My knee was on fire and I was making little grunting noises with each step that sounded like something from the later stages of a Pika mating ritual. As we crested the ridge behind Targhee, I was feeling just about spent, out of water, down to one last Oreo and half of a balsamic flavored Triscuit. And we still had to run all the way down Targhee.
As we came around the saddle under Mary’s Nipple the resort spread below us, and I wondered how many times I’d stood in this same place, but on my skis, after taking the lift up, instead of grunting, moaning and sweating my way up and down two canyons.
I’ve been doing a decent job not lusting after ski season this summer, not complaining about the heat, not pining after fresh flakes. But as I stood and sweated, staring down at Grand Targhee, I was so much more than ready for winter to come again.
We jogged down to the cat track; at least it was where the cat track usually runs in the winter. But instead of the flat expanse that feels almost uphill when I’m trying to use it to get back to the lift after a powder run, this summer cat track was steep and full of baby-head rocks.
We thumped down, and as I struggled to keep up my grunts heightened in pitch to a level that’s only audible to dogs and young children who have not yet been exposed to loud noises. We cut below chutes I’ve skied a hundred times, cliffs so familiar, but so big without snow, and I felt a dark rage threatening to overtake me. “I just want it to be winter already! Why does it have to be so hot!?”
My toes slammed into the toes of my shoes, and I could feel the toenail that always falls off in my ski boots loosening, but now there was no winter cold to numb me. I swore to myself, quickened my pace, lengthening my strides to outrun the discontent that chased me.
It mostly worked. We made it down to the base area before I pitched a fit and sat down on the side of the trail to shop for tickets to go ski in New Zealand. There we cracked our lukewarm beers and settled down to watch the end of Pierre’s Hole. We laughed as racers took the podium, realizing how much more terrible a day they’d had than what we’d done.
I was content with summer for a moment there, sipping a Coors on the deck of the Trap, cool breeze in my hair, long summer shadows, able to go barefoot on the grass by the deck. But my wandering gaze caught the chairlift and the combined weight of every powder turn, every cliff drop, every giggling exhilarating crash all poured back into me and I longed for winter.
The sun was dipping low as I swapped my running shoes for bike flats and we pedaled up the access road. I was still throwing longing glances at every ski run we passed, reminiscing on stumps launched and trees tapped.
Then we dropped into Mill Creek, and for a second I forgot I was daydreaming about powder turns, and instead I lived them. I swooped into each banked corner, felt the rear end lose traction, felt my tails wash out, felt my tires slash dirt, my skis slash snow, and brought the turn around, pumping that energy into the next one. I floated rollers, tapping them with my tails, with my tires, whooping like I would on a pow day but choking on mosquitos instead of cold smoke.
My dust hung gold over each turn behind me, and when I chanced a glance I thought for a second I’d seen snow crystals suspended in the sunrise. I guess a scientist would say I was mostly right, it’s all just particulate matter hanging in the low slanting rays of light that come with the day’s start and end. A cinematographer would agree; It’s all just part of the visual wizardry of the Golden Hour that makes the mundane magical.
But it felt like more than that, I felt like more than that. Using the same muscles, the same balance, driving my bike the same way I try to drive my skis.
I was shaking when we stopped at the overlook, more excited about mountain biking than I have been in weeks, and as we dropped into the last section, carved through the last few turns, I was more excited about winter than I’ve been since May. But I was also more excited about summer, too, more excited to ride my bike and my skis, to wander these mountains.