The snow was superb Saturday when five of us with the Grants Pass Nordic Club skied onto the lower road on the back side of Mt. Ashland – eight inches of new snow, as soft and slick as beaver fur. Our skis, squeaking quietly, carried us silkily down the hill. Breaking trail, I stepped onto unblemished snow, the evergreens ahead of me thrusting their snow-laden limbs against a storm-black sky.
We were skiing with long gliding steps. As the hill steepened, we broke into a glorious free-ride dash, ending with a graceful turn around a corner and slowing down as the road turned uphill. In such perfect snow, skiing was graceful, fast, exuberant.
We climbed more steeply uphill, and then in front of us was a large totem pole
and, behind it, a log cabin, half-buried in the snow, though its doorway, deep under the eaves, had been swept clean. A view of Mt. Shasta rose with stunning brilliance across the valley.
After admiring the beauty of the place, envying, a bit, its owners, we climbed up the hill next to the cabin until the snow was so deep we had to stop. Then we turned around and skied back down with that glorious fast-but-controlled motion we had been experiencing all morning.
The return was going to be even better, we knew, a fast, beautiful ride in our own tracks through that glorious snow.
We left the cabin one at a time. I was the third person down, but I hadn't skied far when the man in front of me yelled, "Snowplow coming!" My heart sank. A snowplow! That would ruin our snow. To get out of its way, I quickly retraced my steps to stand with the other two skiers in front of the cabin.
Soon a small snowplow, breaking the silence and pushing snow, ground up the hill toward us. The driver, a young man, stopped the machine in front of the cabin, put it in neutral, and got out. He approached us, saying, "This is private property. We would appreciate it if you wouldn't ski here."
I looked around at the empty cabin, the beautiful snow, the view of Mt. Shasta just over the rise. Not ski in this beautiful place? "Why?" I asked.
He said, "You wouldn't want strangers walking around your property, would you?"
I said, "If I had a house on a mountain and all this snow and this beautiful view and I wasn't living in the house and wasn't even there, I don't think I would mind if five or six cross-country skiers shared my snow and my view. We're not doing any harm. We're not being disrespectful in any way." He mumbled something about vandals, and I wanted to say, "Look at us. Sixty-year-old cross-country skiers [taking an average]. Do we look like vandals?" Not wanting to be belligerent, I didn't point out the obvious.
I felt belligerent, though. The only reason not to let us ski there, obviously, was because the place was his – all that beautiful snow, that incomparable view, the mountain itself. It was all his, and he didn't want to share it. The house, of course, was also his, but we weren't interested in taking anything from the house. What we wanted to take was the excitement and joy of skiing in that beautiful snow, of looking at that incomparable view. But he wanted to say, "It's mine. All mine, and I don't want to share it. I don't have to let you enjoy my gorgeous spot on the mountain, and I want you to stay away. Leave it all to me."
So we left, skiing down the road that had, an hour before, been the most perfect snow of the winter and that was now a flat, hardened hill of snow-pavement. The descent was dangerously fast. The only way to control speed was to plow into the snowbank or drop to the ground, coming to a stop to calm the breath before standing and trying again. Two people took off their skis and walked.
The rest of the way wasn't so dangerous, just a lot of work. When we stopped for lunch, we talked about the ruined snow, the young man who had spoiled our fun, and how beautiful the snow had been earlier in the day.
I envision the young man entering his house after we left, turning on the heat, making himself a cup of coffee, laced with brandy, and sitting down to contemplate the view of Mt. Shasta across the valley. He is thinking, of course, about us. He is seeing us again, the three gray-haired skiers, the other two women. He is thinking about our tracks going up the mountain next to the cabin, our delight in whizzing down on those tracks, the glee on our faces, the skill of our sport. He begins to see that there would be nothing in the world wrong with letting us, and people like us, enjoy this spot on the mountain when he and his family weren't using the cabin. He began to be sorry he had run us off. He even began to be sorry he had spoiled that rare, beautiful, deep snow. He began to be sorry he was such a selfish, uncharitable, mean bastard. When I see him there the next time I ski up to the cabin, he will smile and say, "So glad you can enjoy this beautiful day, this beautiful view, and this beautiful snow here at my mountain cabin. Have a wonderful day."