Last on Hill

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RED LEADER: Our first red run

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CHILLY: Lunch time snow fall.

The sun had fallen behind the mountain and the golden hue that hung like a shimmering halo above the peak had shifted to the icy blue of impending dusk. Apart from the brief racket of a grooming plow, all was as still as the verse of a Bjork song. My bindings were covered in snow and the late afternoon temperature drop had frozen the clip, but before long, I was up and moving in the way we were all meant to travel – sideways.

THE CREW: The nine boarders who share our trip to Austria.

THE CREW: Eight of the nine boarders who share our trip to Austria (Tony is behind the lens).


DIGS: The rustic hut where we spent the sleepy times.

DIGS: The rustic hut where we spent the sleepy times.


SHOES OFF INSIDE: Our boards lined up ready for some powder.

SHOES OFF INSIDE: Our boards lined up ready for some powder.

The only wind came from my progress down the slope, and for the first time ever – I was alone on a mountain. Occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of one or two of my companions, but even then, there was only we six sharing the entire peak that towers over Mayrhofen, Austria. We paused at some turns to look out over the valley through the clarity of the twilight chill, however most of the time I focused on the sound of my board slicing through the freshly turned snow. Turns that were impossible in the crush of the crowd an hour before were now effortless, and our pace slowed with the opportunity to use the entire canvas of the mountainside.  As our boards left their mark on the freshly manicured run, the evening turned cobalt blue, reminding us of the impending dark.

MISTY: Climbing to the piste in the morning cloud.

MISTY: Climbing to the piste in the morning cloud.


Peak Hub: The lift hub at the top of the main gondola.

PEAK HUB: The lift hub at the top of the main gondola.


AFTERNOON SESSION: Late afternoon on the piste.

AFTERNOON SESSION: Late afternoon on the piste.

We paused again close to the end of the run where a pile of snow blocked an icy curve. The early season snowfall had transferred the barrier into a ramp and – inexperienced as we were (this being my third day of snowboarding) – we laughed as we took turns launching ourselves towards the icy turn. In no time, the insistent passage of time brought the inky blanket of dusk nearer and we reluctantly set our lines towards the lift back down to the village. Crouching for speed, and with the chilly air buffeting our faces, we glided to a halt close to a ski in bar where other riders had gathered to celebrate the first weekend of snow. Ignoring the stumbling revelers, we walked together to the lift that would take us back to our chalet. As we sat in cable car laughing about the day’s adventures, there was a palpable energy that we knew came from having the entire hill to ourselves.

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SNOWED OUT: A quick break on the piste.


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ON TOP: The highest peak we reached on the final day.

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It’s a difficult balance that we strike as sideways riders. Not that long ago, empty line-ups and uncrowded pistes were the norm, and half an hour of open snow or a day out with no other surfers was an expectation rather than a treat. Now, we share our waves and our slopes with countless others. Part of me respects the connection and the brotherhood that has grown so large and transcended the barriers we create between communities. Another, more selfish part of me relishes in those rare moments where I can enjoy riding alone in the world.

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Because we were last on the hill, we reached our cabin with brimming spirits, filled with the warmth of an all too infrequent shared experience. We slept well that night, and you can bet that we were there the very next day – last on hill!

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