Sunny skies bake white sharp peaks, an ocean of billowing white foothills unravel from the highest points, snow burying the creeks, the meadows, and the old mining roads that scatter these parts. The steady hum of the helicopter permeates from within it, only broken by the loud melodic thuds that the blades make against the air as it turns. Speed (our guide) surveys the mountains with our pilot, we circle a peak twice then descend for the landing. I look to my friend Raj, unsure about the expressions on his face, joy, terror, probably a combination of the two, he sees me looking at him and he asks me.
“Is the red light on?!”
“Yeah!!” I say in return, signaling that his helmet camera is rolling.
The pilot raises and lowers the chopper in quick succession to flatten the snow beneath it to create a more stable platform for the beginning of our expedition. Speed unloads the gear, and opens the door. A torment of wind, noise, and snow particles fill the cabin as we squeeze out one by one. We huddle around our gear and Speed shows the pilot a thumbs up and after another torrent of icy particles the helicopter is gone.. Silence falls among us, the soft wind plays amongst the peak, a dull whisper, haunting and exhilarating. We are alone in the middle of nowhere.
Speed looks at us to survey our expressions, we all let out screams of excitement.
“Alright boys, strap your shit on, you can ski on either side of me, meet me at the bottom of the hill.”
I throw my skis down and click in my boots. I was the first ready and without comment or concern left down the hill towards Speed.
Telluride sits in the southeastern portion of Colorado, a region I have been told by opinionated locals to be the most beautiful range of the state. I can’t argue and assume this to be true even though this is my inaugural tour. Driving into the area through twisty mountain passes, my crew and I were lulled to the beauty of the first Colorado sunset we had seen. Colors so deep and rich that I felt the sky was speaking to me personally.. We parked the car and hardly spoke, our eyes transfixed upwards, the air dry and cold, I stood shivering without any desire to return to the warmth of the car. I’ll remember that feeling forever, familiar, forgotten, almost like uncovering a photo album from your childhood. You think to yourself, oh yeah, this is when life was beautiful, silly, and amazing.
The snow crumbles beneath my skis, this being a layer of corn we are pushing through, spring snow that has already been warmed and melted during the day, to be rehardened at night. I haven’t skied on this before, and it feels unsteady at first although not disconcertingly so, the large powder skis stabilize my overexaggerated turns when I nervously gain speed on the steep mountainside. I reach Speed and eagerly look to see in his face any hint of approval. He smiles at me, “Not so bad huh?” I agree and look back to my friends Raj, Chris and Brandon. Eventually they all queue up behind me, and we stare at Speed awaiting our next plan of action.
It started really as such an innocuous pursuit, invited on the annual ski trip my friends had decided to begin I figured what the hell. The year was 2006, and I couldn’t even afford the plane ticket to Salt Lake City, no less the ski rental, lift tickets, and lessons I would need to be able to navigate the bunny hills in relative safety. Not to mention I was a big fella, that fell hard often.
I remember taking the first chair lift up a mountain, to take on the green runs which were markedly more advanced than the bunny hill I was practicing on, Sunshine chair lift in the Alta ski resort. I hadn’t learned to turn very well, I could just pizza slice and french fry (braking by twisting the front of the skis together and pushing out the rear of the skis to create a wedge), an exhausting method that worked so long as you weren’t going all too fast. Well, I fucked up, ended up neglecting the instructors recommendation to passively meander to and fro on my way down, I had the first realization of the speed rush that awaited. I ended up hauling major ass down the mountain, completely out of control, doing my best to edge through the turns and nearly colliding into a few individuals. I was so proud, I had arrived.
It was a freakin blast though, I will admit. Maybe not that first painful day, oh who am I kidding, week. But the years and ski trips that followed progressed saw the direction of my interest in skiing refine from the minute specimens in raw ore to a bar of solid love. The idea of things are usually far more terrifying than the reality of them, yet had you mentioned that to me before I were to take a helicopter to the untouched snowfields and mountains of some of the regions near Telluride, Colorado, I might have tried to persuade you that this was indeed an exception to that idea. This does however open doors, and present the subconscious to think again to overlooked regions of possibility.
So, when it really comes down to it, do you trust in your own ability to overcome challenges as they present themselves? Has life lead you to a place where you second guess your ability, or does it instead present that subtle self confidence within that says what the fuck, let’s be a yes man today, and cross the problem bridges as they come. I have been on the mountains for nearly ten years, each year presenting a new theme to my practice, my first blue run, encountering moguls, black diamonds, trees, powder, demo skis, double blacks, and then back country. Now the time has come for me to graduate the land of chairlifts, and instead receive the mountains as nature had intended, quiet, lonely white rolling clouds settled up against sharp rocky features. No rating system anymore, no grooming, no external assistance, just a guide, a pair of powder skis, and my pals.
After what had seemed to be a confounding and time blurred drive out to Portland I had finally happened upon the outskirts. Unassuming city, hard to really see for what it is through the dense surrounding forrest, it began to truly open up. Through a thousand plus miles mostly averse to character, Portland is unmistakably unique and the deeper you get into its border the easier it is to feel as if you’ve finally struck on something worth taking a second look at.
