I share a gondola with seven kids. It looks like they’re up here for the weekend, no doubt on an escape from their parents, their part-time jobs or the thought of returning to school on Monday. It’s the bong and the bottles of beer that gives it away. I check for cameras as there are a couple of those bright yellow stickers you see that warn you of being recorded, though there’s nothing resembling a lens that I can see. Ordinarily, I’d hide from weekends, though sometimes it’s good to check out the competition. Kind of like taking a dip in the local swimming pool to see if there’s anybody swimming faster. From where I’m sitting, not smoking, I’m feeling pretty confident.
The doors open and I join them en-route as part of a colourful pilgrimage to the top of the terrain park. They’re good to watch. They’re dressed in brands like Burton, Ride, Lib Tech, that almost look like they’re sponsored. Truth is, it’s usually those wearing no labels at all that are probably in training. I’m a spectator. I wait for the music to get louder, the crowd to build and the tricks to get bolder before I slip away. I’ve seen what I needed to see. I catch an express chair to the top of a peak and find myself a T-Bar to climb higher. I grab a small snack from the backpack I’m holding, draw water from a bladder hidden inside it and watch as the clouds, then the snow roll in.
There’s nothing like mountain air. It’s a different ecosystem up here. The cure for a hangover, for boredom and fuel for living. I draw it deep into my lungs, taste snowflakes on my tongue before I realise I’m the last one up here. And that’s good. Can you hear that? You’re right. Absolutely nothing. It’s the silence of snow. I pack my things away. The zip of my camo jacket tightens around my neck as I pull it up beneath my chin. I adjust gloves, clip my boots and stand, tweaking my helmet and goggles. I’m goofy-footed so turn to my right, point downward and go. It’s thick up here. The powder is deep, the trees are buried — snow ghosts. They watch me from undercover, trapped in their winter layers as I pass. I skirt their edges, switch from a toe side to heel side and back again as I make deep cuts in the power that surrounds me. Snow spits out from either side of my board as I pick up speed. It’s coming down fast now, thick soft flakes that get in my face, my eyes, mouth. It evaporates on my tongue. Nothing ever tasted so good. Trees blur as I pass, the visibility is being stolen by the high cloud that’s moving in. I take a small trail off to my left then turn once again to leave it and the cloud behind me as I ride into the cover of trees.
It’s quiet in here. The air is clear, free of the cloud and the fog. It’s just me. So still. I’m the only thing moving. I work my way through the base of the trees, sneak quick sideways glances to my left and right for a sign of anything. I’m alone. I’m pumped, relishing the challenge of finding a path down. It’s easy when it’s this fresh, untouched. My board is a thick one. I glide on powder with my left boot resting on the back of the board, the opposite to what you’d normally do on piste. I’m all the better for it. My heart is racing. I cross a track, hit a ridge and launch myself into the air, tweaking my board before I land. I drop into fields of powder, snow explodes and covers me as I plough through it. There’s a thin line of plastic up ahead, striped in black and yellow, there to warn of a potential hazard. It’s the ski boundary, nothing beyond is monitored. That’s a good thing because I’m not here to be watched.
I pass by it and drop from a small rock face to land in the soft stuff below it. There are powder pillows layered one after the other I skip across with ease. I weave back and forth, watching out for the mine shafts, the broken trees and the other hidden obstacles that lie in waiting. I take a breath, some more water and listen. There’s nothing I can hear at first, then there’s a buzz, ever so slight, though a buzz all the same. Now it’s ringing, they’re moving parts, an engine. I check my watch, it’s GPS maps my distance. There’s a way to go yet until I hit the border. You see, the thing is, there’s more in my pack than just snacks and water.
Have you got a favourite movie? Mine was always Point Break. It’s the only DVD I still have. I’ve watched that bad boy at least a hundred and twenty times. It became addictive, to watch, to get me motivated, though probably more dangerously, to want to do. That notion of endless freedom. Of fighting the man, not conforming, just doing your own thing. Well rightly or wrongly, I’m doing it. This run is my last for the season. There’s money waiting for me at the end of it and I plan to make it.
Now I can hear the rise and fall of the engine. There’s a red jacket through the trees, he sees me. I straight-line through a glade, drop into a couloir, and I’m gone. His snowmobile won’t make it between the rocks or drop from the cliff face I’ve just taken, though he’s armed with a radio. I hear it crackle to life as I move further down a run I’ve mapped out since I got here five days ago. I can see a road below me, there are cars parked on either side of it blocking the way, red and blue lights to celebrate the occasion. They’ve been called in. I’m far from done. I sight my mark, the ramp I’d cut yesterday and hit it so fast they only look up as the snow from the back of my board cascades below me as I clear the road gap. I’m this close to Canada. I can hear the cars moving, though I’ve got pace, I’m moving faster. Then I see it, the back of the grey van, the back doors open with my friend sitting between them, a cigarette in his hand. I put my head down gather speed as I race towards him, smiling before he’s forced out of his van and onto his knees by Canadian police who appear in behind. One of their guns is pointed in my direction.