Sunday, September 5, 2021

I don't want another run. I only want that last one again.

By Eino Holm

The early 90s were fraught.  It's funny or maybe disingenuous to say because all times, any time, any epoch, have been.  Still, here we are.  Aram and I were in Sixth Grade, eleven years old, or maybe Aram had already turned twelve cos I think his birthday's in April, or maybe that's his cousin Kasey the Nascarist.  Anyway.  The New York Times was printing jokes Megan Jasper made up about us kids' slang as gospel.  Skiing was, to paraphrase the going theory, "dead".  I don't know why it was, because Aram and I sure had fun.  Neither of us was amazing, no 35 foot drops to hipcheck or mohawks or whatever.  We got by, as kids do.


Nirvana was the worst big grunge band.  There, I got it out of the way.  Sure, there were worse not-big bands, like Tad or Mudhoney or Gruntruck or whatever.  I feel like Mark Arm said something about being a mediocre band so he'd never have to worry about selling out like the big names had.  Some side-eyed dig at his former bandmates.  Probly many more no one knows about, with names like Juice or March 3rd or Navel Gazing Gutsplosion or Jamie's Dermis is Showing. Nirvana, though, there just wasn't much that lasted.  The unplugged record, the one that came out the fall after Kurt joined the 27 Club, that one had some good songs.  I've since realised that pretty much every good song on that record was a cover.  The best is a David Bowie song, and I am without question a David Bowie doubter.  Going through their handful of records, there's a handful of decent songs, even a few that might stick without the sticky association of memory.


Closing Day, '93, none of the really good records like Superunknown and Purple and Diary and Siamese Dream had been released yet.  I'm sure some had been recorded, but that isn't what the world is to some rural kid who still has yet to convince his teacher that yes, I can do maths, you just aren't paying attention, Mindy.  Aram and I were at Crystal, natch.  The moody April skies, I remember it trying to rain, but somehow in the State of Rain, not.  Neither of us had succeeded in finishing our reports or projects or whatever it was that Mindy had us chasing during spring break. Some slushy turn or other, I realised I'd never get anything done, and Aram agreed.  We got Employee Day tickets from our respective parents and said screw it.  Spring turns don't last forever.

And to quote Grady the Bullrider, that's the thing.  They really don't.  Closing day, though, many years it's one of the best bets for reliably good turns.  Slop, slarve, sunburn, or some years a foot by snow phone report time back when that was a thing with more in the air.  (Like Easter '06, when my neighbour's garage burnt down and I finally got to show Karl why snowboarding is useless.  And pay him back for all those rides where I'd be fifteen, twenty minutes behind in the trees, barely breathing, fancy full-suspension bike no match for his ten year old rigid Kona Hot.  16 new, somehow sunny and cold like we were on the High T in mid February, hiking South at full speed, tryna get as many runs in as we could.)


Sometimes I think Steve Earle wanted to be Springsteen.


There are a few things I associate with those records from '93 and '94, mostly snow and Orion and flannel and Key riggin pants with the cuff cut cos that's what Pa did.  I have always thought hemmed pants to be just a little bougie.  I still have my oldest brother's quilted flannel from back then, no clue why he bought it so big cos I'm not a skinny man, and it still fits me.  He has always had a runner's build, no different at 15. I remember even then the push-and-pull of skiing vs snowbaording (rich white people problems, to be certain) and for a minute or two I thought I'd switch, but one short, turn-free run down the sled hill on a January snow day and I decided I never would.  As well as those things, spring slop and dirty snow.  Aram and I not really turning well, or all that much, but skiing from first chair to last.  Straightlining before we knew that was A Thing. Then skipping school and doing it again, snagging a burger Peter the Geek or Tom Turkey cooked for all their underlings.  Wondering why that one car dealer stockholder from Auburn had to show up in a heli instead of, well, a car.  


One of the more interesting last days of the season was 14 July '99 at Crystal.  Summer after the Big Winter. Ice to the bottom of 3, so much that my feet hurt.  I didn't care, and it was still melancholy.  Winter by that point is only a few months off.  The next winter, Dougie and I would bump the clock up a minute or six at the bottom until one day we were closing a half hour early.  Nobody noticed.

