My Ritual on a Powder Day

July 22, 2013 D'Arcy McLeish
This Is All I Need For Breakfast. Photo - Jun Yanagisawa
This is all I need for breakfast.
Photo – Jun Yanagisawa

Skiers are creatures of habit. We all have our rituals before heading out on a powder day. When I was sixteen years old, my ritual on any day, whether there was a foot of fresh or not, was to watch one of Greg Stump’s films and get my stoke on before going out and ripping all that epic eastern ice. For skiers, rituals give us purpose. They give us time to get our stoke on, and take in the approaching day and whatever awesome moments it may bring.

Nowadays, my rituals differ according to the weather and the day of the week. Saturday pow days, for instance, my ritual is to sleep in, walk my dog, and maybe head out for an afternoon slack country lap. Those weekend crowds have made me soft.

About As Big A Crowd As You're Going To Get At Last Frontier... Photo - Dave Silver
About as big a crowd as you’re going to get at Last Frontier…
Photo – Dave Silver

Weekdays, however, are a different story. On a powder day, my ritual is the same as it’s been since I first moved to the south coast. Wake up, call the ski patrol weather line, get out of bed and head downstairs. Toast with honey, a long, black, tarry-strong espresso and then straight out to start the truck. I lumber into my secret free spot in Whistler village and then head to the hill. Gear sorted, I walk to the lift. And I do this alone. No meeting friends at the Wizard at 7am or heading into the fresh tracks line up at the Gondola on Whistler. Nope. I run solo on most days, and here is why:

My rituals are what set me up for a good day. And having to meet someone or wait for someone or ski with a group, even if they’re close buddies, messes with that ritual. There is no greater truth than the fact that when a couple feet of fresh snow has fallen, friends, girlfriends and certainly wives, must come second to my hunger for deep turns. So I run solo. When I am alone, I am free. I can head to whichever hill I choose, immerse myself in single line culture, ride the chair in peace and ski wherever I want. Should I head up Crystal for a few laps before those pesky patrollers open Spanky’s Ladder? Maybe a few front side Peak Chair laps before heading out to Flute or the Khyber? These decisions, when I am alone, come easily and flow into my day. They become part of the continuing ritual that began with coffee at 6am.

Ok, Maybe When You're Heli Skiing, Being In A Group Isn't So Bad... Photo - Dave Silver
Ok, maybe when you’re heli skiing, being in a group isn’t so bad…
Photo – Dave Silver

With a group, my rituals become broken. Meeting times, waiting for people to keep up, debating what lines to ski all tend to mess with my powder day meditation. While I’m all for heading out to ski with buddies, on a big day, being alone frees me of any restraints and allows the day and whatever it may bring to come easily and without any stress.

And the best part of skiing alone? You are never really by yourself. You meet other searchers, out there enjoying the solitude of ripping fresh lines. Other skiers, some of whom you know and some of whom you will meet and ski with for only an instant, congregate in the lift lines for the same purpose: to ski pow. And when I encounter those other solo rippers, there is an unspoken connection there. Not one of friendship, but one of mutual respect and understanding that we are all after the same thing: fresh lines in deep snow.

You Don't Have To Know Someone To Enjoy This Together... - Photo Dave Silver
You don’t have to know someone to enjoy this together…
– Photo Dave Silver

And after multiple laps, when my legs are begging me to stop, I retire for the day, head to the valley and then…well then it can be time for socializing with friends and family. Because the great difference about an on hill day as opposed to a touring day with friends is that it is not directly communal. It’s intense and peaceful all at once.

And it is best experienced cold and alone.

Be safe, ski hard.