There is Still There Here

“There is no there there.”
Gertrude Stein, writing about changes in her hometown of Oakland
Everybody’s Autobiography

“Skiing, at its simplest, is the feeling of slipping past gravity. . . I’m still trying to understand how something so ephemeral can shape your whole life.”
Heather Hansman
Powder Days; Ski Bums, Ski Towns and the Future of Chasing Snow.

In the opening paragraphs of Powder Days, Heather Hansman describes rolling out, taking the shuttle bus, and lining up for the Jackson Hole tram on a cold snowy morning. It didn’t snow as much as projected, but it snowed and the tram line is massive an hour before the first public spin. She nails the feeling of standing in line, skis leaning on your shoulder, poles in one hand. Stamping your boots on the platform to keep your feet warm. And continually brushing off the still falling snow from your shoulders and googles as you wait for your tram. She talks about duct tape on jackets and the equally likely sight of a pair of next year’s skis. The press of people waiting and anxious to get up the mountain.

Her line up that morning four years ago was no different from my lineups. From the early 70s into the 2000s I skied Jackson most winters. The winter of 71-72, I lived in Jackson, the last year the standard pass included the tram. Occasionally that winter I managed to ride the 7 o’clock tram with my ski patrol buddies, partners from in my five summers of climbing in the park. Already at that point, I was trained in both avalanche rescue and the use of powder. The rub, I wasn’t really on patrol. Just up for the ride.

So the question becomes, what is it about skiing culture that endures intact for fifty or sixty years. What is it that had me standing in that line fifty years ago? Heather standing in that line four years ago? And the people standing in line this week? All seeking the same existential joy, the “slipping past gravity.” All collecting a similar experience, from lift line to summit.

Warren Miller said your first taste of freedom is when you slide down the ramp at the top of a ski lift. You realize true freedom. He made movies capturing that freedom that enticed people into the mountains. People that had never even considered touching snow. In Vail, I worked with a woman from Miami who saw one of Warren’s movies filmed mostly in Vail. The next day she started packing. She sold everything that didn’t fit in her car and left Miami for Vail. Four days later she saw the first snow of her life passing into Eisenhower Tunnel crossing under the Continental Divide. Two and a half hours later, she started looking for a place to live and a job. She found a new home. Vail.

For all the wailing from folks like Bob Sandford (Weekender Effect and Weekender Effect II) and Hal Clifford in The Downhill Slide, there is still there here.

Sure, it’s changed. At the same time, I’d venture the twenty-something taking a gap year is having the same existential experience I had in Aspen, then in Vail, in Jackson Hole, settling in Breckenridge for a couple of decades and now in Fernie attempting to escape the industrial nature of skiing in the United States. And like me, some will extend that gap year to a lifetime of “slipping past gravity.” Proof to that pudding lies in the several essential businesses in Fernie started by Non Stop graduates deciding to extend that gap year indefinitely.

I sat in the Raging Elk’s Kodiak Lounge the other night watching people coming in for a quick pint before the hockey game. Twenty-somethings to grey beards like myself, all here because there are a few lifts on the ridge to the south of town and the feeble, very tenuous promise of snow in the future.

Clifford and Sanford are saying “There is no there there” anymore.

I would disagree.

The There is universal in the snow, carried year to year, decade to decade, storm to storm, this run and the next.

Today it was all worth it.

There is still there here.

By Keith Liggett

The Whitefish Review will be hosting Heather Hansman, author of Powder Days, for a special reading and event on January 19, 2024 at 101 Central in downtown Whitefish. The event will include live music, an interview with the Heather Hansman, a reading from her book “Powder Days,” as well as a conversation with audience members.