Ski mountaineering shares a lot in common with love. Not the determined love for God or Country, nor the unbreakable love of a mother for her child. No, ski mountaineering has all the qualities of romantic love, seasonal, fickle, dangerous, and joyful.
Spring is the time for romance, and it is the time for ski mountaineering. Winter brings the snow, but the ski mountaineer’s heart, like the romantic’s, waits for the warm winds and sweet smells of spring before it wakes. As the aspen groves in the valleys show the first faint signs of pale green, and the rivers thaw and roar to life, the snow in the mountains above gleams white and perfect. With the winter dies much of the threat of avalanche, and for a short ephemeral moment the snow is ready to allow the ski mountaineer safe passage before it melts away completely.
Like romance, ski mountaineering can be a fickle endeavor. The mountain must be ready. For east-facing slopes on a clear day, the surface of the snow is ready at perhaps 9am. Earlier, and it is too cold and locked up tight to ski. Later, and it grows too heavy and wet. Later still, and it will slide. But should the wind pick up or the clouds come out, the snow many never thaw. And if the night before was warm and cloudy, the snow may not have frozen properly. A light dusting of new storm snow may be perfect, or it may fall away effortlessly beneath the skis, leaving dangerous ice beneath. So the mountain is not always ready, and when she is, it is only for a moment.
The mountaineer must be ready as well. He wakes in darkness and climbs for hours. If his legs do not fail him, nor his lungs, he will meet the mountain and see if she is ready. He worries. The weather could be bad, or the snow too firm, or too soft, or too dangerous. But he must be there to find out himself.
When the conditions are right, as they rarely are, the experience is joyful. It is also brief. Ten hours of work may yield ten minutes of perfect descent. And it is worth it.