Friday, February 17, 2012

MT vs. MN Essay

The Way We Ride

A personal non-fiction essay by Jack Haren

Whether it’s a chairlift or a towrope, I’m at the top of the hill in less than five minutes. This is how it’s always been. On the way up, we talk about each other’s past run, and speculate on why the rest of our crew is not here riding along side us.
Once at the top, clicking down my ratchets, my bindings tighten and I’m strapped in. It has become a monotonous task now that I’ve been doing the same thing for years. It beats being in shoes–every time. After I’m done, I wait for members of my party to strap in while I finish the conversations from the lift in my head.

My party finishes strapping in. Our run starts. It might last for less than a minute, but a lot can happen. We form a line and hit the first batch of rails. Then, we stop to hit the second batch of rails one by one. We watch each other land tricks, get excited, yell, and perhaps get silently jealous. People watching from the lift do the same thing. It’s a community here, and if you’re good, you get a response.

The run ends with you riding away with the best feeling in the world, or material to critique while on the chairlift. You wait for your group and start the process all over again. Minnesota: this is the way we ride.

Here in the Midwest, we are deprived of mountains most of the season. I hear many stories about annual travel to the mountainous states of the West; these trips are their way of getting a fix of long runs, deep powder, and steep terrain. They always come back. Perhaps it’s just because they call the Midwest home. But maybe they figured out that even though nothing compares to mountains, nothing compares to the Midwest either. I am figuring this out on my own now that I’m in Bozeman, but back when I had never been, I had deeper revelations to get out of the foothills and into the mountains. This is why I chose to go to school in Montana: to learn how to ride the mountains and explore the western point of view.

I worked two jobs, minimized spending, and had little fun all summer to compensate for the out of state tuition costs. The extra effort is how important experiencing mountains are to me. Mountains are what I have dreamt since my first run down my front yard hill. However, now that I have witnessed the Montana way, disappointment saturates me. It is much different than I had thought for all these years…

It started in early October. I’m strapped in again. The feeling is universal, but it is what is in front of me that is different: the terrain, the slope, the snowpack. The physical differences are there, but the mentality, the vibe; that is where the real difference lies.
My newly acquired friend David hatched a plan to go find snow. He had looked in depth at all the forecasts and concluded that there would be some powder at Sacojawea Peak. At the word powder, I was already suited up and went along. Ski areas in the Midwest open early as Halloween, so in Montana, early October snow didn’t surprise me.
It didn’t surprise anyone else either, and they decided not to care on top of that. I expected a full parking lot just like Minnesotans–often from far away–filled up the parking spaces on opening day. We drove and drove and all of a sudden we were slipping and sliding up the mountain in the midst of dumping snow. We saw no one else. The parking lot ended up being empty upon arrival, and empty upon departure.

After this adventure, the snow drought had begun, and it lasted weeks after Bridger Bowl’s opening. Either way, was going to opening day at Bridger Bowl. I had bought my pass months in advance like I had been doing for years. I wanted to go with my friend, and I heckled him to get his pass, but he wouldn’t. He claimed, “He didn’t need it yet”. The reason? Not enough snow.
Despite the 3rd worst winter conditions ever, there have been an epic pair of powder days. Even with the huge mountain around them, they still find it unsatisfying. I guess it just goes back to that they can’t understand how good they have it until they experience the worst: like Minnesota. The drought I talked about earlier applied to Minnesota as well. Back home, it’s usually dirt in pre-season, and ice the rest of the time. This season, they won’t even have ice–just grass–the entire season.

In Minnesota, we appreciate what we have and dream about the luxury of a huge mountain, but we still never think of how lucky WE are. This is what both have in common. Minnesotans and Montanans never think about how lucky they are compared to the rest of the world. Seven billion people now populate the planet, and less than 1 percent have the opportunity to partake in one of the greatest things in the world. And we, as snowboarders and skiers, are complaining even though we do something that 99% of the world can’t do.