By Marcie Hahn-Knoff, explorebigsky.com contributor
The sun beat down hard, and wisps of dust curled from my underneath my bike tires, stirred by the spin of rubber.
Beads of sweat rushed from my forehead, pulled earthward by gravity. The wildflowers had long since faded, and dry, spiky skeletons stood in their place.
It was a beautiful day for riding, yet I couldn’t shake the strangeness of it all. The deep blue sky was empty, the hillsides quiet. It was November, and I was riding a high-elevation ridgeline.
It had been months since the ski movie premiers had rolled through town, and the short-lived stoke they created was long forgotten.
October passed with no precipitation, and the mountain community started grumbling. The snowmaking crews were sent away—nights were too warm. The mild weather wore on, each day feeling like a carbon copy of the one before.
The hydrologist for the Forest Service was interviewed on the local news. Things were looking bleak, he said. No change in the pattern was expected. Be prepared for a below average year, he warned.
What was I doing here, waiting for something I had no control over? Had I made a mistake following the seasonal life for yet another year?
Riding my bike helped me keep my sanity. I was still up in the mountains, but I felt swindled. Parties became more frequent as powder hounds searched for other outlets—people were coming unhinged. Burning skis, seen as a sacrifice to the snow gods, only resulted in acrid smoke swirling toward the heavens and a mess on the ground. The bright buzz about the upcoming winter had been snuffed.
Checking online weather sites became my daily ritual. I picked through the regional forecaster discussion systematically, and found kindred spirits: The short essays also lamented the current weather picture. The forecasters seemed bored.
Finally, the word I had been waiting for appeared in the discussion verbiage: precipitation. Weather was beginning to form in the Gulf of Alaska. It might bring a chance for precipitation in 10-14 days. Two more weeks. Still, I felt a bump of energy in my chest.
I began printing off the discussions daily, drawing snowflakes on the margins and placing them on the refrigerator. The forecasters were divided on what the strengthening system would do. It could split in two, miss us completely, line up to snow a couple of feet, or drop a couple of inches. At least it was predicted to be cold enough for a few nights to make snow. At this point, any kind of sliding surface sounded good.
The days passed, and the weather stayed warm and dry. My confidence in the forecasts waned. Thanksgiving was approaching and the resorts were ghost towns. No snow equals no tourists equals no jobs.
I spent Thanksgiving at a house near one of the ski resorts, perched high on a mountainside. From a well-positioned deck, we watched a blazing sunset over the valley far below. Back inside, as the windows began to reflect against the night’s blackness, the wind began to pick up. Before bed, I looked out at the starry sky, hoping this wind might be ushering in the change we’d been waiting for.
Daybreak seeped through the windows, filling the house with a soft diffused glow. I pried my eyes open, weary after the heavy dinner and dose of liquid celebration. I sat up and looked outside. It was white. Really white. Snow fell from the sky in giant floating amalgamations that looked more like down feathers than tiny snowflakes.
I walked toward the windows facing the driveway. My car seemed to be gone, in its place a rounded dune of snow. The only thing belying its existence was a tip of the antenna poking out. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.
The house was quiet, so I gathered my belongings, threw on my sneakers and stepped out into the storm. Wading to the car, I cursed myself for not bringing a pair of boots. As I began digging, the snow accumulated silently on my shoulders and head. I smiled. Feet of snow fell from my car with each stroke of the scraper; a trench formed around its perimeter as I cleared the windows.
I pulled into the driveway, and snow flew up and over the hood onto the windshield, creating a vehicle version of a face shot. I got fresh tracks the entire way down the mountain road. Butterflies swarmed in my stomach as I passed the resorts’ empty parking lots and powder-covered faces. Anticipation bloomed in my mind, and its energy surged through my body.
It was time to go home, hang up the bike and bust out the sticks. Winter had arrived.
Marcie Hahn-Knoff is owner of Hoopla Hula Hoops, a Belgrade-based company that builds bombproof and creative collapsible hula hoops. facebook.com/HooplaHulaHoops