Cycles of Winter

Image:Cycles of Winter
01. Feb, 2017 Written by: Rok Rozman


In late November we all start looking to the skies and asking questions like when will it start, when will it come? We did the same this Winter, but the questions only gave space to new questions, as the white substance simply didn’t come. There was even no rain; it was just a super dry and strange last part of the year. We had to wait till February to finally get it here in the Slovenian Julian Alps. February became December and so it all started. Smiles upon people’s faces showed that our time is coming. Calls and messages started dropping. “What time and which mountain tomorrow?” were the most common ones and you could feel the enthusiasm growing inside. Even the dog felt the vibe and went crazy when he finally saw me carrying the skies around. He knew what was about to happen…

Feeling good

Once you leave the comfort of your house and hit the road in early morning the feeling is just right. A wonderful thing about ski touring is that you have to go when the conditions are right. Just what life is all about. It is now or next year, what seems like never. You leave all your daily pressures and obligations behind and just go. Then you come to the end of the road, step out of the car and enter a different state. Sure you forgot to put the skins on the skies the evening before so you glue them on with freezing fingers and barely wait to step in the bindings and leave car and daily problems behind. By the time you do that the dog is already there. Now you enter the state that makes us what we are…

Mountains and rivers

Mountains are like Rivers – never the same. Variables make things interesting and ski touring if full of them. There is always something different waiting for you up there; different snow pack, different type of snow and weather or you just feel different than the last time. You start walking and distractions simply shut down. Senses tune in and come flashing out as this is what humans were designed for over the long evolution we faced. I always shut down the phone too and only carry electrical avalanche transceiver with me although the true one is always there; Hal the dog is ready for action and help at any time and stake. Not checking the conditions on web and all those forums just makes things more real and interesting. After first steps you start soaking in the atmosphere and information that are waiting there for you to unravel. You soon know if you took the right skis with you – we all wish to ride powder but Julian Alps are not Alaska so finding it takes some time and knowledge, if you visit the world up there soon after the snowstorm you get your part. Sure an all round ski will do it’s job in any case and will leave you relaxed. Putting effort in walking or climbing up is so much easier when you know that going down will be one big pleasure and joy. Even if the ascent is long and exhausting you know that it is well worth and often we decide to make it longer and harder just to elongate our trip and descent.

Another point of view

Being a biologist and careful observer ascents never get boring; there is so much you can see and experience if you just open your eyes and ears and follow your guts where they take you. Seeing a chamois or ibex in the deep snow is simply amazing; you see how well suited for the habitat they are and feel a bit awkward compared to them. Meeting a snow grouse is anyhow my favorite as these humble yet sturdy birds are the example of what a well equipped being is – the harsher the conditions the more they like it. In contrast with other mountain wildlife that retreat to lower reaches in Winter they stay on very tops and feel completely at home. It is smart to know that for them we are intruders and we should realize that at every step, with super simple measures we temporary mountain dwellers can minimize the unwanted effects. There is enough space for all of us when respect is present. Since feeling to be a part of a place liberates your mind and body this is something we can all do.

Down the hill

You reach the spot that seems just right for the end of the ascent. It doesn’t have to be the top at all, sometimes places that are hidden or seldom visited provide much more. You take a deep breath, unclip your skis and sit down to watch the theater in front of you. You feel that the well-deserved present is there and waiting till you unpack it is the sweetest possible feeling. If you spend some time sitting there, Alpine choughs will pay a visit to you and friendly ask for seeds that you might have with you. Seeing them fly around the walls and edges even in the hardest of winds simply blows my mind. They never cease to impress me.

Filled with all impressions you pack your things, clip the skis and you are ready to go. To see what the white carpet bellow has to tell you in person… Sometimes you can charge it down full speed and other times the same hill will only allow you to carefully zig-zag down – both has its advantages although we sometimes tend to forget that. Old guys around here have a saying. “It is better to have a bad skiing than a good walk down!” and I couldn’t agree more.

Different faces

So the time passes and the Winter shows all her faces, from roaring snowstorms to warm fronts that bring rain and then wind so the snow conditions rapidly change with that. Soon the warmer days kick in and the snowpack transforms into one unite layer. No more powder, no more shredding it, but much more feeling and timing is necessary as you aim to be at the top just the right moment, when 5 uppermost centimeters brake loose from night’s frost. This is the time that I find most amusing in the Mountains. You can hear first birds singing and the valleys start turning green, while high up the Winter insists. This is the period when it becomes most evident that everything moves in cycles. Our bellowed white substance is giving in to the warm sunrays and starts gliding to lower stretches where it feeds the awaking plants and small streams that begin joining forces the lower you get, all the way to the valleys. There Rivers go from being bone dry in the Winter to the abundant spring flows when waters turn murky, prompting many fish species to spawn and migrate upstream. If you simply sit on top of a mountain and check your GPS and stopwatch and complain about warm weather that will take all snow away you will never perceive that. But if you simply sit, watch, listen and focus you have a good chance this will pop in your head and give you a much bigger picture. The one that tells you all about what is going on and the one that will make you feel so amazingly insignificant – just the way it is. The snowflakes we waited for so long to come came from what is now dripping down from slopes into streams and Rivers all the way to the sea and oceans, only to get back here again next Winter. Did you ever think about that when you traversed a steep ridge on skis – that snow from under your left ski will feed Rivers that will go to one catchment and the snow from under the right one to another? In part of Slovenian Julian Alps this means that snow from under your left ski will end up in Black Sea and the one from the right one in the Adriatic Sea, which are thousands of kilometers apart.

Not sorry

So instead of feeling sorry for the end of the season just breath in the fresh spring air full of life and information, clip your skis on and chase the same molecule of water from being a snow on the top of the mountain to the drop of water in the River bellow that you will meet in a kayak. Everything moves in cycles and so do we – it is liberating when you grasp that. All in all, you will be meeting the same molecule over and over again…and at the end of the day it is about experiences and insight and not the time, altitude or route. It is about humbly entering the ecosystem and becoming a part of it…

Rok Rozman

A former Olympic athlete in rowing (4th place at Olympic games 2008 in Beijing and 3rd place at World Championship 2009 in Poznan), biologist, pro extreme kayaker, Nature conservationist and the leader of biggest European River conservation action called Balkan Rivers Tour. In the Wintertime he is a passionate mountaineer and touring skier.

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