier’s right, he continued along the ridge and meandered to skier’s left. One lonely, freshly made track led into the fog, the sign of two skiers’ poles punctuating either side. After five minutes of hiking, the pitch began to roll away, and Bernie stopped to zip up his parka. The others buckled boots and prepared to ski.

As if by magic, the clouds cleared without warning, parting and dissipating like cotton candy in a hurricane. One minute the group was groping in a fog that had hung for days, the next it was squinting in the sun.

It was one of the most incredible scenes. Some 3,000 feet below were the snow-covered chalets of Verbier, and another 3,000 feet below that was the white-blanketed valley floor, which just three days before had been green with new budding farmers’ fields. Across the valley, glistening miles away, was the roof of Europe: the back side of the ramparts of the Chamonix Valley scratching at the clear blue sky. And best of all was what lay just below the tips of skis: acre upon acre of steep, deep powder…and with just two lonely little tracks in one of Europe’s most popular resorts.

I’ve always been fascinated with how you get to a certain place—the thousands of decisions, large and small, that bring you, say, to stand at the top of a col in the sun with nothing but happiness below. It’s really cool, looking back, to see how every decision interlocked snugly with the next to lead you to exactly where you are today.

It’s usually the little decisions that open the door to bigger ones. For example, 10 years ago last August, while still in college, I made the decision to call the editor of Powder and tell her how much I enjoyed the first issue of the season. That started a chain of events that led to me getting a job here and moving to California, which led to other events, like meeting my wife. Sometimes I think about how different my life would be if I had called on another day and Pat and I didn’t hit it off, or if I never even called at all. It’s kind of mind blowing to look back at all those turning points of your life and think about how different things would be if only you did this instead of that, or that instead of this.

This issue is loosely based on the theme of travel, which is the art of being in the right place at the right time. How do you get to the right place at the right time? I haven’t a clue. Very rarely do you have people like John Falkiner, with years of local knowledge, telling you when to go to the Col de Creblets so you can hit it just as the clouds clear but before the powder-hungry boards descend. Most of the time you’re on your own, following hunches, flipping a coin, and hoping for the best in an unpredictable, uncontrollable world.

Looking back and wondering “what if?” is great. Even better is looking forward and asking “what next?” Especially now, when the whole winter is laid out in front of us, and especially when you’re standing at the top of 3,000 feet of face shots, and where “what’s next?” is the decision to go left, right, or straight.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 23.3, November 1994. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Skiing is Toast

Well, it’s official: Skiing has sold its soul to the devil. There’s now a Taco Bell at the base of the Gad II lift at Snowbird, and a cappuccino stand when you get off the gondola at Squaw Valley. When you can buy a breakfast burrito without stepping out of your bindings, the signs of the apocalypse are indeed upon us.

Damn, damn, damn. Whatever happened to the real alpine experience? To bota bags and sandwiches wrapped in wax paper? To tailgate parties in snowy parking lots? To granola, by God?

Yes, the world of skiing has changed, and not for the better. Wimps! That’s what we’ve bred—soft, cappuccino-drinking wimps!

Hey…speaking of cappuccino, a tall, frothy, hot, cappuccino would taste pretty good right now. Yeah, that’d be just the ticket. Cappuccino…cappuccino…as Homer Simpson would say, “Ooohhhhh.” And you know, a soft chicken taco wouldn’t taste too bad, either. “Taaacooo.”

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a fast-food–eating-cappuccino-drinking yuppie scum just like the rest of ’em. I almost choked on my chimichanga when I heard about Snowbird’s Taco Bell, but the first time I was skiing there and found myself hungry at the base of Gad II, I skied right up and bought myself lunch. I ate it on the lift and hardly lost a minute of ski time. I was happy as a clam.

But now I wrestle over the moral dilemma of those stupid tacos. The idea of a fast-food restaurant at the base of a lift on one of the hardest core mountains in the country is distasteful, if not disgusting. On the other hand…there’s nothing like a little treat to keep you going on a powder day.

Back and forth the arguments go. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s good, it’s bad. You may feel strongly one way or another, but, frankly, I don’t think there’s a right answer. Skiing is full of contradictions, and this is just one of them.

We created this “State of the Art” issue because the margins of skiing are being pushed back every day in dramatic and fascinating ways. From Andrew Sawyer’s gnarly solo mountaineering descents to the outrageous G-forces in a modern downhill turn to the new computer programs that help predict avalanches, the edges of skiing are truly state of the art, and we simply wanted to share that with you. Along the way, however, it became clear that something else was going on: that important issues were being raised about what skiing is and where it’s going.

The story that does that most acutely is Leslie Anthony’s piece on the state of the art in resorts. Resorts are in the midst of sweeping change. A handful of large resort companies are buying ski areas at a rapid pace, creating what Anthony calls “megopolies”—mega-monopolies. These resort giants have so much money and power that they are changing the resort landscape in dramatic and permanent ways, and not just in their own neck of the woods, but across North America.

Skiing has become a sport of convenience. High-speed quads, enclosed lifts, blanket grooming, Taco Bells…no question, there are fewer sharp edges than there used to be, and, no question, that’s where skiing is headed at an accelerating pace. Because that’s what the huge bell-curve bulge of intermediate recreational (and the accompanying dead presidents) want.

I want to leave you with two points. First, it’s politically correct and easy for hard-core skiers to criticize this “softening” of skiing. It’s a piece of cake to take a whack at tourists and intermediates. Setting aside the issue of whether elitism is right or wrong, from a purely pragmatic standpoint this is the incorrect thing to do. Whether you like it or not, intermediates and tourists spend far more money than experts, and that jingle keeps the lifts running. Stick you nose in the air over Vail’s foofy Two Elks restaurant, but don’t forget that it may have paid for the access gate to the East Vail chutes.

Second, I don’t normally use this page to encourage action because I think most people are going to do what they do whether I suggest something or not. But because so many smaller, independent resorts are being gobbled up by corporate titans, the risk of losing what’s important to us is great. I want to encourage—no, urge—you to speak your mind about what you want at resorts. Less grooming? More trees? Open boundaries? Don’t just criticize—write or call your local resort. Write the National Ski Areas Association (133 S. Van Gordon St., Suite 300, Lakewood, CO 80228). Hell, write to us. Just don’t sit on your butt eating tacos.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 23.4, December 1994. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Guest Editors, Photo Annual

Ahhh, the Photo Annual.

This is far and away our favorite issue of the year, and not just because we’re Gen-X post-literates, and not just because it’s nowhere near as much work as a typical issue. No, we like it for the same reasons you do: Pictures take us skiing in ways that words can’t.

As you probably know, this was a really different Photo Annual for us in that we invited three guest editors to help us construct the magazine. (We originally were going to select just two, but one of the winners was a joint entry.) For two days, we reviewed hundreds of images together, easily rejecting the second rate shots and then struggling as we had to make more difficult choices, until, finally, the 400 slides were down to 30 or so, and we came up with what you have here.

I suppose you could call this guest editor experiment a success. I mean, none of the guest editors spilled beer on the slides, and a thorough search of the premises showed the only thing they stole was a box of my business cards. (How they managed to sneak the cards out remains a mystery—Rob Story, a meticulous man if there ever was one, conducted the strip-search himself.) Well, there was that little incident with Micah’s cigarette at the light table, but the problem was quickly extinguished and none of the photographers are the wiser…

I don’t even mind that they ripped the business cards. At first, I wondered what they were going to do with them, but then it dawned on me, and as a longtime scammer, I admired their foresight and determination to squeeze a few freebies out of this cold, uncaring world by pretending they were someone they weren’t. It didn’t even bother me when I started getting the phone calls from the places they’d scammed: “Steve, it was our pleasure to give you and your friend a free week of heli-skiing. I never pictured you to be so young or having dreads. By the way, when will we be seeing that story?” “Great to meet you, Steve, I hope all the skis we gave you do well in your test. Send me a copy when it’s printed, will you?” And from a girl with a teenage sounding voice, “Why haven’t you called.”

Like I said, I don’t mind. It’s nothing that lawyers, guns, and money can’t take care of. And hell, we got our money’s worth out of the guest eds—they did our job for a few days and we got to sit back and eat bon-bons.

Actually, the whole guest editor thing was awesome. Micah Abrams, Joe Hanrahan, and Scott Gaffney turned out to be great guys—friendly, funny, eager to work—and they did an excellent job picking photos and writing about them. Just as cool as meeting these guys, though, was the whole process of sharing the hundreds of amazing ski photos with them. We are truly blessed with the best ski photography from the best ski photographers in the world. It was gratifying to sit in a darkened room (safely out of reach of Joe’s wandering hands and with my back to the wall, I might add) and watch their faces as image after glorious freakin’ image flashed on the screen. If I could, I’d have every single one of you join us in picking the Photo Annual. And hey, why not?

Just give me some warning before you show up so I can lock up the business cards.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 23.5, January 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved

Is There a Right Way to Ski?

In answer to the question posed on the cover and addressed in contributing editor Michel Beaudry’s story that begins on page 36: No, there isn’t a right way to ski. Having spent three days putting some of the world’s best through their paces at Blackcomb last spring, Michel has found that there are many right ways to ski. While it was once generally accepted that race technique was the best technique, now anything goes, and the best skier on the hill might be a bumper, a mountaineer, or—imagine—just a free skier.

