, Gloucester, MA

February 20, 2013

Conquering natures incredible playground, The Chute

Dave Sartwell

---- — 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.

I dropped in. At first i struggled a bit, not relaxed. But the movements came, slowly at first, then with a rush. I soon could only hear my breathing, then only my heartbeat, then nothing at all. We were now in the moment, rising above the laws of physics, not bound by the rational, entering into a world where all energy becomes one.

I look back at the times I have fallen during skiing-broken bones, ripped muscles, torn tendons, sudden pains and long recoveries. These were small down payments for these moments where I simply disappear.

We worked our way down the hidden valley, swooping down steep drops and roaring up the other side. Laughing and making fun of each other, grinning in sheer delight. Snow flew, the sun shone, and friends played.

“How was it? Was the powder deep? What was the chute like?” came the questions from our friends at the bottom.

“It was great!” was all we could say. How do you represent with words all that it meant. I looked at Dick and tapped his pole. He winked at me and said nothing. We had been there together.