LIVING HERE ON the North Shore, I’m discovering that a mountain is a magical place containing a humbling and beautiful landscape. Wherever I’m driving or walking the mountain is always there in the background, un-moving yet always changing. Sometimes the fog covers it completely. Sometimes mist hangs in long delicate wisps. Sometimes the clouds lift and disappear revealing the line of the peak etched against a clear blue sky. As someone who grew up looking out at the flat landscape of North Norfolk in the UK, I am in awe of these mountains.
Fear of falling
Speaking of mountains this brings me to snow and specifically skiing. I’ve learnt to ski in my 40s overcoming many fears; fear of falling off a cliff, fear of going faster than I can control, fear of losing my kids in a thunderous blizzard. It’s taken me a long time, through many tears and much frustration. But I can do it now. I can ski with an intermediate degree of speed and control.
There are still things I don’t like though. Narrow steep runs are not my favourite. Also, I’m not happy when the weather closes in and all that differentiates the piste from a cliff edge are coloured markers a few metres apart. And I’m not sure about skiing on a floodlit run. I haven’t tried that yet.
And yet I can see improvements. The gap between my family speeding ahead of me is closing. I’m not so far behind now.
A week or so ago I went skiing with my family on Cypress Mountain. There’s a run we like to do called Three Bears which for some reason never has many skiers or boarders on it. I like it as I get to practice my long turns. My kids like it as they get to go ‘off piste’ momentarily through the trees. At the bottom, the chair-lift, usually manned by one solitary person with a shovel, never has any queue to speak of. We always have to be ready for this lift. It’s speed often takes us by surprise catching us off balance before scooping us on and up. We tumble back into the seat wrestling ski poles, wriggling upright and trying to bring the bar down that stops us all from sliding out.
And then in the quiet of the mountain, we glide, stopping every now and again for reasons that we don’t know. As we sit legs and skis dangling high above the ground we always see a few boarders and skiers making their way down the steep black run that’s beneath us. There’s always someone looking exhausted as they stop and start picking their way down slowly. And then another more experienced rider who moves with grace and skill. Occasionally there is a short line of young skiers following their instructor, taking a near perfect line downhill. I’d like to think that one day maybe I would be able to tackle such a run with some level of dignity. However, at this point in my skiing career, it isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
On this particular day, the sky had been thick with snow since early morning. Big heavy flakes were falling making deep pillowy drifts. The sort of snow you want to collapse into it’s so lovely and soft. On this chairlift, and only this chairlift, we noticed that some of the snowflakes were shaped into perfect six-pointed stars about five millimetres across. I’ve never seen snowflakes like it. They looked as if a tiny cookie cutter had shaped them out of ice. There were just a few here and there that we could catch clumsily with our big gloved hands or marvel at as they fell gently onto our clothing. I thought about taking out my phone for a photograph but the muddle of poles, mitts, pockets and zips seemed like a recipe for a dropped phone and lots of shouting. There are some moments that are best left to memory.
The featured image is taken from Cypress Mountain, North Vancouver, February 2018
The cameras used for these pictures were an iPhone 7 and Canon 60D
All photographs © Tanya Clarke