Textbook winter falls down out of the sky, so soft and subtle and silent that its been there, all around you, for weeks before you start to notice, before you really notice, before you wake up to a town full of drifts in lieu of streets, before you notice that the icicles on side porches are already three feet long and still growing, before you say, hey, I havent used my rock skis since Thanksgiving, I havent seen a rock for weeks and its not yet Christmas, its a textbook winter, a real textbook winter, at last, again. . .
Textbook winter isnt just a state of mind. Its a state of weather: dependable, deepening dumps of snow, day after white-flaked day, a state of storms which is also a state of grace when you live in a ski town, a seasonal grace which only falls out of the sky onto town once every three, four, five winters, a state of weather, storms and snow that produces, of course, a state of mindthe right state of mind.
Textbook winter starts to take hold of the collective imagination of a ski town the way rumors of revolution spread through third-world shanty towns. People meet at the bakery, the post office, whisper like conspirators: Did you go up on the mountain yesterday morning? Yeah, awesome. Snorkel city, I mean like face shots all the way, like... Like nothing else. Like midsummer dreams of skiing that condense directly out of your mind onto the new-white slopes above town. Like a Warren Miller film only this time you and your friends are the stars and its happening right here, not a thousand miles away, or in the Alps, or only (as you sometimes suspect) in Warren Millers imagination.
Textbook winter arrives with lines of stacked-up storms that come rolling out of the west, cross-hatching the weather maps with little snowflake graphics, while country music stations broadcast their winter storm-watch advisories to disgruntled truckers 18-wheeling across America through ground blizzards on iced-up interstates, while skiers smile their secret smiles.
You know youre in the middle of a textbook winter when the town Marshal puts up extra stop signs to protect the kids as they sled non-stop, out-of-control, down the ice-hung hills, down the snow-slabbed streets and out across intersections where slamming on brakes is no longer an option; when cars with locked brakes can only mush sideways until their bumpers kiss and their drivers grin foolish grins and apologize; when snowballs fly out of left field when you least expect them, and tiny attackers scatter down the street with gales of laughter, waves, giggles.
You know its textbook winter, and nothing else, and nothing but, when it snows and snows and snows, for weeks at a time but only at night, when every morning the clouds dissipate and blow off the peaks like long lace scarves and before youve finished breakfast the skys a fresh-dyed blue. And by the time you get down to the lift fifty hardcore powder freaks are lined up in front of you, waiting for the first chair, but it doesnt matter because everyone gets first tracks anyway in a textbook winter.
Textbook winter is snow pure and simple. Enough snow, all the snow you ever wanted and a little extra, snow à go-go, a self-renewing mantle of white that never gets too hard, too scraped, too icy, too thin, or any of the other cancerous ills that snow is prey to. A planet that squeaks underfoot: six-sided crystalline carpets, sparkling dendrite dust healing summer scars, a cold white slipcover of snow, a borrowed white dress shirt of snow, a wideawake dream of all the snow you ever wanted and never quite got. Youve got it now.
Textbook winter starts on time and ends on time, knows when to quit, doesnt spoil a good thing by snowing right on into mud season, weeks after the last lifts have closed. Textbook winter takes a bow and exits stage right, lets spring slide sideways upcanyon, retaking the high country blade by green blade of grass. Just when no one in town has another turn left to give, just when waitresses start to loose their tempers and ski tuners are getting sloppy, just as the towns collective dreams turn towards Mexico and Moab and surf and sunshine, just in time, while everyones memories are still mind-deep in powder but before winter becomes a dirty word.
Textbook winter leaves town just before you do, moments before off-season really starts. Its over; over before you ever manage to put into words how good it really was; over before you can say thanks. You only dimly understand that youll be talking about this winter for years to come, that youll never forget it. All youre sure of is that it happened, might even happen again, once or twice in a skiers life, a textbook winter of fine forever flakes falling out of a cloudflagged sky into a ski towns heart.