Frankly, I’m relieved. It’s enough worrying about getting a pass yanked for skiing too fast without having always to be looking over your shoulder for the style police.

“Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?”

“Uh, ’cause I was speeding?”

“No, I pulled you over because you dropped your left hand after each pole plant. That violates Statute 37-8934 of the PSIA Centerline Code. I’m afraid I’m gonna have to write you up. But you do have the option of attending ski school with a certified instructor, and no points will appear on your record.”

Although I like order, I tend to be a libertarian (or maybe it’s anarchist) when it comes to issues of style and technique, and I bristle at the notion of someone dictating the “proper” way to ski. I’m not knocking professional ski instructors—you have to create standards in developing a national teaching system—but the very idea of establishing a “perfect” technique to strive for seems…I don’t know…silly, I guess. (The phrase “get a life” comes to mind.)

I was pretty jazzed seeing Beaudry’s story come together. We don’t cover technique very often, and it was fun doing something different. There were some selfish reasons, too: I thought I might pick up a few tips to make my own seriously deficient skiing stronger. I’m a spaz in the bumps, I’m not much better in the air, and I really do have a tendency to drop the left hand. Maybe, I figured, I’ll learn something.

Although the seven great skiers offered tips I’m eager to apply, what I learned most is what I already knew: Miles, miles, and more miles are what make you a great skier. (That, some natural ability, and a passion for the sport.) Every time I talked to Michel as we edited the piece, he’d say, “It’s miles, man.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m always critical of my skiing. Despite my belief that there’s no right way to ski, I do believe there are generally accepted principles of strong, dynamic skiing. And, style, of course, is always an issue. So I’m always working to correct what I’m doing wrong, to get better, ski stronger, and to try to keep up with all those bastards who’ve been skiing since they could walk. This winter, though, I’m taking it a little easier on myself. This winter, I just keep repeating: “Miles, man.”

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 23.6, February 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Chase the Stick

I am suffering from a debilitating and incurable disease. It has complete power over me, and I am helpless in the face of it. But if there’s any consolation it’s that it strikes with warning and the effects are predictable.

The Latin name is brainfartium temporarium ski. In English, “skiing-induced temporary amnesia”.

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the symptoms and development of the disease: The first little tickles appear at the brain stem the night before a ski day. Forgetfulness is minor: You space brushing your teeth, or forget to tell you wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend that you love them. By morning, electrical charges are surging into the cerebral cortex, pushing out nearly all thoughts of responsibility. You forget that you forgot to brush your teeth, and you forget once again to brush. It strikes you as odd that people avoid you until after you’ve had breakfast and a cup of joe, but your mind is on skiing and the thought is left behind like a cigarette butt thrown from a speeding Cadillac on the plains of west Texas.

By the time you’re at the hill, changes have taken place at the subatomic level of your brain. The protons and ions that comprise the chemical components of your gray matter have fused, becoming what particle scientists call morons. Electrical activity is at an all-time high, but it’s completely disorganized, chaotic. Your CAT scan looks like a mosh pit. Mardi Gras and Times Square on New Year’s Eve, all packed into a space the size of a ski instructor’s locker.

It gets worse on the lift. The disease has such a tenacious grip that your IQ plummets to that of a typical in-bred golden retriever. You are capable of remembering your name and four or five basic commands, at most.

Chase the stick, chase the stick.

By the time you get off the lift, especially if it’s a powder day, you are beyond hope or help. You are a post-lobotomy Randall McMurphy, Karen Ann Quinlan, Dan Quayle. You are Butt-head, or a bowl of day-old oatmeal. You are a new-born infant, with no intellect and simple needs: a clean diaper, mother’s milk, a fresh line through powder bumps.

By now you may find yourself saying, but Steve, what can I, a skier with little or no medical training, do to help? Can I send money? Form a support group? Light votive candles?

None of the above my friends. I ask for only your understanding. Do you seriously think an in-bred golden retriever can remember to check its voicemail and return phone calls? To get its intro written on time? To send out letters of assignment and respond to story ideas? Of course not. A golden retriever can do little more than scratch at fleas and wag its tail.

Yes, all I ask of you is understanding, sympathy, and patience. Should you feel like condemning me, should you feel like casting me into the shoals of cold-heartedness, remember that you, too, will be going skiing soon, and you, too, are at risk of brainfartium temporarium ski. You, too, may find yourself with only one thought in your head.

Chase the stick, chase the stick.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 23.7, March 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

The Rebirth of Skiing

“Skiing is dying.” “Skiing isn’t cool anymore.” “There are no ski bums.” “Snowboarding rules.”

Hearing that is like fingernails clawing the world’s biggest blackboard. Like a core shot on your first day with new sticks. It drives me nuts hearing people say that. It makes me cringe.

But not because they’re right. Not because they’re right and I’m riding a brontosaurus straight toward the tar pits. No, I get upset when I hear people saying skiing is dying because they’re wrong. Because they couldn’t be more wrong.

You see, skiing is not only not dead, it’s undergoing a renaissance, a rebirth, a reinvention. It’s expanding, mutating, transmogrifying—going off in alien, unpredictable, and uncontrollable ways. I’m so excited by where skiing’s going, I can barely sit still. In equipment, technique, clothing, and—most important—attitude, all the old dogmas are being blown apart, and new, enthusiastic, and completely core ways of thinking are prevailing. I’m neither a historian nor a psychic, but when I look at the sport it’s clear to me that skiing is entering a golden age—the golden age of radical free-skiing. To wit:

Equipment—Never in skiing’s history have their been so many cool, fun, unconventional, and legitimate variations on gear. In alpine skis, you’ve got traditional rectangular race skis, cap race skis, deep sidecut GS skis, fat powder skis, hourglass carving skis, and even, silly as they are, Bigfoot and Sled Dogs. The cap and wide ski evolutions are hitting telemarking, and plastic tele boots are making descents possible that were once unimaginable. And bindings, who would have ever thought bindings could improve your skiing?

Technique—It’s faster, more alpine, more powerful, more creative, and more direct. Throw a bone to snowboarding, give a standing O to ski-mountaineers like Doug Coombs, Andrew Sawyer, Eric Pehota, and Trevor Petersen, and tip your hat to extreme contests.

Clothing—Each night before I go to sleep, I pray that the Japanese star commander look made popular by Descente dies a fiery and painful death. I don’t know if my prayers are being answered, but at least clothing manufacturers like Chiemsee, new to the States this year, are finally making stylish, comfortable, and technical clothes that are neither juvenile delinquent snowboard grunge nor Clarence the Clown Euro-flash.

Attitude—As surely as the revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s blew away the Stepford death march of the Eisenhower ’50s, so, too, are the kids of today destroying the slick plastic face of ’80s affluence. Indeed, the ’70s are back in a big way, and you don’t have to live in the Haight to see it. It’s a cultural wave that’s smashing into skiing, bringing equal parts tribal love and Black Flag to the ragged edges of the sport.

It’s not all because of snowboarding. The free-love, peace-bruddah neo-hippy attitude is everywhere, not just skiing. And equipment advances owe a little, but not a lot, to snowboarding. Nevertheless, thank God for snowboarding. If snowboarding hadn’t come along, we might never have realized how stagnant and constipated parts of skiing were getting.

I wonder what happened to all those people who say skiing’s dead—what changed about their skiing that they lost the thrill of a cold powder morning? That they could hold a turn at 50 mph on one leg and say, with a straight face, that skiing isn’t cool? That they could really believe that snowboarding is so imminently swank that we skiers may as well hang up the boards and join a bridge league? What died in them?

It doesn’t matter. With or without them, skiing is rad. Skiing rocks. Now more than ever

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.1, September 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

The Power of a Face Shot

Dolores LaChappelle, quoting the Zen-masters, called it “the fullness of the void.” Countless sports psychologists refer to it as “the zone.” Lately, I’ve been thinking of it as a state of grace.

I’m referring, of course to that moment in time (or space-time, if you prefer) when you feel at one with the universe, when time and thought lose their context and meaning and the only thing that matters is sensation. When the internal gyroscope is humming. When you’re exactly where you need to be and the concept of someplace else doesn’t even exist.

Grace. For some it’s a spiritual concept, for others not at all. I don’t know much about God or Allah or Mother Nature or Gaia or Zen, and if I thought I did I certainly wouldn’t bring it up here. Nevertheless, there’s something about the idea of grace in both the spiritual sense of being at one with your maker and in the physical sense of purity, efficiency, and aesthetics that seems to me to describe that slice of time with incredible accuracy. It’s a feeling of being connected to both large and small and knowing you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

There are many ways to feel grace in skiing, but for me the purest is when I’m powder skiing. Specifically, when I’m deep powder skiing, and even more specifically when I’m just reaching the bottom of a turn and the snow has billowed over my head in a curtain of white and gray and I’m protected by a neck gaiter pulled up over my mouth and fog-free goggles over my eyes and I’m completely beyond thought or cares. I’ve made my subtle leg motion to roll the skis from one direction to the next, and now I’m just following them deeper and deeper into the snow, almost weightless, muscles relaxed, waiting quietly for the resistance of snow to build beneath the skis. Sight and sound have become irrelevant and I know where I’m going and what I’m doing with my whole body like having one giant sense instead of five.

