Keeping the Options Open

By Brandon Alves


The winter hangover was real after last season. It kept rolling on, not giving summer it’s mending effect that recharges winter people. The short summer was all of a sudden over and the ski brain started to reset. The residual stoke from a historic winter lingered. People’s passion for the sport was at an all-time high and exaggerated ‘sick day’ conversations consumed bar stools all spring, summer, and fall. One foot powder day stories evolved into three-foot blower powder stories by Halloween.

Expectations are always jaded coming off of a colossal winter. Buying powder skis and high-performance snow tires in the summer are risky maneuvers. In fact, those maneuvers have been known to jinx winters. By the looks of it, I think there were too many snow tire, powder ski, low light goggle and Gore-tex purchases because by the time Christmas hit most of the west coast was dehydrated. Like the mountains, I was thirsty for some quality snow.

Storms were hitting the interior of British Columbia, and being that Portland, Oregon is only eight hours away, I made a spontaneous decision to fill an abandoned spot on a hut trip to Whitecap Alpine near Pemberton. I got a call on the evening of New Year's Eve to fill the spot. From a cabin on Mt. Hood with five beers and a shot down the hatch, the answer was “YES!”. The catch was that I had to be there the next day, and I had done nothing to prepare. The decision to commit was sobering as my mind clicked into ‘let’s send it’ mode.

By 9pm the following day I unexpectedly made it through the Canadian border with no problems. From prior tales, I heard that Canadians don’t enjoy letting Americans with alcohol-related charges into their country. I must have charmed border patrol with my knotted long hair, palo santo scent, and coffee breath. By midnight I found myself in a dark parking lot in Pemberton wrapped in my zero degree sleeping bag in the back of my Subaru. Knowing what I know now, I should have booked a hotel room, but my ski brain was scrambled and my foresight was distorted by what was on the horizon.

It was 8 degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up and the first thing that came to mind was that my ski boots are going to feel like ice boxes today.

"The surrounding mountains were lit up by a pink sky as I slowly stepped out of my cocoon and to the helicopter pad where we would fly to our home for the week at Whitecap Alpine Lodge. With the helicopter stuffed with a week's worth of grub and gear, we lifted off into the dense mountain range."

 

The lack of snow back home was starting to mess with my head. It was making me anxious. I started to invent wild realities and soon enough, wanderlust ski dreams inched into the corners of my conscious.  “Should I move to Alaska, maybe Japan?” Approaching the landing pad and touching my mind back down to reality, I soaked in the experience like an old sponge. The surrounding snow coated mountains didn’t just look good, they felt right.

Upon arrival, we got right to it. Within a half hour we were touring up our first peak. This ‘let’s get to it’ pace was exactly what I needed.

"There was no time to think. The only time we worried about was the time the sun went down."

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Life suddenly revolved around skiing, food, beer, and sleep. Stripping life to the basics was extremely refreshing and motivating. It’s exactly what my snow-starved mind needed. I was quickly regaining my sanity. Days started early with some tea, a healthy plate of food and a lengthy hike. Days ended with snacks, foamy beers, giggly conversations and another healthy plate of food. By noon each day, we had bagged multiple peaks. The lines were steep, fresh, and challenging. The uphill pace was fast and the downhill runs were aggressive. We found ourselves boot packing up steep shoots and narrow ridges to access lines with iffy entrances. The riding was technical and no fall zones were common. Dropping in took commitment, but once committed, everything seemed to fall into place. Rocks became gates and alternating aspects merged to become rideable waves. Sluff from previous turns was alive, and it chased behind like a fox to a rabbit. Inevitably the sluff would catch up as we would settle in at the bottom of the descent. With a satisfying grin, numb legs and rapid heart rates I would critically gaze back on previous runs ~ High fives made our hands hurt and contentment was slowly easing its way in.

This went on for four days. Eat, tour, ski, tour, ski, eat, tour, ski, high five, tour, ski some more, eat, beer, laugh, beer, steam room, sleep. I thought I could get used to this, but by the end, we skied so hard that we didn’t have the energy for another day. We were content.

For months I had been yearning for this feeling. I was completely drained. The kind of fatigue one feels after skiing hard for multiple days is unique. I was sore in the strangest places. Though my body was depleted, my mind was alive; filled with timeless experiences, and invaluable memories. Emerging out of the helicopter and back into civilization felt awkward after being isolated for so long. I felt conflicted. The stoke from the trip was starting to set in as I drove south and back to Oregon. Everything happened fast over those five days. Within five days I unexpectedly drove 900 miles, toured over 20 miles, and made ten new friends. Here’s to keeping your options open and saying yes to opportunities.

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