To the Top of the World, by Emily Joynt

      Hauling up the winding mountainside, I felt the Dodge shift into 4 wheel drive.  Several minutes passed since I’d seen anything but pine trees.  Within them pranced all the Bambi’s and Thumpers of the Big Mountain terrain.  After an elevation of about 4,000 feet, condos began to take space.  Extravagantly modeled log cabins and villas abandoned mid-construction for the winter season, all the workers gone home, all the skiers come to play.

      Our lodge, the Kandahar, sat beside a trail leading straight to the chairlift.  “Ski Out, Ski In” is truly the only accommodation needed for a fool-proof, no vacancy.  After checking in we chartered back down, down, down and around the mountain and into the valley of Whitefish, MT.  It was the holiday season, and it was as if the streets were in competition to be the model for a Christmas card.  Endless streams of garland bore gigantic bells and candy canes.  Illuminated storefronts welcomed back annual tourists, and the falling snow glistened under street lamps like fireflies.

      All through the first night the mountain called out to me.  Fortunately, jet lag won out over my insomnia before the morning.  The classic continental breakfast served itself at 7 a.m., so I suited up and headed downstairs.  First chair pulled out at 9 a.m.  I sat in the lobby, imagining my feet dangling as the ground pulled further from my ski tips.  Anxiety fed my appetite, and orange juice quenched my thirst.

      Clicking into my ski bindings, I raced from the lodge to the ticket window.  There was already a line at the lift, but even among these numbers everyone could pick a basin to carve all their own.  The noise of the small crowd became a soft droning as I gawked up to the mountain’s face, anticipating some sort of reply, any acknowledgement of my presence to its entity.  Waiting, I danced in my skis, kicking up last night’s fresh powder, stabbing my poles around wildly.  The lift engine roared and the chairs took motion.

      Gliding up to the “Please Wait Here” strip, I squatted down for the chair to come around the bend and scoop me up.  The lift operator steadied it and nodded a polite, “Have a good run.”  Tracks were not visible anywhere, not a single cross over the freshly groomed trails.  Even the riders before me would not reach the bottom for at least another 15 minutes.  Further the lift pulled, skimming the tops of snow ghosts and the pine trees they held captive.  Another five minutes passed before the first bowl came into sight.  Empty and vast, it cut into the mountain like an enormous ice cream scoop.  You could see the neighboring mountains, too, now.  Intimidating, they stood untouched and uncut, yet they shook with existence.

      To the south lay Whitefish Lake, just a puddle now between a crack of mountain and valley.  There was a clear line of sight across the valley into Kalispell, where the land began to jut toward the sky once again.  Sixty-five miles north lay the Canadian Rockies.  A clear sky brought their peaks into perfect focus, diminishing into the horizon.  To the west, Rocky Mountains.  East, Rockies.  For a moment it seemed an optical illusion, everything so familiar below blending into a mosaic landscape.  What I saw to be a snow covered peak now birthed chutes, cliffs, and pistes at every descent.  Leveling out onto the peak, the chair handed me to the mountain top.

Comments RSS Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.