The “Deliciously Guilty Pleasure” and “Disorienting Joy” of California Skiing in August

(p. A20) This weekend, . . . hordes of Californians are smearing pink and yellow zinc oxide on noses, shoving feet into hard plastic ski boots and gliding over to the lifts at Mammoth Mountain for yet another day on the slopes. A reminder: It’s August.

. . .

Unpredictable change is the new status quo.  . . . it can also, in a rare instance like the chance to ski in the dog days of summer, bring a disorienting joy.

. . .

In mid-July [2023], well after all the hot dogs and fireworks, I headed up to the Sierra and ran into so much lingering snow that the road through Yosemite National Park hadn’t yet opened for the season. I took an alternate route, 108 over Sonora Pass, and saw people parking in turnouts, carrying skis up dirt trails through trees, stepping onto sunny snow slopes and linking turns back down to ice chests full of cold drinks before, you know, maybe going for a swim. When I finally got to Kelly’s place, the creek on her high desert property frothed in a fabulous white and clear torrent through sage lands sparkling with superblooming yellow mule’s ear, red paintbrush and white phlox. The big peaks, meanwhile — in the dead heat of a California summer — remained so heavily blanketed in snow that I felt I was seeing them the way Indigenous people must have during the Little Ice Age, 500 years ago.

The premise of California’s secular faith in nature is that water plus sunshine equals enlightenment. In high school I was transfixed by a description on the jacket of Bank Wright’s classic “Surfing California” of “skiing Mount Baldy in the morning and surfing Hermosa Beach in the afternoon.” That struck the teenage me as the absolute perfect way of snatching healthy peace and giddy fun from the predictable maw of adult misery.

. . .

. . . when I drove to Mammoth, put on my favorite cowboy hat against the sun and sipped iced coffee while watching tiny black figures ski down blinding white slopes, the experience was perhaps best likened to the queasy adrenalized thrill of an oncoming manic episode after a long and dark depression — worrisome, yes, bound for nowhere good but, as long as we’re just talking here and now, a deliciously guilty pleasure.

For the full commentary, see:

Daniel Duane. “The Upside of Climate Chaos? Skiing in August.” The New York Times (Monday, August 7, 2023): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 6, 2023, and has the title “It’s August. Californians Are Still Skiing. Don’t Ask.”)

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