avalanche stories

“It’s like skimming cream off the top of fresh milk,” J says. As he says this, he pivots on the balls of his feet, turning his heels from one side to the other, bending his knees with each turn and stabbing the floor with an imaginary ski pole in a perfect marching rhythm. On his face is this strange, faraway grin. He’s left the living room and is floating down a fresh powder slope, leaving a perfect single-helix trail in his wake. Laying trenches, the boys call it. They look at the snow forecast and giggle like school girls.

Powder skiing is what my friend Kirsten would call type-1 fun. Like dancing ’til dawn or playing with puppies or eating my dad’s pulled-pork barbecue, every moment of a type-1 fun activity is intensely pleasurable. Type-2 fun typically denotes things that you don’t necessarily enjoy in the moment, but that you can look back on and say, “Oh yeah, that was fun,” things like camping in torrential rain or traveling by bus in some parts of the developing world. (When googling the term I found a blog that put it succinctly: “When you engage in type-two fun, you’re investing in your future self.”) But powder skiing, once you learn to make even two or three turns without bailing, is addictive, hypnotic. The satiny float of your skis on the snow, the momentary weightlessness as you straighten your legs. You crave it. The dopamine levels in your brain rise just thinking about it. And you find yourself engaging in all kinds of type-2-fun activities just to experience it.

type-1 fun

I took my first avalanche safety class last February, primarily because of a dawning awareness that I needed access to more powder skiing. An avalanche safety class, especially on a day when the dumping gray snow obscures the tops of trees and soaks through to your long johns, is definitely type-2 fun. But I was up for it. The year before, my roommates–the boys who had titled our wireless network “powderhounds”–had spent the winter sniffing out the fresh powder in the British Columbia backcountry, and now I wanted in.

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