• open panel

Hundred Days 012

Jackson Hole, A World Apart



hundred_days_012, the mountain pulse, hundred days journal, a world apart, david hewatt

Day 012: Jackson Hole, A World Apart

Written by: David Hewatt

In these dark days of measly snowfall and double digit minus temperatures, it’s easy to lose a sense of perspective. Of course we need a couple decent storms to roll through and beef up our meager base, but it could be worse. Much worse.

See, I grew up in England where snow remains a mysterious substance both coveted and feared in equal measure. Our precipitation comes abundantly in the form of soaking North Atlantic drizzle. Occasionally the forecast might flirt with the dim prospect of snow, getting your hopes up before slapping you in the face with 3 relentless days of freezing sleet. The British revere that picture perfect ‘white Christmas’ like no other, but we are woefully unequipped to deal with much more than a mild flurry. Anything beyond a couple inches and the societal panic button is pressed. A six inch storm last winter was enough to cause massive power outages, numerous motorway pileups and bring the entire country to its knees for several days.

david hewat the mountain pulse jackson hole a world apart essay

Thus, skiing is off the menu for the vast majority. The Alps may be within spitting distance, but if the sudden urge to ski grabs you and doesn’t relent, options are pretty limited. That is, of course, unless you have the great fortune to live near a dry slope. Thankfully the gods had smiled upon me and decided I should be one of those lucky few.

My local hill started off life as a munitions factory in Birmingham, pumping out arms for the war effort. The Germans found this an affront to their plans of world domination and it was promptly obliterated during the sustained Nazi bombing campaign known as ‘The Blitz’. The pile of rubble lay for over 30 years with no-one quite sure what to do with it until a member of the city council came up with an ingenious land reclamation project. Inspired by the boom of recreational skiing throughout Europe in the 60’s and 70’s, his idea was born: bulldoze all the rubble into one giant pile, throw down some carpet, string a lift up and call it a ski hill. Right? Right…

I remember my first time. Everybody does, don’t they? Pulling up the legs of my jeans, my foot slips easily into the rented rear-entry boot. Does it hurt? No? Then off we go. A few quick pointers on the mechanics of a snow plough and I’m ready for the big one. Meandering up the single button lift that services the slope, taking care to avoid the cigarette butts and broken glass along the way, one can take in the vista. Built as it is upon a pile of bombed out rubble, the hill sits right in the middle of Birmingham’s derelict industrial wasteland. Crumbling, disused factories and dilapidated smokestacks as far as the eye can see. This is not the breezy glamour of St Moritz or the jagged splendor of Chamonix, but the dreary sprawl of British urban decay.

By the time the lift reaches the top I am utterly oblivious to my surroundings. Standing atop the 70 or so feet of vertical and staring down the precipitous 20 degree slope, a slow churning sensation develops in my bowels. How the hell am I supposed to get down that? I paw skeptically at the surface with the tip of my ski. To call it ‘carpet’ is putting it rather optimistically. The all weather material is more like a sea of upturned brushes, bristles pointed to the heavens. Picture your worst ever fall and imagine doing that on a surface of stiff bristles. One word: Lacerations. I have the scars to prove it.

acker's ski slope birmingham england

My father drops in, executes a couple trademark tight slalom-like turns and is soon at the bottom hooting encouragement. I position my skis in a snow plough and lock my knees as hard as I can. Lips pursed, heart thumping in my throat, balls completely retracted in anticipation of the carnage. Lean forward and hope for the best, lean forward and hope for the best. Everything blurs, the wind howls in my ears and suddenly without knowing quite how, I am at the bottom being black-slapped and high-fived. By all accounts I was a natural from the start. Straight-lining down the slope at break-neck speed, skis bouncing all over the place but just about maintaining formation. It was utterly exhilarating and I was instantly hooked. We lapped the hill all afternoon.

I soon graduated onto bigger and better things, experiencing actual snow for the first time the following year in Switzerland, but those first few times on the dry slope have always stayed with me. I think about it as I curse the rock that scraped across my edges; I think about it as I check the progress of that huge storm in the Pacific, and again when I bitch about the jet stream that took it 1000 miles south leaving us high and dry; I definitely thought about it when I signed on the dotted line for the eye-watering amount of money that got me the new skis I had coveted all summer. It puts everything in perspective. Seven years old and bombing down a pile of rubble in the rain, I never could have imagined that I would one day get to ski every day. Every day. We have it pretty damn good here. By all means pray for snow, but keep a little perspective and think twice before you go burning your sticks.

david hewat birmingham england jackson hole


Other Posts from The Mountain Pulse

Powered By DynamiX