I returned to Timberline last weekend and spent one day being abused by the slopes and the second day contemplating their rough beauty within the lodge. There were times that first day, while sliding through the driving snow, that I felt horribly lost— there were no landmarks and there was no horizon. The sky and ground were equally cold, hard, and grey.

Whiteout. That’s how my students referred to it.

* * * *

From within the lodge it seems less menacing. Around you people laugh and chatter, oblivious to the fact that the snow presses twenty feet up every side of the lodge. The windows on the first two levels are darkened by the wall of snow, its wooly grey giving way to blue as it thins towards the third floor and the wan daylight begins to sift through. People sit by the highest bank of windows and watch as the weather is thwarted by thick glass and thicker walls.

From this vantage all the flurry is just confection. A television dribbles out the news as pop songs bounce against the timbers. A few sniffling skiers sit at the bar getting sloshed.

It seems less menacing but I can’t concentrate. The wind is still blowing. The trees are bent under a terrible weight. The white noise doesn’t warm me.

Were I to stay longer I don’t think the snow would stop. It would rise like a slow tide over the lodge and all the trees. The white would consume everything on land until there was no land left— just a vast emptiness between heaven and earth: a whiteout.

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