Imperfect bliss skiing St. Mary’s Glacier in August
August 28, 2016
Those two words just electrified me.
The resort ski season ended not even three months ago and is soon to start up in just over two, which, for a ski bum like me, is almost perfect.
I mean, year-round skiing would be perfect, but sometimes you have to settle for second best.
"Still down this weekend to ride that glacier?" I texted my friend, Wes.
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And so, the wait kicked in. The kind of wait that palpably, reluctantly scrapes along, the kind where you hear and see the second hand of a clock haul itself across the face — tick … tock … tick … tock — in the last few strokes before a badly needed vacation begins or school finally lets out for the summer.
I rummaged through my storage closet, looking lustfully at my ski gear as I pulled it all out. My heart buoyed as I tightened the rack to the car roof and loaded the gear.
This is what kick-a** summer weekends are made of.
The noon-ish start is OK. The glacial snow needs a little bit of summer sun to make that line unforgettable.
First stop is Wes' spot to pick him and a couple friends up — only to learn our wait is prolonged by a friend's drive from Denver and his leisurely stop at the pot shop along the way.
"I didn't know others were coming," Tom says, embarrassed as he scrambles to gather his gear. Everything else was loaded. "Sorry, guys."
Tick … tock.
At last we're set and drive off.
"I forgot my sunglasses," he says, as we all turn to look at him. "We have to go back."
And because life would be misery without shades on the hill, we 180 back. He snags them and we're off again.
Long road to St. Mary's
You couldn't have asked for a better day. Cruising east along Interstate 70, a few clouds lurk in the sky, but the sun is high and the heat on this side of it pleasant.
No one had eaten, so we stop and pick up some gas station food.
"This chili-cheese hot dog is going to ruin me in a couple hours," Wes says.
We take Exit 238 and wind up on Fall River Road toward St. Mary's Glacier. The $5-per-day parking lots are nearly full, but we manage to skirt behind an F-150 along the edge of a lot.
The car is unpacked — gear collected, beer cooler slung over the shoulder, just in time for a quick bathroom break.
"That," says Wes as he steps away from a filthy Porta-Potty, the door slamming behind him, "is how you get HPV."
We all crack a beer open and begin the assent toward weekend greatness. The path is lined with not-small rocks, pocketed here and there with people. It forks off several times: two lefts, a right and then — bam — there she is in all her dirty-white glory, not even 20 minutes from where we parked.
A glacier lake pools up at the base of St. Mary's, where a small beach skirts along the eastern edge. A couple of assorted-height ledges are visible with well-worn paths leading up to them. Had we arrived earlier, we certainly would have jumped from those ledges into the lake.
The rocks along the path toward the slab are smaller and much more manageable. At its edge, we swap hiking boots for ski boots and the trek up begins.
Clipping in, setting free
The snow is surprisingly soft — no ice at all. I never posthole (it's a glacier), nor do I sink in very far at all. Dirt and dust and dried-up pine needles powder the surface, but no rocks are in sight. The slope, too, is gradual, basically an easy-to-medium blue run.
All of us, at one point or another, keep repeating out loud: "This is unreal."
And it was.
Skiing unlocks you from yourself and shuts out all thoughts. For me, it's all about the feeling of letting go and allowing gravity, essentially, to take over while I fly across snow and all its imperfections and let worry slip away. It's an escape, and, at the same time, a way to find a home within yourself.
The time and effort it took to hike that glacier was meaningless because we all knew that, as soon as we started down the dirt-and-pine-needle dusted snow, nothing else in the world matters.
And so we hit it: Me with skis, Wes with his one-binding board (it broke just then), Tom and Jordan with their boards.
The run was bumpy, dirty, soft, cold.
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