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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.

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