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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?”


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.

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