Friday, January 13, 2012

Why We Ski

Praying to the mighty Ullr


     Since time immemorial, mankind has prayed to the gods of weather, seeking to control the uncontrollable. We ask for more rain to make the crops grow; for less rain to stem the floods. We pray the sun will rise again after the shortest day of the year; that the earth will stop shaking; that the wind will cease its incessant howl. We pray for snow.

     And right now, Ketchum is praying. My highly unscientific survey, conducted on lift rides to Baldy’s summit, has uncovered many rituals being undertaken by those in our community eager to summon the snow.

     The most common rite is burning old skis in a roaring bonfire. One theory, loosely based on some branch of science, holds that if the burning is done on an overcast night, the particles will help seed the clouds. Another oft-practiced tradition, for children at least, involves a strategy in three parts. First, they wear their pajamas inside-out; second they sleep with spoons beneath their pillows and third, they flush ice cubes down the toilet, not necessarily in that order.

     A more esoteric (if that’s possible) ritual includes head shaving and tossing the shorn locks into Baldy’s Bowls. Many snow dances include partaking of a peppermint cinnamon schnapps called Ullr (more on Ullr later). One man I spoke with said he strips naked in December, runs around his house five times, clockwise, while chanting Norwegian parables. Could be true. Who am I to judge?

     To help get the snow flying, more than one person suggested sacrificing a snow boarder, but that isn’t very friendly. Many others said not to worry about the weather. They have flights booked out of Friedman Memorial and it inevitably dumps whenever they try to leave town. I hope they are traveling this week.

     Praying to the snow gods is an ancient practice. Norse mythology featured the goddess Skadi who was associated with skiing, winter and mountains. Praying to Skadi certainly couldn’t hurt. Mighty Ullr, the god, not the schnapps is another option. Ullr sprang from early Germanic paganism, a ‘major’ god, usually depicted wearing skis and holding a bow and arrow. As owner of both the titles god of snow and god of skiing, it seems self-defeating not to give him a nod in times of need.

     We need also to nod to Dennis Harper, someone beyond the imagination of the Vikings. Though officially director of snowmaking for Sun Valley Resort, not the great and powerful Oz, Harper pulls the levers and throws the switches beneath Baldy’s vast snowmaking apparatus. In charge of hundreds of snowguns connected by miles of underground pipe that run thousands of gallons of water per minute underneath the hill, he and his team create the wonderful artificial snow that allows us to ski when no natural snow has fallen for weeks. The world he creates is much better than an EmeraldCity.

     But even Dennis Harper can’t do it alone. Even he cannot cover the new adventure trails with powder. He cannot open 100 percent of Baldy nor make the side country, much less the backcountry, accessible. For this, we need to pull together as a community and start praying.

     It’s time to gather our energy, channel our thoughts and send our wishes skyward in a unified plea for huge winter storms to pound the WoodRiverValley. It’s time to pull out all the stops. Wear your pajamas inside-out, put those spoons under your pillows, strip naked and run around the house if you must. Pray to Ullr or Skadi and set your collective thoughts on gathering pregnant clouds above.

     I searched for a common prayer or invocation for snow. I couldn’t find one. So, with sincere apologies to taste and literary finesse here is a little ditty I crafted during a five-minute drive from home to the hill:

Brown Hills Be Gone

From the west from Portland way,
Bring us snow, bring lots today.
We love to slide,
We love to ski,
Bring us powder to our knee.
To our hip is better yet,
But we will take what we can get.
To the Bowls we want to go,
Gods of storms, bring us big snow!

     It’s still only January. We have months of great skiing ahead of us, and more than a few pairs of powder skis still wrapped in holiday ribbons. They need to meet the mountain.

     And Dennis Harper needs a day off.

     LET IT SNOW!!!

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