I grew up with far distant memories of a time and a place that I wasn’t all that sure ever really existed. A small and secluded mountain town in the high deserts of the northwest that at one time had an abundance of deep winters. I pull inside my mind and stumble around to find a flicker of memory. A memory of myself, leaping off the deck of my childhood home into snow so deep I could disappear for days in tunnels and forts only to emerge for hot chocolate or a warm meal. Maybe the memory is just exaggerated by my youth, everything around you always seemed so much bigger and stranger at that age. Reality was simple, it was a day with your friends, throwing snowballs and seeing how long it took to find grass under all that snow.
But eventually you start growing up, your mind gets confined by jobs and everyday tasks and your imagination dwindles. No matter how hard you try to avoid growing up, it happens. Now looking back through old photo albums and unsorted packages of photographs, you realize that it wasn’t an exaggeration, that the winters really were that spectacular, and you wonder about how many years its really been since there was a big snow fall.
About a year ago I found myself drinking a cold and quite possibly most delicious beer I’ve ever indulged in at one of our many local watering holes here in Sun Valley. As I was gazing around the room, a small photo on the wall that I had never noticed before caught my eye. It was an old black and white photo from Bald Mountain. It depicted a chairlift with so much snow around it that it had been tunneled out so it could be operational. Again I found myself wondering when the last time it had snowed like that and whether it would ever happen again.
We have had some really exceptional snow years here in Sun Valley for the last decade, but when you really factor that into the timeline of this place, they have been below average. The same can be said for pretty much anywhere else in the country. It just doesn’t snow like it used to. Obviously global warming plays the biggest part in this but that has been shoved down your throat enough in the last few years. Although that is an underlying theme here, its not the story I’m going to tell today.
" Again I found myself wondering when
the last time it had snowed like that..."
The winter of 16/17 hit like a ton of bricks. November was void of snow, the mountain was one ribbon of dust desperately clinging to the dirt and rocks. But then swiftly December came and snow began to fall, and never stopped. It snowed endlessly and with consistency I haven’t seen since my days tunneling around the back yard. It snowed from sun up until sun down. It snowed from the moment you shut your eyes at night until the moment light flooded through the crack in your eyelids the next morning. It was beyond anything you could ever imagine in your wildest dreams. Then it stopped, maybe only for a day, as if the valley needed a moment to release a deep deep breath. Silence. You open your eyes to blue skies and the deepest snow you have ever seen in your own home town.
You’re awakened by the crashing and banging of snow plows, frantically milling about trying to dig the town out of a virtual snowpocalypse. Fully dressed in minutes, cramming eggs, bread and coffee down your throat as you huck your tired body into the car.
Pick up Cole, pick up Gordon, more coffee, park, lift line, thirty minutes early.
There are words you search your brain for to describe all the feelings you are brought in touch with on a powder day, but none are as deep and beautiful as following close behind your best and oldest friends as they float through an un-tracted run. The same run you followed behind 20 years ago. Unlike almost anything else in life, that feeling goes unchanged, no matter how many years go by.
“This is the winter we’ll talk about for the rest of our lives” – the sentence that rolls through my head every time snow shoots up from my skis, bounces off my chest and covers every square inch of my face. I say it out loud and like a broken record, I tell my friends during and after every single run. I worried I might jinx the rest of the winter, but that was never the case. These days all blended into one, unreal, uncontrollably epic winter. And as I sit here and try to dissect certain days, its almost impossible. I am forced to return to countless videos I took throughout the winter. Videos I went out of my way to take, sacrificing fresh tracks, losing the group or getting left behind, all so that we could have some way to return to this winter, when we are old and gray and the memories just aren’t as clear as they used to be. Photo albums were thick and endless from years like this, now we have the power of reliving these life changing days through video, and I will be forever grateful for that. I hope these videos are relatable and trigger a similar feeling inside anyone who watches them, I hope it gives them the same comforting nostalgia that it gives me.
Now the 16/17 winter has passed. Although it clings very strongly to every single persons memory as the best winter of our lives. Now I look at these old Sun Valley photos, the ones of mythically deep winters, and I realize it’s not just a story, or a distant memory. It still can happen, without warning, and that moment, that season, and that joy, will stick with you until the end of your days.
SHOT ON LOCATION
Sun Valley, Idaho, 2017