A handful of patrollers helped me break ice from the last little schmear of West Face and build a ramp.  Stomping with boots, skis, a shovel, axe, whatever we had.  That cool old elevated ramp, long gone now.  The old maze, a Warren Miller dream.  The ramp in early April was almost flat, 100 inches and more, but by mid July it was almost to dirt.  Bruce Engdahl called it moving sugar a teaspoon at a time.  We didn't have much snow left, but then, I'm at least 90% certain we were the last resort to close that year besides Timberline, and they don't count.  That's their schtick.  That July light on snow, something that I haven't seen all that much.  Crystal usually melts out earlier in June.  It was dark, that morning, after the Solstice and who knows what's next?  The summer stretched out the way it does when you ain't got shit to do except meet whatever's next.  A cheap escape.  Chris taking a job at a brokerage firm with Ted the Aspiring, or smackin buttons on the ol '88 Poma, or chuckin rocks from the top of Chinook at Dustin over at the bottom of Rex.  Did you know a 650 pound chair hurts when it hits you in the face before finishing the decel zone? It does.  Bends yer glasses too, now that we're talkin about it.

Anyway, that day, Closing Day, 14 July 99, my latest last day.  (Or was it 11 July? My phone says that was a Sunday, but I think that year they just went until they couldn't.)  It's hard to just keep going, all the way into summer, into fall, to start again without having stopped.  Turns all year, you can have it.  Last day on rear entry boots, come to think of it.  Salomon 83. (? 84?)  They'd stopped using the "SX" moniker.  We were the last class, the ones who got their hats before the would-be robot takeover and the apocalypse, and then nothing happened.  Peter and I would hang out at one end of the cul de sac afterward, Chris halfway down to the next, that quiet exurban town that used to be a quiet rural town.  I think we played a few shows.  I ran (I know, sue me) a lot that year, especially down the liftline under Chinook. 

That day, though, memory fades.  I bumped chairs for 6 or 8 hours or so, jumped on the last one, and that was it.  Middle of Summer--I am consciously capitalising the seasons now--and it was like a late April rain drop.  Or the Cheese after a particularly deep Tuesday, or choose yer own adventure, cos I don't know.  I was 18 by less than a month, still just blundering, as though any of us really stop.  It was clear, cold, still spring.  Spring.  That time when everything starts to bloom, and yet we close up shop, move on to greener pastures, start running rivers or pounding nails or fixing flat tyres on kids' bikes or going back to school, or really, wondering what the heck this is all about.


The best grunge record is Ten.  You can argue this, but I won't listen or care.  After that, who knows.  There's a few, Superunknown, Down on the Upside, Temple of the Dog, Gish--yes, that's grunge, fight me--and Diary--again, yes, that's grunge, and yes, fight me, it came out in '94 and for their second record, Jeremy allegedly didn't finish lyrics cos they'd already broke up and he just screamed a lot, I'd say that's grunge.  There are some incredible songs on decent but middling grunge records, like Halo of Ashes and Dollar Bill from the Screaming Trees. Half of Vitalogy and Vs.  A few songs on Badmotorfinger, one or two songs from Nirvana and one or two from the band that coulda started it all, sorta, maybe, maybe not, Mother Love Bone.  I don't have a specific song in mind, though, or even a twelve song soundtrack from the motion picture.  The internet thinks early Radiohead is grunge, but none of that matters.  Sometimes Closing Day is an arty Jonatha Brooke puller of the heartstrings.  Sometimes it's some Jay Farrar alt-country mumbles or a Springsteen anthem from The River or before.  Emmylou Harris from 1981.  Some sorta manic Green Day single-string run on the bass.


John and I decided I should get drunk.  He thought whiskey would do it.  Rye, actually.  Not sure why.  I still can't.  The smell.  Any other whisk(e)y, I can do maybe a sip or two.  Almost enjoy, maybe.  Not really.  Rye, not at all.

