Ride the Lightning, guilty as charged, but damn it, it ain’t right, there is someone else controlling me. Death in the air. Metallica are not really my thing but the lyrics are epic!
The snow has arrived and my God has it arrived. Relentless snowfall for days has covered all the trees in the back country. Shoots that were stuffed with thickets of dwarf pine are now filled to the runnels with snow. Faces that were a rocky craggy mess two weeks ago are now rolling pillows of fresh tempting snow. The bowl in the middle of the resort has gone from impenetrable forest to powder playground.
But, and there is always a But in the game of adventure sports, this winter has been a winter like no other. I’m no expert in snow pack analysis but one of the blogers I follow puts it really well McNab Snowboarding . So the strangest winter in my 20 years of playing in the hills, hot and sunny, rain, wind, hail, sleet, frost, Brutal Brutal cold, more rain more wind and interspersed in all this two or three massive dumps. If you dig through the snow pack the layers are like a Victoria sponge, soft fluffy layers of cake split with sticky dense layers of gak (technical term!)
So what does this mean? Well it means no one has skied the north face of Todorka yet, and I think The Promised Land (West face of Todorka) has been left untouched as well. Fear has crept into the minds of the free riders, we all know that underfoot there is one if not two cracks in the snow pack, we all know that screaming white death is just a foolish move away. But, that relentless But, that drive that pushes you on, that But plays games with your judgement, it convinces you that this slope, this face at this time, is fine.
The avalanche cannons have done their work on Palashitsa above the top of the gondola, they have done their work on the gullies that drop west from the top chair lift. You can see the layers in what is left behind, 10cm of wind blow crust over 40cm od less windblown slab, over another smooth block of base. It looks so obvious when you see it deconstructed like this, of course the gullies are going to slip, of course there will be loads of rock hard ice debris at the bottom. But look at that line!!! Clear fresh smooth snow stretching off untouched into the trees, it’s light a fluffy down there it feels like riding velvet, and maybe if you are gentle, touch it only with the softest of turns, ride it fast with one eye always on the exit, be the ninja always ready to respond to whatever surprises arise you’ll be the guy who is ok.
So now the free ride community splits. Those that lead and those that follow, teams that used to play together all the time in perfect conditions crystallise into nuggets of trust. Who do you really really trust right now, who’s judgement are you going to trust with your life? For me it’s easy I have ridden with Tom for 20 years, we know each other like no other. His drive balanced by my analysis. We ride safe, this ridge line, that section of trees, now into this gully, whoops lets leave that one alone. Just two people watching out for each other, he stops I ride past, I stop he rides on. Sketchy section? We talk it through, Tom goes first, light and fast I follow on to pick up the pieces! Laughter, adrenaline, bellowing joy as we charge off through the trees.
For others it is not so easy, who do you trust? Really really trust, Andy from Oxo will always have a crowd, his judgement is sound, Black George, some of the Mountain Rescue boys, some of the Ulen instructors? Who do you really trust, who really trust you! Around a mutual trust, little groups forming like salt crystals, a recognition of expertise, a recognition of so many intangible factors that combine to create an illusion of safety.
All the bar chat, chest thumping and egotistical strutting are just compensation for this hard cold truth. In this guy I trust my life and he trusts his to me. I respect his judgement and he mine. When it all goes south he will dig me out and I will dig for him. It’s a tight bond that’s more than anything normal life can give you.
Strangely Bulgaria breaks the big international rule for this silly sport. A back country skier or boarder is normally a man, 20 to 40 years old and testosterone fuelled his brain firmly embedded in his pants. He’ll probably talk like he has hit his head too many times and his rollies will smell weird! Not in the land of the Bulgar, the girls here rock, they ride as hard as any bloke, better technique and better judgement, popping whatever jumps are in the way, these are not the prissy snowbunnies of North America or the big bottomed chalet girls of the Alps, these girls put most of the boys to shame!
Enough crap talk, we survived, the snow pack will change, the bruises will heal the muscles will recover and tomorrow we’ll do it all again!