It took a lot of travel and countless hours of dreaming before I finally experienced skiing like that, skiing in snow so deep, light, and soft that it was truly bottomless, and when I at last felt it, it changed my skiing forever. I’ll always judge snow—and skiing—by that standard. Furthermore, where I was once only mildly rabid about powder, I am now obsessed with finding more of those beautiful, transcendent, deep-snow moments.

When you consider how rare and fleeting those moments, it’s funny, or maybe ironic, how much time I spend chasing after them. The days, weeks, months spent thinking, talking, and writing about powder skiing…and all for something that at its best can be measured in minutes. And yet, that’s testament to the power of powder, of the deepest powder: that a face shot can last a second, but the thrill can last a lifetime

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.2, October 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

An Unusual Vision

My vision sucks. If I’d had the bad luck to have been born 30,000 years ago, a saber-toothed tiger or other beast that I couldn’t see would have hunted, chased, caught, and eaten me, snuffing out my line of defective genes before I had a chance to breed. Fortunately for my as-yet-unborn descendants, if not the rest of humanity, I exist in the age of contact lenses, and I can generally make my way around the world with little danger to myself or others.

Still, even with contacts, my vision sucks. I just don’t see things as well as other people. Distant peaks, subtle ripples in the snow indicating where to turn—they’re often lost to me. And while I agree in some ways with my friend and competition Jackson Hogen (who should be declared legally blind, if he isn’t already) that vision is a crutch, it’s a crutch I’ve come to like and depend on. I don’t know what it is, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s just something about being able to see that makes life so much more enjoyable.

Take having a good goggle day. There’s nothing like it. To go through a whole, dumping day, sweating, chilling, venting, falling, in the snow, under the snow, screaming at 40 mph over the snow, and having your goggles stay clear and unfogged as the day they were bought. No, there’s nothing like a good goggle day, especially when everyone around you is having a bad one.

I had one of those days last winter, early in the season. The temperature was a few degrees below zero, with 18 inches of new and light snow still falling. We had a ratpack going, everyone a good skier, but it was early in the year so people were still getting their ski legs, and everyone was sweating, sweating and cursing their steaming, fogged goggles. Whoever I rode the lift with fussed with their goggles, wiping them off, waving them in the air, or just plain bitching. Mine stayed clear as could be, but I didn’t say a word; like a pitcher throwing what could turn out to be a no-hitter, I knew if I said anything it would break the spell and I’d be fogged.

The whole day felt charmed. Rocks, trees, bumps, dropoffs—everything stood out in relatively sharp relief. Where my comrades struggled to see terrain variations, I slipped through with ease. There was something about being able to see when others couldn’t that seemed to enhance my vision, and I started using all the tips I’d heard about looking ahead two, three, or four turns. I remembered something Doug Coombs had said about staying in the fall line by lining up his descent with trees on the valley floor, and I tried it. For someone who has a bad habit of watching his tips and only his tips, it was a struggle. All day, I forced myself to look as far ahead as I could, keeping my eyes on where I wanted to go, not where I didn’t.

It worked. Hallelujah, brother! For once in my life, I saw the spaces, not the trees; the lines, not the obstacles. You do go where you look. Everything I’d heard was true. OK, I believe. Sign me up.

Quite a few of the stories in this issue have something to do with vision, some in overt ways, some in ways that perhaps only I can see. You know me—I dig “skiing as life” metaphors, so I’m probably looking deeper than I should. But, what the hell, they’re only ski stories; enjoy them on whatever level you want. Just remember: When you’re skiing this winter, look where you’re going…and then some.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.3, November 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

The Coolie Life List

If you’re planning on driving off the road, the Trans Canada Highway south of Lake Louise is a pretty good choice. Bears, elk, and hitch-hikers are sparse, and the shoulder, which doesn’t drop much, is generally covered with forgiving gravel that peppers the wheel wells, slows you down, and reminds you in no uncertain terms, “Hey, butthead, get your eyes and your car back on the pavement.”

I know the Trans Canada shoulder is forgiving because I recently dropped a couple wheels heading toward Banff, sending a spray of gravel and dust into the air and the rental van swerving into the vacant other lane as I overcorrected. I know it’s forgiving because I’ve dropped wheels onto far worse shoulders: slushy ones, icy ones, big droppy ones that catch your wheels and pull you toward a ditch.

In fact, I’m pretty much an expert on shoulders. My friends would say it’s because I’m a lousy driver, but I think it’s because I’m obsessed with finding ski lines on whatever mountains, ridges, or hills I see. Like all good compulsives, I’m powerless: I can’t not look. It doesn’t even matter if there’s snow: Even in the middle of summer or in unrealistic places, I’m picking out lines to ski, imagining epic corn runs on desert peaks that never know rain, or visualizing face shots down erosion gullies cut into the bluffs above the beach. Not far from the office, there’s a steep bowl you can see from the freeway; I often wish for a new ice age so it will get covered nose-deep in der pulverschnee.

Of all the potential ski lines, couloirs, chutes, and gullies are the most compelling. A white line through black rock is simple, elegant, obvious, aesthetic, and addictive. The eye is drawn to the elemental, and the skier follows. The questions begin: Has anyone skied it? Could I ski it? Should I ski it? How’s the snow—isothermal hell or corn heaven, six inches of stable pow or six feet of fracture line?

Faces, peaks, even ranges have embedded themselves in skiing lore, but chutes seem to have gotten deeper into skiers’ psyches, as if the starkness of white on black scratches the soul. Look at Corbet’s, probably the most famous ski run in America; would it be legendary if it didn’t have rock walls to keep things honest?

I never thought I’d have much in common with birders, but I do: I keep a “life list” in my head of chutes and gullies—the ones I’ve seen, the ones I’ve skied, and the ones I want to ski. I have stacks of pictures—pages torn from European climbing mags, blurry slides shot from a moving car—floating around my office and house, reminding me of what’s out there, of what’s waiting. Right now the list of the couloirs I want to ski is far longer than what I have skied. The message of this seems loud and clear: Too much driving, not enough skiing. Gotta do something about that, and soon.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.4, December 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Worm Holes

About halfway through the photo selection process for this issue, with slides scattered all over the light table, it struck me that these images, these thin little pieces of plastic, had come from all corners of the globe. This is not an especially compelling or even deep thought, I know, but sitting there, staring at images from the best skiing haunts in North America, Europe, New Zealand, South America, and even Antarctica and China, it seemed profoundly moving that these little pieces of film had actually, physically, been carried to all these wild places and back. And that they had somehow made their way to share space with one another on a light table in our offices.

A slide seems so fragile and small, especially considering all that goes into its making. First you have the obvious effort of a skier cranking a turn or hucking off a cliff. Then there’s the effort of the photographer—finding the location, framing the picture, waiting for the right light, etc.

Dig deeper and the slide comes to represent even more: A photographer and model and maybe pilot waking up, suiting up, booting up, chowing down, then heading into the hills, all these people sweating, hiking, planning, skiing—moving in countless directions that converge on a piece of film. As you go even deeper into the photo, you realize that entire lifetimes were spent to create it: all the miles of skiing to be good enough to make that turn, the hard work that enabled the photographer to earn the money to pay for the cameras and all the mistake-filled film that eventually taught him how to do it right. And if there’s a helicopter and pilot involved, think about the training and hours spent aloft, or the lives of the people who built or serviced the machine.

That’s a whole lot goin’ on in a piece of Fujichrome. It tripped me out thinking about it, especially with 80 or so individual slides sitting in front of me on the light table, each one with its own story, each one with infinite stories.

You know how thoughts go: One led to another, and eventually one popped into my head that really tripped me out. It goes something like this: Most of you are familiar with 35mm cameras, right? So you know that action photography requires higher shutter speeds? Well, most ski photographers shoot at 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second. There are 81 editorial photos in this magazine. If you add up the entire elapsed time that they represent, at an average shutter speed of say, 1/250 of a second (to account for the older and slower cameras in the historical section), you get a total time of 81/250 of a second. More simply, about 1/3 of a second.

Think about it: All the ski action in this book—every carve, tweak, air, and face shot—took place in less than a second, far less than a second. All those lifetimes of passion, experience, and learning—times 81—balance on the pinpoint of 1/3 of a second. It’s as if the world’s biggest funnel collected infinite experiences and channeled them through a drinking straw.

Or maybe it’s more like those funky theoretical black holes called worm holes. Everyone knows what a black hole is—the mass of a giant star collapsed into a tiny dot, with a gravitational field so strong not even light can escape its pull. Worm holes, the theory goes, are black holes that pull in all that matter and light and spit it out somewhere else: another part of the universe, another place in time, or even a parallel universe.

Maybe that’s a little of what’s going on here: The Photo Annual pulls together all these images, these representations of lifetimes balanced on 1/3 of a second, and spits them out into another part of the universe, where they’ll find their way to coffee tables, patrol shacks, dorm room walls, and bathrooms. And from there, who knows? The best minds in astrophysics don’t, and neither do I.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.5, January 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

The Editor’s Dilemma

Greetings from the desk of Satan. It’s a bit warm for skiing here in the south, but all in all it’s a lovely day. Let’s see what’s on the “to do” list…elevate Mariah Carey to superstar status…check…put Newt in charge of the House…check…retire Calvin & Hobbes…check…destroy all secret spots and cool little ski areas by publishing them in Powder Magazine…check. Wow, that was easy—I even have time left to pop in on Nixon.

