Tales from the Lift Line X: Known/Unknown

By Mary-Colleen Jenkins

“You are totally screwed,” said the skier who had stopped to help me on a powder day last spring.

It was my first big powder run and my rental ski had completely disappeared under the snow. Two terrible thoughts swirled in my mind: If I didn’t find the ski, I’d owe at least $900 and, worse, I’d have to finish the run through the perilous fluff on just one ski.

Suddenly, my Good Samaritan plunged shoulder-deep into the snow and hauled the ski out. Practically throwing it at me, he disappeared in a plume of snow.

My powder guide

It took a long time to get the ski on. Falling in powder is what I imagine falling on a cloud is like: nothing firm to stand on, to push up on, or to brace a pole into. That cloud-like consistency is what everyone loves about powder, and it’s why I don’t love it.

I can ski on ice, chop, chunk, corn, slush, Cascade Concrete. I can transition from one type of snow to another within the same run without falling. I can speed up and slow down at will and stop suddenly when necessary. I can choose my line and adjust as necessary based on what I see in front of me.

But powder? That’s a different story. None of my normal strategies work in powder.


This past week the daily weather updates culminated with big news: 30 inches of snow in three days—“epic” powder at all of the ski areas.

Friday was the day to skip work or call in sick. My husband Michael already had the day off and we’d planned a rare parents-only ski day. He was thrilled at the possibilities.

On the first lift ride, we saw two skiers digging for missing skis. On our second ride, we saw they were still searching. On our third ride, we watched a skier expertly maneuver his way through powder-covered rocks, take a jump, and then twist and collapse into a heap.

“Oh, no!” It was a gut-wrenching cry. “I just popped my knee!”

I was failing to see the merits of a deep-powder day.

I wallowed in my nerves for the rest of the ride and then decided to embrace the unknown. The whole beautiful day was before us, I was on home turf, and I knew Michael wanted to show me what the romance with powder was all about.

The author, ripping it up.



It was an exhilarating, challenging day. The familiar in-bound runs were disguised by white marshmallow fluff, a perfect blend of known and unknown. By afternoon we had worked our way across the border of my new-found comfort zone when Michael said, “It’s the perfect day for you to try the backcountry.”

I figured if there was ever a day to try it, this was it. After all, I’d already built up a fine store of adrenaline.

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t nervous “back there,” but the sun had come out to stay and the landscape, which I’d never seen before, was stunning. Untracked powder stretched before us, and there was plenty of room to experiment and fall and stop and breathe. I had the perfect guide: he knew when to coach and when to keep quiet and, of course, when to offer an incentive. That celebratory beer when we finally got back to the car was immensely satisfying.

I forged a new relationship with powder that day. I wouldn’t say it’s a full-blown romance, but at least it’s a courtship. As it turns out, the unknown can be a good thing.

A new romance with powder is born.



Winter weekends call Mary-Colleen out to the snow, but during the week she can be found warm and dry and working with words. Jenkins is a freelance editor, writing coach, and writer of two blogs, Too Fond of Books (toofondofbooks-sea.blogspot.com) and Along the Branches (www.alongthebranches.wordpress.com). You can find her on Twitter at @EmceeReads.

This is the last of our installments of “Tales from the Lift Lines” for this season. Great thanks to our guest blogger, Mary-Colleen Jenkins, for her contributions. Look for more from her in next season’s SNOW Guide!

Catch up with all the previous posts of “Tales from the Lift Lines” below.

>> I. The Beginning

>> II. When Seeing is Believing

>> III. Expeditionary Forces

>> IV. Velocity

>> V. Pack Rat

>> VI. Dude

>> VII. Expectations

>> VIII. Don’t Cry in the Trees

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