My damn knee was busted and I was slowly going insane. The snow had finally decided to show up at Alyeska while I was forced to stay inside. Although I’ve only seen the first half of The Shining, I can assure you I was descending to the same level as Jack Nicholson’s character.
Once it did heal, that is to say, once my $500 x-ray analysis said that nothing was wrong and I should have listened to my physical therapist friend the entire time, I hit the February slopes like a toddler wears out its first pair of Converse. That month alone I notched off 22 days, and it wasn’t a leap year.
Working the 9 to 5 on east coast time was the equivalent of a 5 to 1 Alaskan standard. This worked in my favor, as I spent the first 5 hours of the day in darkness and finished with about an hour and a half left of a half-assed twilight to play with. Alyeska has a strange relationship with weather, lighting, and snowpack that gives it a wide range of difficulty in navigation. Some days the bottom of the mountain might hang around freezing and give a wet and heavy snow, 2600 ft up top will be 15 degrees cooler with considerably drier flakes. The elevation will also play tricks with the clouds: the lower mountain will sit underneath a flat grey mid-mountain layer of fog; fog so thick and coupled with a contrast-less illumination that vertigo is not uncommon. Taking the highest lift to the top will all at once blast you out of this purgatory into an unbelievable azure arena of treeless mountains that the sun’s light particles barely have time to kiss before pulling back behind a glacier-forged skyline. It is in a class of its own for ski-resort views.
Once I was back on my board, I was able to start volunteering with Challenge Alaska. An adaptive sports program that deals with disabilities ranging from paralysis to PTSD, Challenge is a genuine example of a non-profit making incredible strides within its community and beyond. I spent many days honing teaching practices to multitudes, and would like to think I became rather proficient at it. Whether it was a snowboard student that was able to graduate to taking their first ride on the lift, or a ride-along with a sit-skiier that was having the time of their life, I was certainly no less a beneficiary of the moment’s happiness. It was a greatly needed community link that I had been lacking and made the town of 3000 feel so much more familiar.
Around the same time was the Fur Rendezvous festivities that takes place in Anchorage every year. I started the day with a fun 5k on slippery, snowy streets. The hashers and I then proceeded to down 23 bottles of Cooks before heading downtown again for the outhouse races. Appropriately named “We’re Number 2” we came in second place. I’ll let the videos speak for themselves.
A friend of the roommates was also racing the famed Iditarod. These dogs were born to run.
February had led steady gains in positive mental attitude and everything was trending in that same direction. One afternoon in early March, I was enjoying the fruits of a heavy snowfall, charging down an intermediate sloped run. It had been a warmer temperature storm and as such, the snow was relatively dense with water. After being skiied upon for an entire morning, a soft yet bumpy surface with sizable divots created some tiresome and challenging fun. That is, until I caught a heel edge that launched me as if I were free diving – backwards. I remember the first impact to the back of my cranium and thinking “I should probably try and straighten out so this doesn’t happen again” before going for a second reverse somersault and a second landing perfectly on the medulla oblongata. I lay face-down in the snow for a second, pissed at my goggles for coming off, and proceeded to take another lap from top to bottom before calling it quits.
I dressed out of my gear in the lodge and took the bus home before realizing I had left my snowboard outside the building. Again, pissed, I drove back to the ski hill and placed my board back on the rack indoors, then looked inside the dressing room. Some idiot had left all of their clothing and gear strewn about… funny, that looks like my jacket… and my helmet… and my gloves. Realizing I had completely lost all memory of changing clothes an hour earlier, I knew it was time to call my aunt, the ICU doctor, and not my mother.
It slowly became apparent that my brain was not working. Simple tasks weren’t so simple, my ability to focus was nil, and without a full night’s sleep I became incredibly grumpy. My former roommates from Boulder came up to visit we had a grand plan to cruise up north to see Denali and Talkeetna, making our way south with a ski day in Girdwood and another hanging out in Seward. The phrase of the trip was “driving through a forest of mountains” as we headed through the Alaska range in the mid-north, and the Chugach and Kenai to the south. We hiked across frozen Byers lake to capture a bluebird backdrop of the tallest mountain in North America, re-lived our old jokes in my new town of residence, and explored a few corners of the 49th state. To see old friends was incredibly heartwarming, and I only wished I had been in a better mental state to receive them.
On a walk out to Portage glacier, I told them to go ahead of me as I ambled on the ice alone with my cranky thoughts. About 2 miles in, and just about to ‘round the corner to actually see the glacier I remember thinking these exact words: “you’re in too bad of a mood to see this, you don’t deserve it”, so I stopped, turned heel, and began walking back. I have yet to lay eyes upon that mass of ice.