If you believe some of the letters we get, Powder is the embodiment of evil and the great destroyer of all that is cool and undiscovered. A week doesn’t go by that some reader doesn’t complain about something, the recent nadir being October’s “Little Areas that Rock,” which generated an amazing outpouring of contempt and vitriol for drawing attention to out of the way places.

Human nature being what it is (smug, self-righteous, and egocentric), it’s easy to dismiss people who disagree with us as kooks and cranks, but this time I have to concur with the kooks and cranks: By reporting on undiscovered little areas, whether resorts or backcountry, we risk ruining them forever. A few killer photos, reports of freshies lasting days after a storm, and—wham—the powder’s gone by 10 and Starbucks has a drive-thru on the access road.

This is our great dilemma. Obviously, the very existence of Powder depends on publishing new and interesting places to ski, and words like “undiscovered,” “untracked,” and “unknown” are mighty attractive to skiers jonesing for face shots. But we’re skiers, too, and the last thing we want is to return to a favorite haunt a few years from now and find it crowded and condo-infested, especially knowing that one of our articles might have contributed to the change. Far too many little ski meccas are falling to the blade of economics and the mediocrity of consolidation without our help.

But what to do? Stop publishing? Stop publishing stories on little areas? Only let people who promise not to ruin things buy the magazine? Every time I ask, the Magic 8-Ball says, “Answer hazy. Try again.”

Confusing matters is the fact that telling you about a place doesn’t guarantee its downfall. Indeed, the reason we publish many of our stories is that we want to celebrate (and hopefully preserve) the idiosyncratic, character-filled little areas that rock, and maybe along the way remind you how fragile funkiness can be. But, as good as our intentions are, once the mag’s in the mail or on the newsstand, there’s nothing we can do except trust that you’re trying to keep cool things cool as long as you can in the face of inevitable change.

So, in the absence of clear solutions, we just muddle along, using our instincts, keeping the sacred things secret and treating the rest with respect, never violating a trust and never giving away a stash. This will never be enough for some people, but I hope that most of you will realize we’re just skiers, skiers who want to protect more than we harm, and who more than anything else want to preserve untracked snow for everyone…especially ourselves.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.6, February 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Be Irresponsible

“This is where I want to be,” I said, pointing at the picture on this page.

“So why don’t you go?” said David.

Excuses and rationalizations flashed through my mind. I had 20—no, 40—good reasons why I was sitting on my lumpy butt under fluorescent office lights instead of breathing the crisp winter air of the Swiss Alps, cold white smoke coiling behind me as I waited patiently for my skis to meet the snow.

I had 40 good reasons, but what came out of my mouth was this:

“Uhh…uhh…why don’t you?”

Great comeback. That’s me, sharp as the edge of town.

Fact is, no matter how good you have it, sometimes you stop, stare at the wall of responsibilities (school, dumb-ass job, mortgage), and go, “Whoa. What am I doing here? Is this what I really want?” And then you wonder why you never spent a year ski-bumming or never skied in the Alps, or never ponied up for heli-time, or never even went into the backcountry once.

These are good things to wonder. Maybe you’ll decide you took a wrong turn, hit the brakes, and make a life change. More likely, you’ll realize things are generally pretty sweet but that you’re just tired of the same old routine.

Such is the case with me today. It’s the last deadline of the last issue of the year, and I don’t feel like being responsible any more. I don’t feel like writing my intro, either. What I feel like is getting on a plane, going to Europe, and trying to find the magical little spot in the picture on this page.

OK, so I don’t have the money to go to Europe tonight, nor can I afford the familial and career consequences should I go. But a little personal irresponsibility in the name of mental health, that I can afford. So, I’m outta here. I’m not going to write this damn thing.

In order to justify this whole-hearted embrace of irresponsibility and avoidance of Intro-writing, I need to leave you with a message, and the message is this: Don’t let yourself get so bogged down by life that you’re afraid to take risks, afraid to kiss off things in the name of fun, afraid to develop that old eye problem (“Sorry, boss, I just can’t see coming in today”). Picture yourself old and frail and mulling over your life. Are you going to say, “You know, I’m really glad I went to work that day 50 years ago.” Not likely.

So, blow something off today, and go skiing. Go now.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.7, March 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Joy

Two days before he died, Trevor Petersen skied a powder run that will be burned into my memory forever. We were far from home under a brilliant sun and blue skies, making our way down a vast basin on the south side of Italy’s Monte Rosa, along with skier Gordy Peifer and photographer Scott Markewitz. The four of us were alone in this huge drainage—bigger by far than all of Little Cottonwood Canyon—and the only tracks in it were ours from the previous day.

In that silence that always seems unnatural in such a big place, Scott called out for Trevor to rip his way down to where the rest of us stood, while he took photos. The wind picked up and blew streamers of backlit crystals across the seamless blanket of white that separated us from Trevor. Then, against a background of flawless blue, on Scott’s word, Trevor dove in.

On Trevor’s first turn, the snow billowed, caught in the wind, and blew up and over his shoulders. He gasped during his unweighting—that trademark Trevor fish-mouth—and dove back into the white, disappearing entirely this time. The sun, behind his right shoulder, reflected and refracted and lighted the scene like the most intensely perfect ski film—it had the production values of a big-screen Miller feature with the intensity and power of a Stump movie.

On and on Trevor skied, rapidly eating up the landscape between us. At each down-weighting he would be swallowed by snow, at each up-weighting he would appear like a dolphin leaving the water. I saw a hundred possible covers, a thousand slices of perfection.

Then, as he came close to us, I felt something rising within me—laughter—and I heard it, too: from Scott and then from Trevor as he pulled to a stop next to us. It rang in my ears: pure, deep, and unadulterated, a laughing of the soul that sprang from the joy that transcends life. It was unstoppable and uncontainable and far beyond words.

It was a most amazing moment, to share with friends those mountains and that snow and the sun and being in Europe, and to have something with them magical and spiritual and shared and spontaneous. In my whole life, I’ve never felt anything quite that intensely perfect: to be completely at home in the mountains, at peace with the world, enraptured by life, and carried away by joy.

That it was skiing that took me there shouldn’t be a surprise. This sport, this thing we do gives you a buzz so intense and unique you’ll be compelled to spend the rest of your life trying to find it again.

Our job at Powder is to share that buzz with you, and with this issue the magazine begins its 25th year of trying. It’s special to us, this 25th anniversary, but instead of jumping into some self-congratulatory speech I actually would prefer to tell that we are most of all filled with gratitude, not pride. The fact that this magazine still exists 25 years after its inception says more about you than it does about us, and more about skiing than anything else. So, thanks to all of you for supporting us, and thanks to whoever or whatever brought me to that amazing convergence of happiness there in Italy.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 25.1, September 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Snowflakes in Space

Exultant scientists receiving the first images of Jupiter’s largest moon from the Galileo spacecraft were “dumbfounded” by detailed pictures of an ice world where volcanoes belch snow…some areas look like they have been raked smooth, leaving neat rows of steep ridges.

“Imagine skiing down those slopes!” said Galileo team member Jim Head. “And it’s winter all the time! Ganymede is like a giant snowball in space.”—Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1996.

It’s the year 2056. Genetic breakthroughs have reversed the aging process, so you are as strong as you were at age 20, but with much more experience and knowledge. You have won the intermission drawing during the showing of Warren Miller V’s showing of White Winter Heat XXXIV at the local EnormoDome, and now you are a guest for the filming of Winter Magic XXII. You are strapped into a Nissan Pathfinder spaceship that is speeding through the solar system, skis locked securely to the outside rack, a point-of-view camera mounted to the roof to capture the dizzying shots of your vehicle rocketing through narrow passages in the asteroid belt.

OK, stop right there. This is ridiculous. It’s pure fantasy. There’s no way Warren will turn over complete control of his movies to anyone. Plus, Nike will own Nissan by then, and the odds of you winning anything at an intermission drawing are astronomical. Nevertheless, you gotta wonder what it would be like…

Not long after NASA released this photo, I picked up the phone and called Jim Head, just to shoot the breeze, much the way some of you like to call me, say, to find out what boots you should buy. Jim, I’m happy to report, was much more open to an unsolicited phone call from a weirdo he didn’t know than I’ll ever be.

The good news is this: Ganymede is riddled with steep, volcanic mountains that cap an underground ocean of frozen water. When forces reach critical mass, parts of this ocean are thrust upward (like lava, but ice). “It’s like liquid water coming out, but it freezes right away,” says Head. “It’s a couple hundred degrees below zero, you know.”

What covers these peaks is beautiful, sparkling, white powder.

“It’s pretty good powder,” says Head. “The question is just how much.”

The bad news about Ganymede is the vertical: The volcanoes are only 300 feet high. Damn. Even with gravity only one-seventh what it is on Earth, rendering all your turns in slow motion, that’s still not enough huck to get excited about.

So, Ganymede isn’t Nirvana, Mecca, or Valhalla. There are plenty of other moons, other frozen oceans, other off-world mountains. Olympus Mons, for example, rises 78,000 vertical feet above the surface of Mars.

