The herd of elk materialized out of nowhere. My headlights picked up their faint outlines ahead but my mind was slow to react. I slammed the brakes and laid on the horn, managing to avoid an early morning collision with the Madison Valley elk herd. The real adventure was just beginning. The snow started falling in earnest a few miles further down the road, evolving into a blinding whiteout. The road surface disappeared beneath a blanket of new snow, but onward I pressed. My two-wheel-drive Honda Civic barreled up and over an unplowed Raynolds Pass, propelling me ever closer to my final destination of Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming.
After four hours behind the wheel, I rolled into the resort parking lot just before 9 a.m. I threw on my gear and made a mad dash to the ticket window, managing to hop in the line right as the season’s first chair loaded. It was Targhee’s opening day, and the place was empty, which was strange because Targhee had picked up two feet of fresh snow just that week, and it was still snowing hard. A few minutes later, I was standing at the top of the lift, tightening my boots and preparing to drop.
The first turn was deep; the next turn was deeper. Then the snow was up to my waist. With each turn the snow billowed over my head, blasting my face with cold smoke. The skiing was effortless, which was good because my quads were definitely out of shape. The snow was so light and deep that every turn was like skiing through air. Then I nailed a rock lurking beneath the shimmering surface. I double ejected from my skis and somersaulted into a ditch. Well, it was only the beginning of December after all, and even though the snow was waist deep, the base certainly wasn’t. The rock carved a deep core shot down the center of my ski, but the conditions were too good to stop and worry about little things like that.
I cruised to the base and hopped right back on the lift. There wasn’t even a line; and there wasn’t one for the rest of the day. It was unbelievable, considering it was some of the deepest snow I’ve ever skied. For the next few hours I lapped untracked run after untracked run, and all the while it kept snowing. It was what skier’s dreams are made of. Perhaps the most incredible part was that the mountain had been bare just one week earlier. I had been sinking into bitter despair as snow piled up around the likes of Whistler and Tahoe, while the mountains near Bozeman basked in the warm November sunshine. Opening day at Targhee brought retribution for what had been a downright depressing November, and seemingly marked the beginning of bountiful snowfall to come.