Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ski Santa Fe: Affirming Life on Muerte

Two weeks ago, I found myself making a quick car swap in Amarillo. The trade was simple: take my beautiful car with its high repair bills and swap it for my brother's car. As long as I was headed that far, I figured I'd join the family for a quick run up to Santa Fe where the eating is good and the skiing is great.


Muerte, or "death" in Spanish, is probably my favorite run at Santa Fe Ski Area. The run is very steep and very fast. Very fast. The wide, flat slope contains several possible lines leaving the skier the option of diving into the most precipitous paths or taking a slightly more gradual approach down.

In the past, Muerte has been unkind due to lack of snow. Two years ago, my uncle, Rick, featured below, and I spent quite a bit of time bombing down that run. That year the snow was thin and crisp, and Rick and I had to stare hard at the slope in order to navigate. At those speeds, we feared hitting a small tree top, rock or pine cone left on the fragile surface, and Muerte presented a slalom course of perilous obstacles. We destroyed our bodies trying to get down unscathed.

This year was different. Santa Fe has copious amounts of snow, and Muerte holds a glorious, thick blanket. Early on Saturday morning, Dad had declared that we would not be skiing any black diamond runs that day. I stayed quiet as I eyed Muerte from the lift--the snow looked beautiful, and even at that distance, I knew we'd have to get over there.

Eventually, I coaxed Dad to the top of the run, and I think he had started to feel a bit more daring. As I began to put my hat in my pocket (I planned to go really fast), I heard Dad say, "Okay, Brad, I'm going to ski this slow and controlled." By time I had zipped my jacket pocket, Dad had devoured the first half of the run and was nearing its end. I pointed my skis down and labored to catch up, but he was gone. By time I reached him, I could tell by his smile that we'd be heading up again.

And we did, and it was glorious. There were times on the run where I took a particularly steep line and couldn't tell whether I was still attached to the slope. The run presented a feeling of controlled free fall, and it was beautiful. We will be back on the slopes at the end of March, and I can only hope that Muerte will be as inviting.

Group Ski

After spending a morning bombing down runs with Dad, it was time to rejoin the part of the family fresh out of ski school for a more leisurely afternoon on the slopes.

At lunch, my brother, Mark Everett, complained of a sore knee. He lifted his outer layer around his knee to find a bloody patch on his long underwear. Both layers looked as though they had been cut with a knife.

Apparently Mark Everett had suffered a bad crash during his ski lesson. In an attempt to master the art of heli-skiing, Mark Everett had jumped out of a helicopter onto the top of a snow-laden ridge. The ridge was heavily corniced, and his guide noted the avalanche danger. They turned on their avalanche beacons and decided the powder basin below called their name. With such beautiful snow, playing it safe means missing a great opportunity to baptize oneself in a holy fount of powder. Anyway, they started down the bowl making quick, telemark turns when a slab avalanche broke loose above. Mark Everett knew that he had no choice but to pick up the pace. As the avalanche gathered strength, Mark Everett and his instructor found themselves at the top of a series of frozen waterfalls. They precariously shot down the icy river bed with the powder on their heels before the avalanche caught them and smashed them into the trees. Fortunately, they were able to tunnel out of the snow pack, and Mark Everett escaped with minor injuries. (Note: This story has been embellished at Mark Everett's request. The actual accident may or may not have occurred at low speed on a groomed run).

The afternoon was good. I watched my younger siblings demonstrate a growing confidence and better grasp of the fundamentals. Mark Everett had shaken off the terrible events of the morning and managed to ski the afternoon with his knee wrapped . . . later he would receive 12 stitches, but for the time being, I treasured hanging with him on the slopes. Chairlifts are great spots for conversation, and we chatted until runs were covered in shadow and our legs wouldn't take any more.

We closed out the day at a Spanish restaurant called, El Maison. Diving into a massive skillet of seafood paella, we relaxed and recounted the days' glories. We only had the one day on the slopes, but we were glad to have made the most of it.


Wes said...

In late March, I will resort to physics in order to be able to keep up with Brad (or simply leave behind in a dust of fresh powder).

I am going back to my old school Dynastar Racing 205's. Technology and trickery can sometimes (not always) get an edge over the youth.


tom said...

I wish I could have seen muerte with you and Dad. I don't think I've ever been there when the snow was good enough to do that run.


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