And snow can come from surprising places. For example, in Lost Moon, the book about the Apollo 13 mission, James Lovell writes that after the well-documented explosion that rocked his ship, vapor was vented into the vacuum of space, turning immediately into a small cloud of snowflakes. Although it’s likely the snowflakes were captured by the gravity of either Earth or the moon, it’s conceivable that they’re still out there, floating, glittering in the sun against the infinite blackness of space, reminding us that some of the things we think of as earthly are in fact universal.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 25.2, October 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Intro#18

BROTHERS AND SISTERS, I put before you a radical thought:

That extreme skiing really is extreme.

That extreme skiing is much more than some bandwagon ridden by greed-mongers and middle-aged marketers trying to reach the Youth of Today.

That extreme skiing is in truth a viable, significant, and important part of skiing.

There, I said it: Extreme skiing is legit.

Everyone knows the extreme label is the kiss of death. Only “alternative” has been more appropriated, more corrupted, and more diminished by its use as a sales tool. Sadly, what was once a fairly accurate description of a certain type of skiing is now just a lightning rod for cynicism and scorn. And rightly so: We’ve turned extreme into a parody of itself. Which is why real extremists run faster from the word than computer programmers from natural daylight. Which is why Shane McConkey and his fellow extreme-skiing contest competitors have formed the International Free Skiers Association. Which is why you will rarely, if ever, see someone described in these pages as an extreme skier.

But—and here’s my main point—what these guys and girls are doing is extreme. Inside or outside of contests in Crested Butte, Valdez, Squaw, or Las Leñas, what Shane and his compadres are doing is dangerous, frightening, and offers little margin for error. It is far more difficult and risky and requires way more skill and nerve than 99 percent of us will ever possess. It is, like it or not, extreme.

I was scared out of my wits back in 1991, when I went up to Alaska for the first-ever extreme contest. Sitting on a knife-edge of snow on the second day of competition far above Thompson Pass, I looked down the steep contest pitch and was convinced someone would die on it. Sharp rocks studded the snow everywhere, the face ended in a huge cliff, and you never knew until you made a turn whether 10 more inches of snow or an edge-busting boulder lay under the surface. When the strongest competitors came down and flashed it—Kevin Andrews, Dean Cummings, and Doug Coombs—I was blown away. A whole new world opened up to what was possible on skis.

Since then, I’ve learned that pitch was nothing for those guys. I’ve seen people lay down far more daring lines and come away looking like gods. But I’ve never forgotten that first glimpse of the gap between what I thought possible and what really was possible.

There is no perfect term for this kind of skiing. “Extreme sking” is inaccurate, not to mention embarrassing; only a kook would want to be called an extreme skier. But what to call it? Free skiing? Adventure skiing? Big mountain free skiing? Ski mountaineering? None of these fit the bill.

I like “expert skiing.” It is simple, succinct, and understated. It is accurate. No one who has earned the term has to feel shy about using it. Unfortunately, it’s too subtle for the ’90s—where you have to shout to be heard—and not very sexy.

Whatever we end up calling it, I want to leave you with this thought. Radical skiing of the extreme variety is pushing itself further and further with each passing winter. Mountaineers like Doug Coombs are going deeper into the wilderness, while freestylers like McConkey are learning the big-mountain savvy that will take them safely into bigger arenas. Resorts are seeing sicker and sicker lines by alpiners, snowboarders, and telemarkers. The whole genre of skiing is going off, and all I can do is stand there with my mouth open, amazed, as new heroes are made every day.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 25.3, November 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Speed

My name’s Steve, I’m a Leo, and I like to ski really, really fast. I like to carry speed over a roll and see a steep pitch dropping away below me, to feel the freshly cut corduroy grooves pulling me to the fall line like a magnet, to know that a 360-degree sweep of the radar is turning up nothing but clear sailing and no bogeys in sight. I like an uncluttered hill and an uncluttered mind, sharp beveled edges, and goggles that work. I like speed.

I like it when you’re skiing fast and you get passed by a patroller, who says nothing as he goes by. Or when you get to a big long straightaway, drop into a tuck, and close your eyes as long as your brain will let you. Or when you’re the fastest one in your posse (which never happens enough).

I like the people who hoard their “speed stashes”—runs that are always groomed and always empty of other skiers—nearly as dearly as they hoard their powder stashes.

I like it when speed rangers yell at you from the lift.

I like the fact that I learned, without getting hurt, that my owning a pair of 215s is like a kindergartner owning a handgun. I also like the fact that you can find high-speed contentment on a pair of modern deep-dish GS skis, which carve effortlessly, will hold an edge on anything, and make you feel like a driver, not a rider.

I like making long, carved turns in a tuck.

I like it that speed is relative, that what might be fast for me might be slow for you or vice versa, but that the feeling is universal.

I like the fact that you learn twice as much at 50 mph as you do at 25 mph.

I like it when you come skidding to a halt at the lift and your cheeks are flushed and your eyes are huge and you’re grinning from ear to ear with relief and fear and an incredible buzz because you can’t believe you pulled off a 60 mph top-to-bottom charger without stacking into the trees or a snow gun.

I really like speed.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 25.4, December 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Guest Editors in Photo Annual, Round 2

Glen Plake picked quirky stuff.

Kent Kreitler picked his buds.

Hart Eddy picked nothing but air.

The guest editors have come and gone, but their echoes remain. All our pretty scenic photos and quiet touring shots are still cowering in the corner, afraid to come out for fear of another grenade being tossed their way. The photos of cliff drops, on the other hand, are strutting their stuff, loud and proud, having been stroked, praised, worshipped, and slam-dunked into the magazine.

Yes, badass is back. And what do you expect—Plake is the most visible badass of his generation, Kreitler is carrying the torch, and the contest winner Eddy is just outta high school. These guys wanted to see one thing—skiers going big—and they wouldn’t settle for anything less. As an added value, they were brutally honest and skiers to the bone.

Plake was the loudest of the bunch, by far. This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise: Plake’s whole schtick is being brash and outrageous, something that’s made him rich and famous by the standards of our little world and garnered many detractors as well as supporters. What you might not know about Plake is that he’s often—not always, but most of the time—right on. His instincts about skiing are as genuine as they get, and his sense of ski history is unsurpassed by any of his peers, most magazine people, and…well, just about anyone.

Glen sees through the bullshit and he unflinchingly calls it as he sees it. This angers and intimidates a lot of people, but, along with his obsession with everything skiing and his ability to carve a successful career out of an ambivalent industry, it’s the quality about him I admire the most. It’s ironic, though: Despite being more vocal about skiing than anyone I know, Plake didn’t put captions on the photos he picked. It certainly wasn’t because of laziness or lack of caring—he called me five times in the week after he was here to follow up on things—but because he wanted you to draw your own conclusions about the photos. Unlike a lot of people in this world, Glen wants people to think for themselves.

I’ve been toying with the idea of having Glen guest-edit a whole issue by himself—front to back, top to bottom, first chair to last. Frankly, the idea scares the hell out of me. But I think it would be one of the truest, coolest issues we could ever do. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s the Photo Annual. I hope you dig it.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 25.5, January 1997. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Intro/#21

On the very first day I skied, I knew skiing would become my life. I was 18, hungover as a dog, alone because my friends were still in bed, scritching and scratching on manmade West Virginia snow, haulin’ ass with a pair of 150cm Olin Mark IIs and Spademan plate bindings. By the end of the day I was sore and my jeans were wet, but I charged down the cat tracks in a fearless flying wedge. I went home ready to spend money I didn’t have on skis, any skis, that could hook me back into that feeling that was like no other.

I was partying pretty hard, drinking my weight in beer every couple weeks or so, acting like a jerk, and floundering through a directionless first two years of college. It was an ugly time. But through it all, skiing became my anchor. When I took time off from school to figure out what I was doing with my life, it was skiing I threw myself into, working in two shops and clocking as many days as I could on what little hills the Mid-Atlantic had to offer. When I went back to school to study journalism, I made the two-hour drive to the local hill nearly every weekend, and when I graduated and set my sights on a newspaper job, the only requirement was that it had to be in ski country. Whatever my path, skiing would lead me there.

I started thinking about skiing the other day after I read a quote from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. Talking about the skills and attitude it takes to visit wild places and return alive, he said, “People aren’t interested in something that takes a lifetime to learn.” It really stuck in my head. He’s right, I thought. As a society, we value the quick buck, flexibility over roots, and ease of use about everything. We are the people who invented the electric toothbrush, the drive-thru funeral home, the Kwik-E-Mart, who invented GLM, fat skis, and parabolics. We worship at the altar of easy.

Case in point: Do you think snowboarding would be as big as it is if it was harder to learn than skiing? I don’t think so.

There’s nothing wrong with inventing easier sports, with making other sports easier to do, with flattening life’s learning curve. For example, do you mean to tell me that by using fat skis in powder and junk I can ski better, faster, in more control, and with less effort? Bring ’em on!

