“Let’s keep going.”
“This one looks good.”
“It looks scraped.”
Steep couloirs reached down the ridge. They looked like the marks a baker’s hands leave in dough before it’s kneaded smooth. I Christied down along the ridgetop. It wasn’t good to Christy, but the ridge was narrow and made me nervous. The couloirs got wider as we descended the ridge.
“How about here?”
“What’s on the other side of those trees?”
“I can’t tell.”
“It might be better on the other side.”
“I’ll take a look.”
It was better on the other side. The snow was light and mostly untracked and we waited there a while to catch our breath. Then I pointed my skis over the edge and leaned forward so my weight eased me into the wide couloir, and it felt like I was plummeting and the snow exploding around me like a warzone. I carved down. I made perfect turns on metal edges in a slow whoosh, whoosh, whoosh rhythm and the snow slowed everything so the steepness never felt too much. I felt the wonderful flying, dropping sensation and I could control everything. I set an edge, pole planted, and let the sidecut sweep me into the next turn and both of us yelled without knowing it at first and then we kept yelling. When we got to the bottom, the couloirs didn’t look so steep but I knew they were.
“We don’t have time.”
“Not from there. Just off a chair.”
Nathan drooped his shoulders and tilted his face upward like a child’s.
“My legs feel great. I floated down that.”
“Let’s take this to the base and see how we feel.”
We stayed on-piste and avoided the mogul fields. No one calls them khuds anymore. Our legs burned. The wide couloir had been difficult but it hadn’t hurt like this. A day of Sunday skiers had worn the groomers into fast, icy bumps and I had to work to hold my edges. I kept going too fast and it hurt to slow down.
We stopped in the lodge for drinks. It wasn’t yet two o’clock. Skiers and snowboarders and a band setting up in a corner crowded the bar and we couldn’t find a table. A television set was playing above the door, a white-haired politician talking with a teenage protestor, but the sound was turned down and no one was paying attention to the television. Nathan scrounged two chairs and made a space for us, and I ordered a pitcher of cider.
“You’re going to have to drink most of that, you know.”
“To drunk skiing.”
He shook his head. “I’m beat.”
“That was a good day.”
“That last run was my favorite of all time. Not exaggerating. That was beautiful.”
The lodge was loud and jostly and we held our drinks so the skiers and snowboarders clomping in their boots wouldn’t knock them over. Everyone was happy.
“Think you could ski on those?” Nathan pointed to a pair of antique skis hanging on the wall.
The long planks had weathered into gray, and the leather had cracked and turned black. The skis looked more like flooring than skis.
“Not a chance. I don’t know how they did it.”
“No edges, no shape.”
“It looks like it’s got a free-floating heel. I wonder what boots they used.”
“Maybe hiking boots.”
A surge of newcomers entered the bar and we moved our chairs closer together. I refilled my glass and offered Nathan more, but he pushed the pitcher away.
“We might be here a while.”
“When do you have to get back home?”
“Early evening. I have to send a few emails.” The cider was strong and not sweet, and we had eaten Clif bars in the snow instead of stopping for lunch. I felt the room narrowing and talk getting easier. “They had to work so much harder back then.”
“Who had to?”
“I mean, sure, we’re skiing harder runs now, but that last run was the hardest one and it didn’t kill my legs at all. They were skiing with two-by-fours on their feet.”
“If you took the best skier now and the best skier back then, how do you think they’d stack up?”
“It’d have to be on the same runs. Not the same run—them on our runs and us on their runs.”
“We’d be way better.”
“Could you imagine some old Swiss grandpa at the top of the King? None of those runs would even look skiable. He wouldn’t know what to do.”
“Why does he have to be a grandpa?”
“I mean old.”
“Well, he’s obviously not up there in a walker, Josh.” Nathan finished the last sip of his cider. “An old Swiss grandpa-grandma in their prime.”
The guitarist started tuning, and more people pushed into the bar. The lifts would stop running soon and everyone would stumble toward the parking lot and clog up the road. I gulped the rest of my cider and we gave up our pilfered chairs and clumped out of the lodge. I stepped into my skis and skated badly to the car, sloshing in my unbuckled ski boots. Nathan walked with his snowboard under his arm.
I would never ski on old wooden skis, and I was glad about that, because it would make the runs boring and the skis would frustrate me, but I wanted to know what it was like to ski that way. I wanted to understand it but I knew I couldn’t and it would only frustrate me. But if I met the old Swiss grandpa we could drink and know about the flying, dropping sensation.