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February 20, 2013

Conquering natures incredible playground, The Chute

The sunshine came creeping down the steep mountain slopes as if embarrassed to be late, driving the shadows back under the sheer rock walls and ledge holes from which they had crept the night before. By apology, however, when it did arrive, it came swung its full force onto the hillside, warming hearts and souls wherever it went.

Robbi-Layne, guide extraordinaire, led us up to the top of Jochstock, a peak tucked in just under the 10,137-foot Mount Titlis. Below us beckoned an untracked, steep-sided sea of white powder. We tightened our boot buckles, adjusted our hats, gripped our gloves and dropped over the edge, launching into one of nature’s most incredible playgrounds.

The calf-deep white powder seemed surprised at the cut of my edges, flying away in shimmering plumes as if to escape, then dropping gently back to earth to resume it’s cold wintry sleep. Our first real challenge came at a narrow 500-foot drop between two outcroppings that guarded the entrance to the valley below. Although not tight enough to require jump turns, it was not a spot for the faint of heart.

The cut demanded quickness and aggressive downslope commitment. Once into the chute there was no turning back. An error here was going to hurt.

Looking like Warren Miller film stars, Dick and Robbi-layne curled down through it with practiced ease. I just sucked it up, pointed them downhill, and dropped steep, letting my stumpy legs do their thing. Flying down the last hundred feet, I let the speed of the run propel me up the other side of the couloir, joining my waiting companions.

We were now committed to the off-piste wonder of virgin snow. With a wave of her hand our leader was off again, dropping into a series of powder turns that threw off sheets of rainbow-ladened crystals. Dick followed, emulating her moves about thirty feet to the right of her track. I watched as they developed a swinging sense of togetherness as if they were locked in some winter ballet, not touching yet somehow linked.

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