The problem is that by worshipping convenience we as a society have lost our respect and reverence and maybe motivation for things that do take a lifetime to learn. We’ve created an environment where people almost expect to become instant experts and if they don’t they move onto something else. I stuck with skiing when I had no money, when I should have been studying, when my life felt lost in a sea of turmoil. For whatever reason, I hung in there through the flails and bails and bruises and frustrations and ego-spankings when I had a hundred reasons to quit. Maybe skiing was actually the easy route compared to what was going on around me. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I came to a point where I relished how skiing demands more from you, how the nuances of body and snow and gravity aren’t learned in one season or even 10. I learned to love the fact that feeling at home in all conditions, all terrain, all weather, and all speeds requires years of commitment—and that even then there’s still so much more to learn. After 17 seasons, I still feel like a gaper half the time, but when I look at some of the incredible skiers around me I get excited and think, “If I just keep working on it, some day, maybe, I’ll ski like that.”

Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll ski for anther 17 seasons and be pretty much the same skier I am now. I can’t predict the future. All I know for sure is that wherever I’m going it’s skiing that’s taking me there. The journey is a long one, a life-long one, and, damn, that feels good. You know what I mean?

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 25.6, February 1997. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Another One on Deep Powder

Bretheren and sisteren, I have seen the light: A recent session on perfectly groomed corduroy with the next generation of super-sidecut skis has completely and totally transformed the way I ski. What a feeling! To roll your ankle with the minimum of effort, feel that ski hook up and rocket across the carpet like a skater on ice…ooo, baby. And then to stop, get down on your hands and knees in the snow, and check how deep you carved compared to your buddies, well, it gives me chills just thinking about it. Anybody wanna buy a used avalanched transceiver? (Like new! Must sell!)

No, I’m not high, I’m just kidding. Super-sidecut skis have not transformed my life. I have not gotten on my hands and knees to measure carving depth, and the only chills I’ve had lately came when I wore a bandana instead of a hat on a mildly stormy day because I was trying to be cool. The fact is, I’m beating up on super-sidecut skis to drive home my point, which is this:

No matter how much you can enjoy other types of skiing, the most fun, transforming, addictive, spiritual, and transcendent skiing in this world is deep powder skiing. I tend to shy away from superlatives, but deep powder skiing is, in my opinion, the best skiing there is. Nothing else even comes close.

I’ve strayed a bit from this knowledge in the last couple years, gotten distracted by other forms of skiing, found happiness in trying to carve better or go faster or push myself into relatively bigger air. Yet, all the while, something was nagging at me, something was telling me it wasn’t…quite…enough. There was a hunger that was only satisfied—and then only temporarily—by immersing myself in over-the-head, face-shot, chokin-on-it powder.

I realize now that all that time spent not skiing deep powder was really just passing time until I skied deep powder again. It was all just waiting.

The feeling of deep powder skiing is like nothing else on earth. You’re not just gliding along on top of the snow, but totally immersed and at one with it—a convergence of the physical, emotional, and spiritual that comes from dancing with clouds of snow. Besides the pure body rush, what I like best about deep powder skiing is the complete commitment with which you abandon yourself to gravity and the fall line, the way you have to trust your instincts and your skis to carry you into the next turn, the next breath, because you can’t see, you can barely hear, and the only way to change direction is through gentle, subtle transfers of balance. When skiing deep powder, you’re given over to forces much larger than yourself, and you’re just along for the ride. It’s scary and counterintuitive, yet liberating. Let go…

It’s winter as I write this, and storms are stacked off the Pacific coast, waiting to pound the West, while another is bringing lake-effect snow to the Northeast. There is powder across the land, powder to the people. You’re in it now, and I will be soon. Hallelujah.—Steve Casimiro

First published in Powder Magazine, issue TK. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Season Passes

Is there any better way to get a buzz on for the year than picking up your season pass?

It doesn’t matter who you are—a 22-year-old newbie fresh out of St. Lawrence and bumming out west for your first time, a cynical ski-company employee, or a rock star sponsored skier—getting your pass is one of the most excellent and highly intense ways to get a jones for skiing. You stand there against the backdrop of dancing turtles or little flowers or blue-haired trolls, facing the Polaroid and thinking, “What kind of expression should I have on the photo this year—goofy? Suave? Retarded? Stoned?” and poom before you’re ready the flash has gone off and you’re stuck with “ugly geek.” But that’s OK, because then there’s that smell of the plastic running through the laminator and you know that it means one thing: five or six months of freedom to get on whatever lift you want, whenever you want, and skiing, skiing, and more skiing.

Yes, a season pass is one of the coolest things in the world.

That expensive little piece of plastic is about as different from a day ticket as the earth is from the moon. Instead of just being a passing customer, you’re part of the cycle, part of the process, from beginning to end. You’re there to close the place down, and when you’re standing on this side, holding that card in your hands, well, damn that feels good: deeper, more sustaining, a part of instead of apart from.

On a more superficial, basic, and important level, the best thing about a season pass is all the epic days it’s gonna bring. It’s tempting (well, inevitable) to think about how much the pass costs and how many days it’ll take to make it pay for itself, but what’s way cooler is to think about all that it represents—each day of a season on skis, your choice, the good and the bad, the groomed and the deep. All accessed by that piece of plastic.

Season passes are funny. Even after they’re dead they still have a power. I don’t know anyone who throws theirs away. A few years back Powder had a contest, and one guy wrote his entry on a color photocopy of his season passes from the previous seven years. At first clean-shaven and short-haired, each passing season saw him get a little less manicured, a little more scraggly, obviously pulled by the powerful magnet of ski bummery, until on the last pass he looked like every other long-haired ski-town skid. One thing didn’t change, however: In every single pass, the brother had this intense look in his eye that said, “Let’s go.” It was a pretty rad way to write his autobiography. It gives you something to think about when you go to pick up your pass, huh?

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 26.1, September 1997. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Ode to the Great Bardini

Can this pleasure be measured in thousands of feet or number of turns or breadth of our smiles? Our joy ran like a current between us, a product of that whimsical flying feeling that is skiing… —Tom Carter and Allan Bard, “Redline,” Powder, Nov. ’83

Allan Bard died recently. Most of you have no idea who Bard was because you’re too young or too new to the sport or, if you’ve heard of him, you think he was some granola backcountry telemark retro old guy who had nothing to do with today’s skiing. Fact is, Bard was one of the coolest, sweetest, and most unassuming ski mountaineers you could meet in this or any lifetime, a legendary storyteller who inspired me and many others to travel the world in search of romance and adventure on skis. Along with partner Tom Carter, he prowled the mountains of the planet and brought back tales of skiing hijinks and incredible wonderment at all that the high peaks had to offer, and each trip found him more amazed at the places he visited, not world weary or cynical the way so many travelers become.

“Bard and Carter.” “Carter and Bard.” After years of stories in the pages of Powder, the names seemed so natural together, so made for each other, symbolic of a partnership forged on serrated ridges and sharp metal edges. In their friendship, we readers who were fans saw and felt something we longed for: connection, backup, belayer, travel buddy, and fresh tracks on really high mountains.

I wasn’t the only one who waited eagerly for their next expedition to appear in the magazine. Countless readers stood impatiently by the mailbox, wondering where they’d turn up—Chile? Ecuador? Mexico again? Or deep in their home range, California’s Sierra Nevada? I remember being bummed at a long Bard and Carter absence and then being absolutely thrilled to see an issue arrive with this color blurb: “BARD AND CARTER ARE BACK! OUR DARING DUO SKIS TO HIGH ADVENTURE IN THE SIERRAS!” It was well worth the wait—this time the boys had pioneered the Redline, a 200-mile, three-week three-pin ski tour along the spine of the Sierra Nevada. What studs!

Bardini’s passing would be sad under any circumstances, but to me it seems especially tragic, tragic because there are so few men like Bard left in the world. Allan had such a freshness and enthusiasm, such a wit, that you absolutely always felt better for having been with him. He was a raconteur in the truest sense of the word, with a permanent twinkle in his eye and another incredible tale always on his lips. I guess, in that sense, Bardini was indeed retro—retro in the way that he was reminiscent of an earlier age when you could use words like “swash-buckling,” “bon vivant,” and “elan” and have them mean something.

Those words ring hollow now. I hate to make generalizations and I hate to sound old, but we live in an era that values totally different things, and I don’t think it’s good. The world feels more aggressive, extreme, and in your face than it once did, and when that pushes out the nice guys and the simple pleasures, well, that’s a bad thing. Fortunately, we’ll always have Bard’s words to keep us true; to remind us…and to inspire us.—Steve Casimiro

We had not conquered or skied the ultimate line, but the intimacy we gained on this ski route made us realize that this was only the highest line for us. There were many secret high lines, with hidden treasures waiting to be skied…

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 26.2, October 1997. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

A New Casimiro

The raddest thing happened a couple days ago: My wife gave birth to our first child, a boy. She was a total stud, doing it naturally and without drugs, despite 12 hours of intensely painful contractions.

Actually, as I think about it, “gave birth” is far too mellow and pleasant a term to describe what women go through to squeeze our little progeny into the world. Suffice it to say, if men had to suffer that kind of pain and effect on their bodies, the human race would have died out a long time ago. You think you’re tough because you can pound bumps all day or make nonstops until the lifts shut down? Not even. Try passing a football through your, uh, ear and you’ll have some idea.

From the very beginning of Joni’s pregnancy, we called the fetus Otis. As a working title, Otis was great—odd enough to worry our parents, funny enough to make our friends laugh when they heard it—but we knew it wasn’t permanent. “Otis Casimiro” wasn’t the worst name in the world, but it didn’t have quite the ring to it that we desired.

