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Mountain chatter

The mountain crackled all over and throughout the day Saturday: snap, crackle and pop; continuous and loud. At its peak, Alpental was awake and arguing the spring-like heat pouring down on it. The mountain didn’t care that we were trying our hardest to ride its flanks, which were distorted with large slushy moguls now melting in the hot sun, in the bowl to the left of Chair 2. The mountain simply grumbled at Mother Nature, those crackling sounds being the result of a sheet ice that had formed from precipitation in high weekday temperatures freezing in the cold nights. So as the sun burned down on the thick snow coverage, the heat penetrated the layer causing cracking, water streams and heaps to fall from the trees.

Below this radiant scene sat a thick blanket of gray mist and murk, and below that, the rest of the resort, socked-in, with icy runs and heavy moisture. In the valley, a sea of clouds moved with such force northwest-bound that it flooded the deeper pockets of the valley, streaming like Niagara Falls. The scene was amazing to witness. And I’d left my camera in the car like an idiot.

While the mountain spoke to Mother Nature, on the chair the happy patrons (who’d escaped from depths of the lower-mountain darkness) had much to say to each other, and in the stillness, their conversations traveled. I ended up riding the chair and taking laps with a fellow WSU alum, who among other things lamented the loss of his new Lib Tech at the beginning of this season to a dirty thief. Total bummer, but a worsening problem unfortunately…

I often head to the mountain solo, but end up riding with fellow shredders I meet on the lift. Chairlift comrades. Everybody’s met them. Some are more interesting than others. Some are awkwardly silent. Some talk your ear off. But when the conversation is nicely balanced between you and “the other,” it makes a long, slow ride to the top that much quicker. In the midst, you learn things about your local snowboarding community (or not local, depending) that add the characters to the overall story. It’s a snapshot, a sociological experiment in your hill’s shredology and snow culture. Over the years I’ve had my fair share of intriguing chairlift chatter.

So far, this season I’ve ridden the chair with a dude from North Bend who works for a company that builds lifts. Never met one of them folks before. He explained how he’d helped build the new Silver Fur quad, now the apple of his eye, whose serviced runs are his stomping grounds. He’ll be in New Zealand this spring constructing lifts at one of the resorts (is there enough snow in NZ for more?).

I rode the quad at Alpental with an eccentric old man in adult-sized little-kid-looking 80s bibs over a turquoise fleece, with a perfect white western mustache and headphones, which looked like two walkie-talkies held together with a strap, over his rainbow beanie. ‘Told me he didn’t mind roughing it in the rain/snow that was pelting down on us that day. Made me smile.

And a couple weekends back, happened to hop on the chair with the creator of NWBroWeather.com, who detailed the best surf spots on the Washington coast, showed me videos of 6-ft swells out at Neah Bay and explained how the mountains gather their weather reports at different points up the hillside. Check out his Web site for the whole story.

I suppose it’s not hard for me to find these characters interesting and fun, and to keep the conversations going run after run. I interview people for a living. Still, an impromptu chairlift chat that brings discovery and enlightenment about the other folks making tracks in the hillside, always tickles the fancy and adds conversation to a solo day in the mountains–even if the mountain is trying to drown it out with its own chatter, snap, crackle and pop.

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