I woke up this morning to the sound of avalanche cannons booming. They were so loud they shook the building. It was a good sign. The weather man had not disappointed. A northern storm had blown through Little Cottonwood Canyon during the night and dumped 10 inches of fresh snow on the mountain. And it was still coming down. I was beginning to realize that Snowbird is a bad place to try to learn to snowboard: The temptation to ski is just too great. I had planned to snowboard today. After my spill yesterday, I’d begun to make progress. I was beginning to rock through my turns, moving from edge to edge more quickly, and was finding that I could handle steeper terrain. I had high hopes of moving up the mountain to some intermediate runs. My mother had joined me yesterday after my friends had left—I’d given her the trip for her 70th birthday—and I wanted to be good enough to ride with her without slowing her down. She’s a terrific skier. (She could easily pass for a 20-year-old on the slopes.) I imagined our bonding on the mountain, the perfect mother-daughter team, I on my snowboard and she on her skis. (I wanted to look like a 20-year-old, too.)
But my mom isn’t a powder hound, and she hates skiing in bad light—it was a virtual whiteout outside—and decided to start her après-ski routine early that morning. At breakfast, I tried to be polite, making conversation, as I gazed out the window at the runs under the Peruvian lift. A few early risers were already making their way down, carving S-turns in the knee-deep snow. Finally my mother said, “Just go on. You know you want to. I’ll be fine.” I blessed her for her understanding and bolted from the table. At the tram, even though it was a weekday, the line spilled out into the plaza. We were all there for the best that Snowbird has to offer, essentially the off-piste experience without the hiking, the helicopters, or the avalanche danger. Here the backcountry is accessible by tram or chairlift. On the ride up—some 2,500 feet in eight minutes—I was facing the Cirque, a stupendously steep bowl off the ridge. The clouds had momentarily lifted. A lone boarder had just sailed off the top, jumping a cliff, and falling as much as riding down the slope, at what looked to be about 50 miles per hour. People in the tram gasped in awe.
As I looked around the car, I could see the influence of snowboarding everywhere. Skis, in the last few years, have become more shaped, or “parabolic.” The design derives from a snowboard, which has a slight curve on each edge that causes it to start carving when torqued. (This is what people mean when they say that parabolic skis “want to turn.”) Powder skis have also become fatter like boards, helping skiers to ride higher, or float, in deep snow. One man in front of me had skis that were more than half a foot wide.
At the top, the wind was howling, and visibility was next to zero. But that didn’t matter. I felt like Ved Mehta walking the halls of The New Yorker: The runs were so belovedly familiar, I could ski them blind. I’d run into some people I knew on the way to the tram and together we searched out the best powder, traversing halfway across a bowl just to get in a few extra turns in some virgin snow. But you couldn’t miss the powder this morning. I don’t want to torture people at home, but it was tremendous.
By midafternoon, however, something was gnawing at me, though I tried to ignore it. In the back of my mind, I knew I had other responsibilities. And so with a heavy heart and big sigh, I bid farewell to the ecstasies of the deep and skied in long before the lifts had closed. I’d like to say I was concerned about my mother. But in truth, I was worried about my snowboard. Half an hour later, I was back on the bunny slope, earnestly trying to perfect my turns.