I had one goal, and one goal only this introductary night, to get a Voodoo Donut, which I had heard about so much. Well actually this was a place I saw Anthony Bourdain go, he got the bacon donut, twice! I found driving through the inner part of the city to be a freaking nightmare and was very glad to have navigation telling me where to go and where to turn. My friend mentioned the curvy streets happened to be the likely end result of actual ‘terrain’ that one has to navigate as you go to and fro here, yeah where I am from it’s flat, and the streets are perfectly gridlike.
As I really came into the city, I was lost in adeep feeling of nostalgia for something familiar in a sense but completely unique in it of itself. The city, to me, seems to be a mix of a lot of things I can remember, snowy icestrewn streets with christmas lights in some hip part of Salt Lake City, graffiti and peeps chillin on the sidewalk like in Los Angeles.
Portland people really have a look of their own as well. I have to mention that it seems their skin to be of a similar pale tonality as my own, which caused me a smirk as the idea came to be walking down the street. I work the night shift and really don’t see the sun as much as I would like, this culminating into quite the lovely pastiness, although one I might suggest is a healthy pastiness which I hope favors me in my autumn years with lack of skin cancer (psh who am I kidding I am screwed, I have been burnt more times than a fry cook at In N’ Out) Nevertheless, Portland people are hilighted by the permadusk which is consistent, this dim, bluish hue which mottles the sunlight seemingly continuiously. They were all in my opinion overdressed for the mid 50s temperature, which is warm enough to not cause discomfort when I retrieve something from my car in my t-shirt from my hotel room, but cold enough that my sleeveless hiking vest proved to be ineffective at holding in the heat for an hour walk through the city. Yet, scarves and thick wool coats were present as if a flurry was to be expected. Perhaps one was, I am still unaware of the potential for snow in these parts.
I had parked my care in some sort of park amidst a few office buildings, only allowed to park and about a mile from Voodoo Donuts, I hustled down the street. I look up at the buildings, which make me think almost of Burbank California, modern yet not current archetecture, perhaps from the 90s mixed with older, almost 50s looking buildings which are very reminiscent to a few of the unoccupied ones in Phoenix. I really am continually brought back to the color, it’s the color that sets this place apart. By now the sun had settled, yet the hues of the ‘golden hour’ continue. Incandescent and dimly lit streetlights line the streets, nothing seems bright yet also nothing is uncomfortably dark. It seems the reflective nature of the surfaces would be as if it had just rained, yet it haden’t all day, it was just wet.
As I walked down the street, the windows to each side showed bar after bar lined with dark wood and soft and dreamy table lamps. While where I am from the feeling is high energy, bright, clean, crisp, sharp, so forth, this is quite the opposite, dull, dark, soft, intimate yet crowded, old but not in the way it is easy for me to describe, old perhaps in the sense of the sharply defined character that takes years and years to develop, as opposed to young and fresh kid who is trying to figure himself out. Portland to me seems to know what it is, and carries with it an utter confidence about it, paridoxically unapproachable but you can’t help but want to be its friend. The dusk, the crows, the faint sound of a trainhorn int he distance, a real downtown that real people populate, a city life that’s mature yet somehow young, character, a deep character that very much makes me uncomfortable in that I am finding out how much I love it, and how truly unfamiliar I am to it.
I woke windows drawn with the faint incandescence of the street light bleeding through the edges, I had hoped I would be seeing the blue hue of the early sunlight instead. It was still dark, hours before the sunrise, and here I was lying awake as my body expected my day to begin. Unwilling to lull myself back to sleep I read for a while about the woes of being beseiged in a tent during snowstorms, a frequent complaint from those who partake in alpine climbing.
A few hours transpired and I decided to be one of the first customers of the day at a local swedish breakfast place, Cafe Broder. The rustic chiq atmosphere and waitstaff were warm and welcoming, and their menu sounded familiar in some ways although with a not so subtle uniqueness that provoked an adventurous decision. Coffee, black, trout hash, and a half order of swedish pancakes. As I sat, I sipped the coffee, first sip, hmm, second sip, damn, third sip, this is some good shit! I was told they were serving Stumptown coffee, an expense that they view to be worthwhile and it definitely shows. The coffee was smooth, perfectly brewed, acidic and medium body, I was told it was a single origin Costa Rican bean. I am not too well versed on the topic but I was 4 cups in before I left and feeling twitchy.
The trout hash was awesome, it even came with some tangy pickled onions, beats, and well, pickles too. Normally I don’t get too excited about those kinds of things but I could tell everything here had this handmade touch which left me with a sense of guilt for not at least giving it a try. I ate every last piece, and the spherical pancake balls dipped in there preserves or lemon custard were decadent, reminiscent of the bignets I once had from Cafe Dumonde in New Orleans. I shared some of the pancakes with a couple across from me who were kind enough to tell me a bit about their lives here in Portland.
I was near the Hawthorne area, one reputed for its eclectic communit and interest in keeping the businesses local. I was told that McDonalds wanted to set up shop at some corner and was fought to the teeth every step of the way, eventually being ousted by their inability to get a permit for a drive through. Continuing the conversation, I also learned this community to be heavily bicycle oriented, and the couple were proud of the fact that when they place their vehicles in their garage at the end of the week that it usually stays there until Monday when they have to begrudgingly return to the nine to five life. Feeling slightly guilty for havig sucked down my fourth cup of coffee I parted ways with the lovely cafe, headed to Multnomah Falls per the recommendation of my friend.