We’ve had a long gray cold winter here in Northern California. I know, the rest of the country has been buried under blizzards, and I shouldn’t complain about the X-treme deluges and the frosty mornings out here—evidently there was a day in January when 49 states had snow cover. Only Florida escaped it that day, by a few miles (Hawaii has mountains that get snow).
Still, relative to a normal winter in the Bay Area, this one has been interminably sodden. Our coastal rains transmogrify into tons of the white stuff in the mountains. Mammoth Mountain, in the Central Sierras, claimed it had the most snow of any ski area in the world over the winter holidays, which is a clue to how much moisture we’ve had. Used to be the X-treme skiers were the crazies who shot off cliffs, jumped turns down a chute of snow that looked vertical, and lived to tell about it. This winter, even beginners can claim to be in the X-treme ranks because of snow levels under their skis.
I’m a skier myself, and I’m thrilled about the white stuff, but not as thrilled as I was forty years ago when I learned to ski. Now, I feel a vague undercurrent of anxiety about global warming and too much X-treme weather. Two weeks ago, as I was riding ski the lift at Tahoe and looking at the gi-normous amount of snow on the slope below, I had a pang of worry. It did not manage to dampen my enjoyment of the skiing, but it did give me pause.
It used to be that the weather was just the weather, to be enjoyed or complained about depending on how much it affected our occupation or vacation plans. Why we have excessive rain, heat, cold, and snow have become political and ethical questions about how we live day to day. And, as I sat there on that lift, I thought about how downhill skiing isn’t exactly a green sport, unless you already live near the mountains and are willing to haul your skis up the slope for an hour or more for the thrill of skiing down really, really fast for 5 minutes.
In the mid 1970s, I lived in Switzerland for a couple of years, and the skiers over 70 remembered how they strapped their skis on their backpacks, snow-shoed up, and skied down. They would do it two or three times a day. No way! I used to think. Backpacking in the Ansel Adams wilderness a few years ago, I took all day to climb about 1500 feet over 8 miles carrying 40 pounds. I could not have faced skiing down after that ordeal. Skis don’t weigh that much, but then again, we were hiking in August, not in February, and not over 30 feet of snow.
In the middle of my mid-winter ruminating about whether or not I should quit my favorite sport, I received the picture below from my artist friend in Houston, Rich Doty. I think it pretty well captures my anxieties about X-treme global warming and the conflict with my love of skiing. It’s a photo of his sculpture, about ten inches long, made of copper and bass wood with a coating of Bar Top.