Sunday, 23rd, October, 2011.
Sarah and I went up the hill for our last day of skiing. It was a bright sunny day, there had been a light dusting of snow over the weekend and the surface was pure and white compared to how used and grimy the tired snow has looked recently. We met Robby and the three of us rode up the highnoon again and again skiing down.
In the afternoon there was a pond skiing event. By the Giant lifts return. A shallow pond had been crafted by the cat crew and a black tarpaulin put inside. It was at the bottom of a small hill and as the event got geared up spectators crowded around the pond and the skiers and snowboarders in fancy dress congregated at the top of the hill.
The event started slowly and as the people rode down the hill in their fancy dresses waving at the crowds, everyone clapped enthusiastically. At first all the skiers did epic falls in the pond. As they hit the water they would flail their arms and fall into the water in a white explosion of spray. When they emerged they all shouted loudly in surprise at how cold the water was before floundering about and finally being pulled out of the water by the RAL staff. We watched for 10 minutes as people in rugby uniforms, women’s cloths and loud suits sped down the hill and dashed over the water. Not all the attempts where fails, one tall man in a pink ballet outfit managed to skim across the whole pond and performed a front flip as he skied onto the snow again. A giant roar from the crowd went up.
We continued skiing and went down some off pest runs which took us over small cliffs and some very hairy drop offs. Sarah performed surprisingly well and the next run I took her down a rout which I knew to be very hard.
I was beginning to scare myself as we skied right next to a high cliff, just managing to keep inside the warning signs. I was getting that slightly chilling uncomfortable feel, the sort which inspires you to go and live in a soft furry walled cube and never come out ever again, then I looked behind me and Sarah was by the cliff she had stopped and although I could not hear and although she had her mask and goggles on I could tell she was crying. I took my skies off and walked back to her and hugged her telling her everything was ok. She was hyperventilating and I was scared that she would explode so I stepped back half a pace and waited for her to calm down. When she had we both skied along the cliff edge and reached a steep hill patched with rocks, we skied down carefully and finely managed to get back onto the normal runs. We skied down and Sarah rested in the alpine cafe.
I left her be as she was ignoring me and I wasn’t going to spend my last day of skiing trying to get her to acknowledge me again so Robbie and I went up the highnoon again and started to climb to the top of the mountain. It was exhausting work, holding on my shoulders my skiis and poles and with every step I had to chip into the icy slope a new step. Although it had been sunny all day and it was already 3 30 the snow was surprisingly hard and as we sweated our way up to the summit the slope became steeper and more icy. A family of skiiers passed by me as I watched below Robbie struggling up.
”just take 10 steps then take a break, keep going we can take a rest at that next rock” said the father from behind the leading young child. The father’s advice was irritating, frequent and unnecessary as his son was the one in front and was faster than the father or the 2 girls. The young boy in front showed an impressive stamina and held a grimaced face of determination. I wondered which he was struggling more with, the slope or his father ever ready sage like wisdom.
Although the family passed I decided to go no further and I told Robbie so. The snow was too thin and beneath the ice was very apparent. I had endured too many hairy slides down icy cliffs as a snow maker and I was not looking for a farewell helpless skid so I put my skis on and Robbie his snowboard and took one last look out at the scene below, after 5 months I was at the highest point of the mountain I had ever been and now it was time to go down. We took another off peast track which was one of the widest most spectacular runs down, we were the first to have gone on it all day and it wound steeply right for a magical few minutes.
Then all too soon the run turned to rocks and a cliff. We walked to the edge over a strip of snow and looked way down to what before was a sweeping run heading back down to the car park but was now a brown mass of rocks. Robbie managed to utterly scare me as he slipped on the snow and slid towards the cliff. ” Robbie!!” I shouted disapprovingly as I looked around to see if there was any way I could help him. He managed to wedge his legs against the last rocks and then very careful crawled back up.
The next hour and a half was spent traversing a great many hills and valleys, a short run down the hill part into the valley then a long walk up the other side. A mist would suddenly roll in and all there was whiteness and a few rocks visible below our feet. Finally we managed to find our way back to the main trails and we skied the remainder of the way back down to base.
As we came down on our final run we passed Will in his cat as he made his last drive down ” did you managed to get to the top?” he shouted out the window as we passed ”no it was too icy” I replied. Will has been working here for over 5 years and has never been to the crater at the top of the mountain.
I remembered when I first started snow making; Will and I were the first ones to turn the guns on at the beginning of the season. We had run the guns all night and back then the art of gauging how many banks you should set the guns at, at what angle you should tilt the guns to and all the water pressures, faults and computer things where an unknown daunting knowledge which I felt incapable of learning. Will had been one of the many who had taken the time to teach me about it all.