Thursday, October 7, 2010

Patagonia Cronicles:

An account of an 11-day ski excursion in Patagonia with Sweet Grass Productions. Here 5 athletes and 2 filmers head into the mountains outside Cerro Castillo, Chile in hopes of shooting some new footage for Sweet Grass’s upcoming film.

Part 2: Always a waiting game

I admit, I am quick to preach patience. It seems a good virtue to spout. Yet, at this moment patience is overrated. Here I sit, atop a couloir I arduously booted up, staring down at the delectable line before me, waiting. My heart picks up a few beats in anticipation. The snow is angelic and tender. The tall hallways are inviting, spaced perfectly for a fast and fluid descent. I want it now. Yet, still waiting. And waiting. And waiting for that elusive sun to burst through the cloud cover swimming above me. We need her rays to get the shot. But as of now, the clouds playfully swirl in front of her, like an erotic dance, occasionally allowing a glimpse of skin. “What a tease,” I think to myself. If I had balls they would definitely be blue. I can hear Zac across the way, nearly a half miles distance, singing out loud, passing the time as he waits to film us skiers. Forrest, fellow athlete, sits atop the neighboring couloir, also waiting and presumably salivating over his own line. My boots are buckled, my goggles on, I am ready for the “pop” of the light.

Time continues to pass. My feet are cramped. My fingers are cold and my patience is dwindling. I try to divert my attention from counting minutes to assimilating the moment. In this moment I am in some remote region of Patagonia, hanging out at the top of some nameless couloir that may have been skied only once before, eating snow and passing time. To think, if I weren’t here I would be floating the Salmon River, guiding a wine tasting trip, while rocking my flip-flops and my river tutu. Not a bad alternative, but not comparable to suffering in Patagonia.

Presently the clouds continue to tease, as a snow flurry sets in. Beyond, an aggressive wind rips down the valley, but here, within the protective walls of the couloir, everything remains peaceful. Here snowflakes frolic throughout the air, dancing and mingling as they wisp about in latent air currents. Groups of flakes weave to and fro like schools of fish. My tongue hangs from my mouth as I fish for some flakes. This playful interaction seems to aerate the snow, resulting in a divine bed of powder. It makes me think of sending styrofoam through a wood-chopper.

It has been nearly 3 hours of waiting and the sun has yet to show her cheeky face. At this point the flurry has passed and I can see across the valley. The sky is still overcast and it is getting late. Up until now, Zac has periodically checked in on me, yelling from across the way. I have continued to reply that I was fine and happy to wait, having found things and thoughts to entertain me. Now Zac calls out again. This time he asks me if I am ready. I look up at the sun and notice that she has fully draped herself in cloud cover. The peepshow is over. I give her a hard glare, letting her know of my contempt and reluctance to relinquish. Fine. Zac and I both realize this was our best shot. “Sure! I am ready,” I yell. I buckle my boots for the seventh time, adjust my pack straps and wait for his signal.

Heart rate surging, I drop into my first turn. My skis slice into the powder, regenerating the frolicsome snowflakes into the air. The snow is soft and forgiving but not bottomless. Luckily beneath the fluff there is a supple, yet dense bed of snow, allowing for fast and dynamic turns. Each time I extend my angles a little further, allowing my hip to sink a little lower and kiss the surface of the snow. Then I spring to the next turn. I continue to ricochet down the couloir, all the while being completely enthralled in the moment.

As I approach the exit of the couloir, the snow conditions change from forgiving to challenging. (“Challenging”-A euphemism for breakable-crust.) The towering walls slowly converge and I ramp up on their sides to shut down speed. I then sling out the bottom into the apron of snow below, letting my skis run and riding my tails most of the way.

So much of our time in Patagonia is a waiting game. Up until this point we have endured an onslaught of rain, sleet and heavy winds. The tumultuous and ferocious weather here makes for challenging filming conditions, to say the least. Mentally it can be taxing and physically draining. It is never easy waiting to get a shot that may never happen. Yet, the vitality and power of this weather warrants our respect and appreciation. Only a few are eligible to even suffer in these mountains, let alone successfully play here. We must value and savor all the moments, as they culminate in an epic experience.

(Above is my tryptic illustration of these stunning mountains)

erica laidlaw