I really wanted to give the kid a ski name. It seemed important, to honor this thing that’s so huge in my life, and to mark him, too, and give him a nudge toward skiing from the very first day of life. A friend in Greenland named his son Aputsiak, which means “little snowflake,” but that doesn’t sound quite as lyrical when imported to North America. Another friend named his daughter Neve (after the type of snow, not the Rolling Stone covergirl), but we knew Otis was a boy.

So, what would it be? “Winter”? “Powder”? “Avalanche”? Every snow- and ski-related name sounded forced, awkward, and unfair to the boy, who was already cursed with having to spell and explain his last name to everyone he’d meet, let alone his first. Seen in the light of reality, they also seemed selfish—the sign of a parent trying to force a square peg into a round hole. After my family, skiing was the biggest thing in my life. But would it be as important to him? Would he even want a ski-related name?

We bought the name book (“20,001, from Abdul to Zed!”), mined the family tree, got 18 million suggestions from friends (“Sebastian”, Clive”), and through it all kept coming back to one name, a name that wasn’t directly connected with skiing but that was still evocative of it. It was a name that wasn’t too odd, not too plain, hopefully not too trendy. It was a name both my wife and I liked and had heard a lot when we were growing up, me because I lived in Virginia, her because she lived in a family of artists. And it also was the name of a place both of us loved, a place we knew we’d return to again and again.

After 39 weeks, the contractions happened, the labor unfolded, and, with a minimum of screaming, out popped a healthy, really loud baby boy, with a thick mop of blond hair, skier’s thighs, and beautiful olive skin. We named him Jackson, and I think it fits.

Will Jackson be a skier? Will he fall in love, as I did, with the cold, with snow, with the rush of speed in the winter air? It’s hard to say, but you know I’m going to do everything I can to expose him to these things, to give him the ski experience and hope and pray that his passion for it is as strong or stronger than mine. If it isn’t, if he hates skiing and snow, well, that’s OK, as long as he’s happy. But, you know, I think Jackson is gonna be a skier. He’s already dumping several times a day, and you can’t ask for a better omen than that.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 26.3, November 1997. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Predictions Come True

Up in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska, at the edge of the skiing frontier, a revolution in powder skiing is taking place. In those huge, steep, lawless peaks, guys like Shane McConkey, Brant Moles, and others are laying down steep lines that are straighter, faster, more dynamic, and more graceful than any powder lines we’ve seen before. Using high-performance fat skis that float rather than dive, they’re riding skis like a snowboard, surfing on the snow, and more naturally following the rolls and contours and hollows of the terrain.

It’s a beautiful style of skiing. As much as I love watching powder skiing—and I really love it, whether looking back up at a skiing partner or just chilling with a video—I’ve always thought that powder snowboarding was more graceful and elegant than powder skiing. Don’t get bent. I’m not saying that powder boarding is better, nor am I saying that powder skiing is any way ungainly or inelegant. It’s just that I’ve always felt that the long, drawn-out turns you can make on a snowboard have a certain natural flow that’s not quite there with skis. On conventional width skis in steep powder, you have almost no choice but to go back and forth across the fall line, checking your speed to stay somewhat in control. While it’s beautiful and while it is the best sensation on earth, that type of descending doesn’t mirror the terrain the way a snowboard does.

It’s a new generation of fat skis that’s making these Alaska turns possible. Once vilified as an intermediate crutch, the fat ski has become an indispensable tool in big terrain. Every rock star in the Chugach had them last year, and if they didn’t they scammed a pair mighty quick. I even heard a funny story about one of the bigger names in ski films, who showed up in Valdez with only conventional-width skis. Tired of being dropped by skiers who were hauling ass on fatties, he refused to ski for the cameras until he could round up a pair. Fortunately for him (or his sponsors), he scored a pair within half a day.

New skis and new skiing styles are just two indicators of how the landscape of skiing is changing dramatically. I never for a second believed that skiing was uncool, but there’s no question the sport went through a dark period. I call it “the ’80s.” It was a time of massive grooming, liability nightmares, lack of personal responsibility, rear-entry boots, headbands, and Members Only jackets. Everyone I skied with carried the faith, but, looking back, you have to admit that as much as you felt good about the sensation of skiing and the timeless connection with the mountains, it was hard to feel warm and fuzzy about the sport and industry.

Things couldn’t be more different today. Two and a half years ago, we said that skiing was on the cusp of a renaissance, that the new wave of free skiers, mountaineers, and snow bohemians would pull the sport into a whole new world, a world with looser attitudes, looser skiing, and revolutionary ways of thinking. We didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but we knew the changes would be huge. Well, that world is here, and it’s a world of free-skiing contests, halfpipes, skier-cross, and Alaska turns. It’s a world of fat skis, carving skis, and ski boards. It’s a world where the tools and attitudes free you from the constraints of the past and give you entirely new ways of looking at the snow.

The collective soul is brighter, bigger, and more powerful than it’s been in a long, long time. Everywhere I go in ski country, I can feel the energy, and I couldn’t be more stoked. Not only is it cool to be a part of something that’s going off, it’s cool to take all these ideas and adapt them to my own skiing. I’ll always be a spaz in the pipe, and I won’t in a million years win a free-skiing contest. But I do know that the next time I’m skiing a big powder face, I can make two turns where I used to make 10, and I can’t wait.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 26.4, December 1997. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Herrrre, Kitty

In our obsession for progressively steeper slopes, and progressively huger air, I fear that we have overlooked one of the best pieces of terrain on the hill: the cattrack. Yes, the lowly, much-maligned, often-ignored, rhymes-with-buttcrack cattrack.

Cattracks are usually seen as a crutch for beginners, an annoyance for experts, and a pathway for the brutal groomers, and there’s truth in the argument. Without cattracks, beginners would be forced to stick to mellower terrain—or they’d become better skiers a heck of a lot faster. Without cattracks, experts wouldn’t have to cut their speed or fear a sudden and painful stacking in a whiteout. And without cattracks, the noisy groomers that many consider a pox on the white landscape would be, like beginners, restricted to low-angle pitches.

But each of those negatives has an equal and opposite positive. Cattracks allow people to push their ability on steeper terrain, then bail if they’re in over their heads. They allow toasted experts an easy, if ignominious, way out at the end of the day. And, as much as you could make a pretty convincing argument that steep trails should be left in God’s hands, a freshly tilled expert run is a dose of joy.

Whatever their utilitarian worth, the most important thing about cattracks is that there’s some mighty good skiing to be found on and around them. First, consider the launch potential. Cliff or cornice drops are fun, but for my money the best air on the mountain is when you carry a ton of speed off the lip of a track and look down to see the slope plummeting away beneath your tips. There’s something so graceful about the arc you carry through the air and the (hopefully) gentle kiss of skis returning to snow. So many times, jumping off a cliff means nothing more than a gravity-fed fall, but when you carry speed off a cattrack you’re skiing, flying, and falling all at once. Then, too, there’s the mystery of what’s hidden on the other side of the lip. Huge bumps? Gapers littering the landing zone? Ice, crud, or cookies? How many items have you debated whether to huck or not in the last seconds before you hit a cattrack? And how many times have you gambled and then found yourself in mid-air saying, “Uh-oh…”?

Air is the most obvious bennie of cattracks. Much less appreciated is the fun of skiing the cattracks themselves. I remember making laps in Solitude’s Honeycomb Canyon on a powder day last year, with the narrow, funneling exit cattrack getting slicker and faster with each successive lap. After the second time through, we knew every good air, every blind corner, every place to dump speed, and every cherry passing zone. The Rollerball rumble of lapping other skiers was nearly as fun as the pow shots themselves.

And what about at the end of the day, when the snow is hard and slick and you’re hauling A to catch a last tram or chair and you’re zipping through tired snowplowers and blindside snowboarders looking for the next sidehill hit? It’s like skiing through a forest of moving trees, requiring you to pay attention as much as in any rock garden.

The more you consider cattracks, the more cool they become. Think of all the high-speed tucking and juking that comes with racing your buds from one side of the mountain to the other (“Damn. No wax was the wrong wax again.”). Think of all the times you skirted along a section of closed trees, just dying to drop in. Think of making turns along the outside of a track, letting your tails swivel out into space, watching the snow spray into the air. Yes, cattracks are good things, good things indeed.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 26.6, February 1998. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

An Endless Storm

If only it would snow…

The storm starts in the Gulf of Alaska, everything about it in opposition to high pressure and nice weather. It’s unstable and grumpy, and almost out of spite it spins counterclockwise, the other way, as it sucks up moisture. With a mind of its own, it heads south, a staggering, angry thing. It pulls in cold air from the north, a volatile mix, like giving a bitter man a bottle of liquor.

At even the hint of a building low, the merest comma of clouds smudging the satellite, you start to get a buzz. It begins in your stomach, with a little tickle and a flipflop, something almost primordial that’s triggered when you know you’re in for heavy weather. Part of it comes from the promise of deep powder skiing, part of it from the remembrance of school’s canceled!, part of it from being out in the fury of wind and cold and stinging crystals, and part of it simply from witnessing the magic of a snowflake over and over and over again. (Never forget the words of Howard T. Evans Jr., the scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey: “Snowflakes are mysterious things.”)

