My Favorite Run of the Ski Season

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo., Feb. 3, 2018 — Wind swept across Rendezvous Bowl and delivered a barrage of chilling cold and stinging snow crystals to my cheeks and the back of my neck. Corbet’s Couloir—perhaps the most famous inbounds ski run in North America—fell away precipitously beneath the tips of my skis. I was undecided about skiing the chute.

I had watched a handful of valiant skiers and snowboarders drop into the chute. A seasoned expert gracefully dropped straight in from the top—a more difficult entrance than anyone else had attempted. Others made conscientious attempts with varying degrees of success. A couple of bros from New Jersey crashed down the chute like turds being flushed down a toilet. A few clever snowboarders faced the vertiginous headwall and stepped down it like descending a step ladder. They accomplished something, but I’m not sure it counted as snowboarding. Most failed to stick the proverbial landing.

The rest of the revelers skied away; I was alone. I had some time before the next tram would unload an audience.

I stared down the headwall, but most of the chute was hidden from my view. I tried to visualize my entrance. I tried to feel the acceleration from descending the nearly vertical headwall. I tried to sense the forces I would encounter as I executed the abrupt right turn necessary to avoid crashing into the rock wall that defined the chute’s northern rampart.

But I couldn’t envision success. Instead, I envisioned my crumpled body following my skis around the corner and down the chute like a pinball. I envisioned frantically trying to self-arrest before rocketing down the chute on my ass. I expected having to bootpack either up or down the chute to retrieve my skis, which would have popped off after failing to properly execute that mandatory right turn.

A new wave of revelers arrived at the chute shortly after their tram docked near Rendezvous Mountain’s summit, 4,139 feet above the valley floor. I stepped aside to allow the newcomers room to assess the risk and make their decisions. My indecision had cost me the chance to drop into the chute without an audience.

I lingered in hopes that a rush of confidence would finally push me to do it. None was forthcoming. As the crowd thinned, I quietly backed away from the chute and considered other options. I chose Rendezvous Bowl.

I traversed west toward the bowl, away from Corbet’s Couloir. A wind-whipped whiteout arrived. The lack of visibility was disorienting. I could see no more than a few feet in front of me. I slowly felt my way across the bowl while the westerly wind stung my face and penetrated my supposedly windproof shell jacket.

I stopped to evaluate my surroundings. A sign line following the slope straight downhill vaguely appeared below me. It seemed that the whiteout would clear if I gave it some time. Some trees near the bottom revealed themselves against the white backdrop. The visibility was improving, and the sign line could lead the way by providing contrast in the vast, mostly treeless bowl. The conditions might not get any better than this, I thought. It’s time to go.

I started down and immediately fell into a rhythm in creamy wind buffed snow.

Wind creates wind buff by filling in ski tracks and smoothing the snow surface to produce a consistent top layer of snow that’s denser than powder, but softer than hardpack. Powder snow gets all the attention, but wind buff might be the best snow condition for skiing. Wind buff offers the flotation of powder (albeit in a smaller dosage), but with the forgiving control offered by freshly groomed snow. It makes heroes of us all. It’s like having the cheat codes to your favorite video game.

Every turn from the top of the bowl to the bottom was effortless perfection—like gliding down on a magic carpet.

When I got to the bottom, I laughed and turned around to look back up at the slope that had yielded such joy. It was already enveloped in another whiteout.

That short run down creamy wind buff in Jackson Hole’s Rendezvous Bowl was my favorite run of the 2017–2018 ski season.

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