What is it about tracks in the snow?
"I don’t know what that is, but it’s not skiing.” I overheard one heliskier say to another as they watched one of the group's last skiers make their way to the lunch spot at CMH Bobbie Burns. “Look. He started way over there on the left, crossed all our tracks, and skied down the other side. That’s not skiing!”
It was one of those perfect bluebird days with CMH, with the mountains generously blanketed in easy-to-ski powder, and a group of guides who were fired up about getting in as much skiing as a twin-engine jet helicopter could provide.
Everyone was having a blast, and even the skier who was irritated by the cutting of the tracks didn’t stay grumpy for long. But it made me wonder. What is up with our fascination with tracks in the snow?
I enjoy looking back up the hill at ski and snowboard tracks as much as anyone. The tracks tell a story. The long arcs of the snowboarders, the symmetrical lines left by good powder skiers, the chaotic patterns of a heavily skied powder slope that shows the crashes, the timid traverses, the big airs, landing craters, the speed demon's lines, and slow zen-like lines all reveal the fun of a powder day.
There are still a few heliski groups who choose to adhere to the "Arlberg style" where each track spoons agains the next, leaving a perfect comb-like pattern. Largely, however, thanks first to snowboarding and now to big mountain freeskiing, diversity is the name of the game and each skier, safety and space allowing, can leave their own mark, from straight-lines, to 50-metre arcs, to tight parabolas.
Joe Vallone, a new-school ski pro who has skied the Eiger, is a skilled jibber in the terrain park, an experienced alpine climber and UIAGM Mountain Guide, says, “I like to make every kind of turn I know on every run I make.”
Some might argue that snowshoes don’t leave as nice of a track as skis or snowboards, but French artist Simon Beck, after foot problems forced him to give up running, began making massive patterns in the snow while wearing snowshoes, sometimes working several days on a design like the one below. More if his spectacular snow art can be seen here.
Even in the summertime, leaving tracks in the snow is a blast, as shown below in a photo by CMH hiking guide Lyle Grisedale of a Bugaboos-sized bumslide during a CMH Summer Adventures fun-fest. These adventure travellers might have ridden a zipline over a canyon the day before, and climbed a via ferrata the next day; standard fare with CMH Summer Adventures.
In the concluding lines of Bugaboo Dreams, the book about the invention and state-of-the-art of heliskiing, I wrote: “There is poetry to it: perhaps the most fitting monuments to his (Hans Gmoser) team’s contribution to the mountains are the countless tracks left beside each other each winter in the snows of the Columbias, as impermanent as one man’s life, yet telling a story of excitement and friendship in the mountains.”