The best is on the second or third day of the storm, when it’s been snowing as long as you can remember, but it still shows no sign of letting up. The trees are heavy and laden and caked with frosting, as if the largest wedding cake in the world exploded. The roads are a mess, and travel is discouraged. Everybody you meet is talking about it —“the worst storm in years”—and excited in that weird disaster sort of way. As for you, you’ve topped off your skiing tank with face shot after face shot and you’re beginning to think you’ll be able to ski deep powder for the rest of the winter. It’s gluttony, but you want more.

The end of a ski day. You’re warmed, showered, cozy, with something hot to drink in your hand. You look out the window into the unbelievable, unearthly purple of a stormy dusk, and still the fatties fall. Later, after dinner, or when the dogs go out, or at midnight when you crash, you check it again. All the way to the edge of the light, where gray turns to black, there’s still that motion, that wispy parade of flakes falling to the ground.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like if it started snowing and never stopped?

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 26.7, March 1998. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

The White Room

The white room is really gray more than anything, a thick mass of mottled darkness at the center, the weighted middle a pooling indigo, like the pregnant belly of a storm cloud. You fly—no, fall—toward the heart of it, an arrow to the target, and blast through the lesser densities of snow, the lesser grays, surrounded by a halo of gray, grayish, and then white, the lacy wisps of crystals at the fringe like a shroud. Everything thins, your goggles clear, you remember to breathe, and then you’re in it again, from darkness to light and back to the soft rippling darkness.

Memory is your vision, minimalist snapshots burned on the retinas, the brain trying to assimilate and process and make decisions while flooded with irrational and indescribable pleasures. For the purpose of steering, for survival, the world is reduced to its essence: White is good, black is bad. You aim for the white and hope. The sudden appearance of black means instantaneous evasive action: a duck, a dive, a hipcheck that you pray keeps you from pulling a Bono. You’re still here, so you must have chosen correctly.

Control—in your life, your powder skiing, or anywhere else—is an illusion. You make direction changes, yes, but they’re minuscule compared to the greater forces at work. Only when you acknowledge this, only when you accept it, only when you give yourself to it entirely do you achieve true peace. The more you trust in the hand of God—gravity—the more is revealed to you. Keeping those tips in the fall line is the path to true enlightenment, a faith of the highest order.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 27.1, September 1998. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Would You Mind Carrying This?

In the annals of sandbagging, this one came from the first page of the first chapter of the first sandbagging book ever written. I’d just gotten off the lift at a big western resort, just skied over to the patrol shack, just introduced myself to a patroller/writer I’d had a phone relationship with for years, just said, “Hey, we’ll finally make a run together,” and had just straightened up from buckling my boots when I saw his diminutive figure about a half-mile down the fall line, his short legs pounding through rock-hard bumps like pistons.

There was no question what was unfolding: Through speed, line choice, and lack of waiting, he clearly was throwing down the gauntlet. With aggression and rudeness, he was proving his worth, his manhood, his whatever, and giving me the option of doing the same. “Here we go again,” I thought.

There was only a split second for me to decide what to do. If I was gonna buy into his chest-thumping, macho-posturing, I’d have to hustle. But that seemed silly, pointless, and emblematic of the crotch-first mentality that plagues our society. Far better, at least symbolically, to just ski away, to ignore him, to prove that I was above such petty displays of insecurity and testosterone poisoning.

When it came right down to it, though, the fact is that no matter how much I use my brain, no matter how much I might be inclined to get in touch with my feminine side, I’m still a man driven by basic male instincts. As such, I’ve never ever walked away from someone trying to sandbag me. Even when I’ve gotten spanked, I’ve at least still joined the game. So, like a golden retriever who can’t not play fetch, I responded to the speeding patroller in simple Pavlovian terms: “Stick! Me chase stick!”

Although it’s nice to think otherwise, the fact is that sandbagging is as much as part of skiing (or male skiing, anyway) as snow. Although they might not realize it, most people’s first time on skis is a sandbag: They’re hauled to the top of the hill by their more-experienced buddy or boyfriend, given a few tips on snowplowing, and shoved into the fall line. If that’s not a sandbag, I don’t know what one is.

The most common sandbagging—caused by “stoke blindness”—is innocent: The sandbagger is so excited to show off their home terrain that they can’t see they’re pulling the sandbagger in way over their heads. Less common but extremely prevalent at the upper end of the sport is the “attempted crush,” in which insecure little dweebs (who may or may not be your closest friends) try to prove their superiority.

Whatever the intent, when you’re in the midst of being sandbagged, there are only two rules. One, maintain your dignity. Granted, this can be difficult when you’re, say, out of your league and sliding headfirst on your back through tight trees, as I was during one epic Telluride sand-baggage. But you’re nothing without your dignity. Two, never acknowledge that you’re being sandbagged. Don’t be a victim, victim.

Following the patroller through the bumps, it was all I could do to hang on. The moguls were big, hard, arrhythmic, and irregular. In the name of pride, I felt I had to not only keep up with the patroller but to close the gap. As I linked one recovery after another, I thought, “This is stupid, this is stupid.” If I enjoyed nothing else about the run, I could at least enjoy the irony of knowing that I knew better.

From top to bottom, through bumps and around trees, we charged, one finely tuned machine with a wheezing one close behind. The whole thing was nonstop, as all good sandbags are, and my shaking legs and I were relieved to hit a groomed section just above the lift corral, where I could take some huge breaths and get the rattle out of my breathing. Somehow, when we zipped through the empty corral, I was only 50 feet back. We slid onto a chair. For a while, neither one of us said anything. Then, about the time we got to the first lift tower (and against my better judgment), I cleared my throat and prayed the words wouldn’t come out as an indecipherable croak.

“Nice run,” I said. “Have time for another?”

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 27.2, October 1998. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

Keep the Faith

Last spring, I visited Caltech in Pasadena, California, where a physicist named Ken Libbrecht was growing snow crystals in his lab. Most of Libbrecht’s work and energy is spent on large-scale stuff, like helping build machines that detect waves in the fabric of the space-time continuum, but tenure and curiosity and a few discretionary dollars in his budget allow him to pursue whatever catches his fancy. For the last year or so, that’s been snowflakes: snowflakes and snowflake development.

With help from grad student lab-slaves, Libbrecht built a diffusion chamber in which he could create ice crystals on the end of a wire charged with electrical current. When he runs voltage through the wire, water molecules attach themselves and form a tiny needle crystal. Then, by manipulating the wire, Libbrecht can alter how the molecules attach themselves to the needle—as arms, plates, whatever. The result is an amazing display of snowflake beauty, much of it rendered later on a video screen  in stunning time-lapse photography that a snow geek can watch again and again. These moving images were one of Libbrecht’s goals, a way of bringing art to his science. But, aside from just being enchanted by aesthetics, Libbrecht the scientist wanted to discover and chart which weather conditions (humidity, temperature, etc.) cause which type of crystals to form. Essentially, he’s using his lab in an attempt to create a Rosetta stone that would allow you to decode the “history” of any given flake.

I spent hours with Libbrecht, and our conversation eventually turned to the math of snowflakes, to the equations that describe the physics of frozen water, and that’s when he lost me. Trying to get back on comprehensible ground, I asked him, “So, what are the unsolved mysteries of snowflakes? What’s left to be discovered?”

He laughed. No, he snorted.

“What’s left to be discovered?” Leaning forward over his cluttered desk, he paused for effect and arched an eyebrow. “Almost everything. What we know about snowflakes is a tiny fraction of what we don’t know.”

Months later, long after I’d forgotten most of what I heard, those words continue to echo in my head. I hear them when I’m looking at ski pictures, I hear them when I’m falling asleep at night, I hear them when I’m daydreaming at my desk.

“What we know about snowflakes is a tiny fraction of what we don’t know.” Of course.

So now I think about a snowstorm, about a raging maelstrom of a snowstorm, with big, fat flakes that scream horizontal on the wind, and I think about the equations, the swirling hurricane of numbers, that somehow might be able to describe the fury before me, and I think that even with the biggest computer in the world, even with the unified might of every brain in the universe, you could never truly capture or convey or explain the magic and mystery and majesty of the storm. It’s something that can only be experienced, experienced with your whole being. With your soul.

So it is with powder skiing, and with POWDER Magazine. After years of pursuing a deepening knowledge of skiing through the pages of POWDER, I think I finally understand this weird relationship between knowledge and ignorance and gut-level comprehension. This motion over snow, this paper and ink, are bound together inextricably, connected and made whole in ways that can’t be described by equations or even words, that can only be understood through the shared experience and collective spirit of lives spent on skis. In the end, you know it by doing it, and by doing it you know.

I have been honored and blessed to be a part of this magazine for 12 years, but the time has come for me to say goodbye. In leaving, I want to thank you for everything: the letters, the calls, buying the magazine, the whole enchilada. I wish for you nothing but the best, for the deepest, lightest snow, for friends that say, “No, you go first,” and for huge grins and goggles that don’t fog and a desire for freshies that never, ever wanes. Remember that POWDER means freedom, that it means getting away to a place where there are no lines, no ropes, no fences, just snow, and that it is, ultimately, an expression of thanks. Remember that, and keep the faith.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 27.3, November 1998. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.