The sky is deep blue. Stars still lingering to the west. Bitter cold. Tires crunch as they roll to a stop in the parking lot. The tailpipe smoke quickly evaporates in the still, cold air. Doors open and close. Skis hit the ground. The ripping of skins, clicking of boot buckles, flicking of binding locks, exhale, it’s cold and you’re off. Pole, slide, step, pole, slide, step. Up through the trees. Towards the higher ridge tops. The wind starts to move the air ever so slightly. One thousand vertical, half way there. Still dark, but clear for once.
Warming. Time to shed a layer. Heart pounding. Snow deepening. Pole, slide, step. Higher still. Sixteen hundred. Seventeen hundred. The volcanos have the faintest glow of light. A tinge of pink. Colder. Windier. Trees, gone. Lines in the snow from the wind. Deep snow. Four feet. Almost there. You look back. Your partner is right with you. Both amped. Both swarming with adrenaline. A glimmer in the eye, sparkle in the tooth. Grinning ear to ear. This is GOING TO BE GOOD.
You look down below the crest. Forty five degrees of pure white. Untouched. The sun is starting to warm. The air moves in its warm convection. Ice crystals hit your face. Pulling skins. Locking bindings. Zipping packs. Gloves on. Boots buckled. Hat on. Pants zipped. Goggles out. Transceivers checked. Heart elevating. Moving. Ready? Who? “You or me?” You. Inhale. Deep. Eyes? Check. One last re-check. Pack on. Buckled. Ready? Yep. Drop? Dropping.
Turn one. Ski cut. Stable. Turn back up hill. “Got you rings out.”
Turn two. One more cut with a hard push. Nothing moves. ? Dropping.
Turn three. Picking up speed. Feeling the snow flow. Soft. Stable. Cold. The sun peeks out. Turning everything orange. Two hundred feet.
Turn four. Speed increasing. Feeling more. Snow moving. Speed. Marker passed. White carpet out in front.
Turn five.” Oh, the red button there kid, don’t ever, ever touch the red button!” Too late, Pressed. HOLD ON. Brain fifty, one hundred, one fifty feet back. G forces kicking in. YES! Metallica on…
Turn six. Brain catching up. Holy shit you’re flying. Driving a wake. “Chewie make the jump to lightspeed.” Afterburner on. Breathe. Hold. Drive. Speed. Faster. Faster. Adrenaline ON. Exhale.
Turn seven. A wake bigger than Pipeline on Oahu. Breathe. Exhale. Faster. Faster. Faster.
Turn eight. Hitting the runout. Damn. Deceleration. In…Goose, “I can’t reach the ejection handle.”
Turn nine. Ripcord pulled. Ejection. One last high speed sweeping arc to the finish. Safety. You look back. The mark is laid. Sloughs litter the face. Movement everywhere. Snow still falling out of the air. Two thousand vertical in two seconds. Inhale. Catch your breath. Look up, poles straight up. Off the wind you hear, “DROPPING.” You relive the line again. Skis hit the ground. The ripping of skins, clicking of boot buckles, flicking of binding locks…again.