Finished breakfast at 7.  Nice big eggs and toast and sausage sorta deal.  Walked past the bathroom.  Well, stopped, caught a whiff.  Nothing untoward, just water and porcelain and a little communal decay.  Man, does that food come back up quick. Eighteen new, and all of a sudden Andrew's old Igneous just wouldn't turn, even with the fancy new G3 Targa that one asscheek of a volleyball patroller told me I had to use.  Chute 4 was like Cham steep.  Deep, warm, almost that "hot pow" bros tend to talk about when they don't really get it, or didn't grow up on the Wet Side.  The sorta stuff I learned to ski in, learned to tele in, learned why I should tele in, and I couldn't do it.  Shoveled snow all day to sweat it out, then threw my belongings in five or six garbage bags and drove home to Enumclaw, all in one motion.  No closure, no sense of wonder, no toasting the sunset over Herman, nothing.  Just cram the GL full of whatever I had, and put the foot down.  Didn't even stop in Bellingham at John's.  Then again, the next year we pulled seats off 4 and 5 and then commenced to learn how to deconstruct two lifts that weren't gonna be sold and drive sleds in hot May slop and find my GL ten feet down the bank after an 86 degree Mother's Day melt-off and then see snow at the water in the Lower Mainland four days later and stuff Chris' Escort with everything I had and leave the GL in the E-Lodge lot for Andy to resurrect, which he did, or maybe it just started? I don't know except when Mike Pierce brought it home on the back of his truck he said "Well, at least it was a nice drive!! Wanna drive it off the truck or should we pretend it still doesn't start?"


Patty Griffin's Useless Desires is an incredible song.  Quintessential Patty Griffin, some heartbreaking melody, some beautiful and poignant imagery, a story to be told and a subtle, kind way of telling it.  "Weekend Edition has this town way overrated."  Such a good line.  It could fit a million towns, achingly backward, yearning for a better future, situated in some fortunate place that has been historically treated poorly, like a brothel town at the crossroads, a junction town, like Reno, or Kansas City, or, fittingly, Ogden.  Junction City.  It is every one of those things, and yet none of them.  UP has a strong presence here, the eastern side of the Lucin Cutoff.  Trains from somewhere else, somewhere between longing and leaving, somewhere a train driver could live in between those lonely stretches out deep into the sand and juniper and sage grouse and impossible mountains of the Great Basin.  Closing day here isn't a big thing, just something we bums observe in the parking lot after closing the shop or teaching the last lesson or serving the last beer (at, like, I don't know, 5.00 pm, cos, like, Utah or something) or bumping the last chair or calling out "CLO-O-OSING" one last time.  Don't needa refill yer patrol vest today.  The last turns, on snow that is still good, a snowpack that is just past its peak, weather that is just coming into its own, legs that might be a little tired but have their best form of the year, then, just, nothing.  Just...walk away.  Wave goodbye, we're headin to grab a Star Burger and listen to some Merle Haggard on the way home.  Down Trappers' Loop, or down the draw of Wolf Creek, or just rumbling through the valley on the farm roads that are steadily becoming exurban, and down the Canyon to town.


Cinco de Mayo is the best day of the year to ski, misunderstood cultural appropriation aside.  One year Alpental gave a free ticket if you donated $5 to Outdoors-for-All on the 5th of May but only in cash and I didn't have cash and then a couple years later when they fired my friend Katie cos she didn't jive with her overbearing boss, I realised it was better that I hadn't had cash that day and just skied anyway.  Closing Day, though, is the day you can't miss.  That year, '06 if I'm not mistaken, may have been the one the bosses at Alpy would meet at lunch on Sunday and make a call on the next weekend, so I got three or four Closing Days. Deep, gorgeous bumps under Ariel, '013.  6 hours of dropped-knee pivot-slips down International, '06, '07, '08. A sunset snack to toast the season, top of Rex, '08. I can hit more than one closing day, yes? Easter, The Place that Shall Not Be Named, '014, and Snowbird, later that spring, and the next, and the next.  A rain day at Brundage in '018, and a deep day at Bogus in '019.  And yes, whatever it was that Aram and I skied that Monday in '93, deep into the denial most ski bums will recognise, that yes, this is the end, and yes, I am purposefully ignoring it and avoiding it.  It's easy to ignore the end when you are near places like, say, Loveland Pass, or Chinook Pass, or Beartooth Pass, or Mt Washington, or Alpine glaciers, or Cascade volcanoes.  Even so, even if one isn't in a desert where the snow lasts until 4.53 pm on 28 April, that giddy avoidance, stopping to look at a view you've seen a hundred times, or one that isn't all that interesting but all of a sudden it is, or avoiding a simple assignment for 6th grade whatever class, just absorbing Closing Day is sometimes all there is.  It's okay if you forget, or if it never mattered in the first place, or if it isn't your closing day.  One needn't be a part to take part.

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Last chair, last day.  Closing Day, Bogus Basin 2017.

Title from James McMurtry's "Hurricane Party"