While skiing in the Catalan Pyrenees I have an unusual opportunity – a date with a piste basher. I am whisked to the top of a mountain in a powerful metal monster and watch the sun being sucked out of the sky. It is a surprisingly intimate experience.
Date with a Piste Basher
Ascent into night
The night calls. The plough crawls.
Smoothing stubborn tracks, closing gaps.
A bright red tank on a blind white bend.
Bullying stubborn banks with a roar,
a desert calm, an almost vertical climb.
An encounter with a friend, a wave of steady hand;
six more, out there, in heated cabs,
scattered across the frozen sand
remoulding their mountains. Engine drone
keeping loneliness at bay.
The hill stirs. The engine roars.
He cuts it dead, puts a finger to his lips.
Points out something in the trees. Smiles.
Whispers a name in Catalan. Accelerates again.
Above the line of green. Untangling piste,
opening path, pushing past post,
green, blue, red, black,
lift straps flap in the wind.
On far horizons others like him
strip the horizon. Slip
icy tracks into metal jaw
wiping flaw and easing flow.
Surrounded by a fairy tale glow
Snow White turns pink, grey,
black, as night consumes the day.
The light fades. The dusk falls.
We descend. The machine’s red beams
lend ghostly light as the piste doctors
lift the wrinkled skin, without the need for
needle or filler. They smooth plump tracks
like chalet girls changing crumpled beds.
Exorcising crystal ghosts, no zig zag scar
or criss cross curve of ski or board remains.
Wide lanes are purged and swept
time fades, minutes pass, this silent world
is stilled. We are all that’s left.
The blanket spread. The tips of trees.
Leaves curl like Lowry’s smoking roofs
or the ringlets of girls. Endless track
switching forward and back.
A solitary skier tucks in behind,
a kid following a milk float,
unearthly milky bar glow flicking
pale shadow onto whitewashed wall
throwing snow into flashing light,
fine rain, the gentle spray of night.
Dark white knight
The mist clears. The excursion ends.
He helps us out, turns the key again.
Grins and grinds his machine uphill,
bashing the sleet, empty piste
and deserted slope; his alone
to groom and stitch and comb.
Turning pleat and ridge
into smooth ice sheet.
Mountain becomes mirror. Ready to catch
first glimpse of a fresh new Catalan sun.
We run, hearts beating, as he retreats
back to his beat, and the night,
his day job far from done.