White Trash: An essay by Allan Bard & Tom Carter

Midnight on Ice Tower Ridge. | Mt. Erebus, Antarctica, 1992 | Photo: Galen Rowell

The driving snow obscured the porch light. With his face pressed against the frosted window pane, Bardini continued raving about the chills, thrills and high-speed adventure of his favorite subject—crud skiing.

I got up and strolled into the kitchen to retrieve a beer as he mumbled something about “the poetry of raw struggle with untouched wild snowfields, the elements and the risk of pitching perfection into chaos like a leaf in the wind.” Bardini may blither, but the fact remains—crud snow, the infamous white trash, abounds.

There is a lot of strange snow out there in the “sticks,” off the beaten track. It’s said the Eskimo liberally use over 100 words to describe this ever-changing medium. Undoubtedly, dozens are probably unprintable profanities. But these rulers of the snowy wastelands consider the infinite possibilities with a festive, sort of trick-or-treat attitude: “If it doesn’t make good skiing, it’ll make great igloos!” 

This attitude definitely offers more options than attaching the slanderous label of “unskiable junk” to all crud. That is muckraking—and since white trash is everywhere, you would do well to come to terms with bad snow early in your skiing career.

The continental “crud belt” extends from Maine to Alaska. Each year’s bumper crop guarantees free passes to augerama. Eating it big is as much a part of skiing as Warren Miller films, first tracks and cheese fondue. Besides, dining on gooey snow is every skier’s birthright. You can either eat it with style or train yourself to ski it.

Learning to ski junk snow and having a little fun in the process is really just a matter of relaxing your expectations. Be positive. Think of your next tumbling head-plant as a stroke of genius. Kinetic art. When was the last time you saw anything more hilarious than your partner blasting out of control, arms akimbo, as if on a runaway stallion, in a wild counterbalancing attempt to avoid the inevitable cartwheeling eggbeater? Given the right measure of humor and a “cowabunga” attitude, those ubiquitous fields of visco-elastic material are transformed into alluring battlegrounds or, depending on your point of view, stages for epic comedy.

And, just as answering the Divine Summons to ski the thick guano is never ho-hum, retiring to the pub after being keelhauled through 20,000 leagues of applesauce is always enlightening. You will overhear all manner of ludicrous testimonials and delirious descriptions of the “leap ‘n’ land watuzi,” the “rabbit punch,” and the “hydroplane,” which, although entertaining, offer little consolation to the neophyte. Sharing tales of laughable antics and reckless abandon with your skiing buddies is the time-tested, low-budget remedy for recovering from a humility hangover. Pay no attention to their premises that you were born a klutz and therefore are destined to die a klutz. There may still be hope.

On one occasion after a particularly grueling uphill cross-country tour, we made the distressing discovery that fickle winds had blasted the Blue Lagoon, our favorite powder bowl. Its marbled surface spelled c-r-u-s-t. Anticipating a real pummeling, we whimpered quietly and considered padding our beknickered backsides with Sunday editions of the LA Times before launching ourselves into the suitably dubbed “fall line.”

Looking down the slope, we collected ourselves. Were we going to punch through? Where did our weight need to be to ski this junk? Where was the ski’s sweet spot? We rehearsed our stance and flex, scrutinized the snow and considered how much momentum was needed to drive each turn into the next. Diving into a tele, we discovered the wind-sculpted surface was merely a thin veneer. There was no snagging crust, and the snow released us with ease. As our speed picked up, the veneer shattered and skipped down the bowl like stones skittering across a frozen pond. Camouflaged beneath the crystalline film lay 18 inches of old, settled powder. Our ski tips tore through the cellophane topsheet, sending a gush of loose powder puffing up through the ruptured surface on every turn. We were screaming; it was fabulous skiing.

Perspectives, of course, vary according to vantage point. To the untrained eye pudding pastures can be benign, drawing snow bunnies like the tar pits drew mastodons. But to the true crud lover, slopes of pristine mashed potatoes are recognized for what they are: a delight as welcome as untracked powder, regardless of how messy they may be to ski.

What you’re sharing with friends in these trackless fields is the freedom of choice and high adventure that is the essence of skiing. Off the groomed trails, the outback lies waiting in an unbroken expanse, a sea of textured beauty. Winter’s alpine ambience is incomparable, a breathtakingly serene and worthy stage for the pursuit of grace and balance. To dance across this snowscape is a dream realized. Ephemeral and vaporizing even as you glide, this transient crystalline mantle is destined to evaporate into clouds. Whatever the snow conditions, this feeling of hushed wonderment is a priceless treasure found only far from the madding crowds.

Bardini breathed a sigh of satisfaction and added with a wink, “The wilderness in winter is a magical protean place, even when the snow is the ‘wrong stuff.’” White trash? Not always, but there is a lot of unpopulated skiing out there.

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