Early morn­ing,

Powder - - THE QUIET PLACE -

sun still way be­low the hori­zon, the air has a cold, re­fresh­ing bite that I can feel deep into my lungs. Tall ev­er­greens, their trunks furry with moss, reach tall into the pur­ple sky. The only sounds are the steady zip-zi­i­iip...zip-zi­i­iip of our skins over a crusty snow sur­face, and our breath, ap­pear­ing as va­por in the still­ness and van­ish­ing just as quickly. Other than our party of four—beau Fred­lund, Adam Clark, Noah How­ell, and me—the only other sign of life is a set of moose tracks post­holed deep into the snow. The an­i­mal has dropped sev­eral piles of scat, which look like Milk Duds, along the skin track.

“He’s eat­ing the Old Man’s Beard off the trees,” says Fred­lund, a ski guide in Cooke City, Mon­tana, as he reaches up and pulls a small strand of stringy lichen dan­gling from the pine branches.

Fred­lund, a tall and lean 35-year-old with thick yel­low eye­brows and large Adam’s ap­ple, stabs a drop­ping with the tip of his ski pole, test­ing its fresh­ness to see if Al­ces al­ces might still be hang­ing around.

The moose turd re­sponds to his pole with a solid thwack—frozen. We keep mov­ing, pe­ri­od­i­cally scan­ning the trees for the leggy beast. But our minds are pri­mar­ily fo­cused on the task of get­ting up and out to a place in the moun­tains far away from hu­man­ity, away from our cars, away from the noise and crazi­ness that seems to have con­sumed daily life nearly ev­ery­where we go.

No mat­ter what side of the bed you woke up on, there’s no deny­ing that the world is slip­ping into a deep chasm of chaos and un­cer­tainty. The po­lit­i­cal and so­cial di­vi­sions of our time have gen­er­ated deaf­en­ing noise that pen­e­trates our lives at al­most ev­ery turn. There are peo­ple march­ing in the streets. We’re wit­ness­ing a full-fledged at­tack on the en­vi­ron­ment, the press, and our health­care. A dis­turb­ing lack of ci­vil­ity has led to fight­ing and ar­gu­ing in per­son and es­pe­cially on­line, where a sim­ple scroll quickly un­cov­ers toxic vit­riol. The av­er­age Amer­i­can spends 10 hours per day look­ing at a screen. Rates of de­pres­sion and sui­cide among teenagers are at his­tor­i­cally high lev­els. Opi­oids are now re­spon­si­ble for more deaths per year in the U.S. than au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dents.

Even in the happy bub­ble of the ski uni­verse, which has al­ways been a refuge for those seek­ing to flee the greater ills of so­ci­ety, angst brews. On pow­der days last win­ter in Ta­hoe, the traf­fic was so bad that it took peo­ple two hours to drive 12 miles from Truc­kee to Squaw Val­ley. The av­er­age price of a lift ticket across the United States is nearly $100. Ski bums de­bate whether to go Epic

or Ikon, an al­most un­avoid­able con­ver­sa­tion in a world dom­i­nated by two cor­po­ra­tions. Four of the warm­est years on record all oc­curred since 2014. In ski towns across the West, young peo­ple are liv­ing in their cars, not out of choice but by ne­ces­sity. Yet those same towns con­tinue to al­low de­vel­op­ers to build big ho­tels, roller coast­ers, zip lines, and fancy restau­rants.

It all war­rants at­ten­tion—and we’d be re­miss to not count our many bless­ings as skiers—but the noise is al­most too much. The world has got­ten so loud that there are now at­tempts to pre­serve nat­u­ral si­lence, and move­ments are afoot to help pre­scribe time in na­ture, and away from our de­vices, as a form of health­care. For some, it seems like there is only one log­i­cal re­sponse: drive to the end of the road and go ski­ing deep into the wilder­ness.

Which is what Fred­lund did 10 years ago when he moved to Cooke City, a tiny snow-bound vil­lage with less than 200 year-round res­i­dents. Dur­ing the win­ter, the town sits at the ter­mi­nus of a 111-mile-long dead end. As a ski guide and na­tive Mon­tanan, Fred­lund knows the sur­round­ing moun­tains as well as any­one—an area that in­cludes Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park and the Ab­saroka-beartooth Wilder­ness, which con­sti­tute part of one of the last great in­tact ecosys­tems on Earth, some 34,375 square miles.

Iron­i­cally, Cooke City it­self is not what many skiers would con­sider a place of nat­u­ral si­lence. All win­ter long, snow­mo­biles buzz up and down the main drag. Gun­shots go off at ran­dom times. At Fred­lund’s cabin, which he rents at the end of the road, out­side of cell ser­vice, snow­ma­chines roar by just feet from his front door. The noise is so reg­u­lar he hardly no­tices it. Fred­lund him­self does not own a sled, nor does he use them to guide. If he’s not out with clients, he’s ski­ing solo or with friends he keeps in touch with through email and In­sta­gram. His ap­proach to moun­tains and wilder­ness is so in­ti­mate that he’s been known to use the same pole plants on a skin track he set the day

be­fore. Partly for fun, partly to ob­scure his pres­ence for any­one who might be fol­low­ing. That would be a rar­ity, how­ever, be­cause Fred­lund says he al­most never sees any other par­ties when he’s ski­ing.

Back on the skin track, Fred­lund is lead­ing us up a drainage when he pauses to in­spect a bas­ket­ball-sized roller ball that tum­bled onto the path the pre­vi­ous af­ter­noon. It froze overnight into a per­fectly sculpted curly Q. The in­side looks like a porce­lain snail shell. “Sorry, I need to geek out on this,” he says with a sheep­ish smile be­fore stoop­ing with his cam­era to get a close-up pho­to­graph.

Soon, we leave the old skin track be­hind and set a new one. It pro­gres­sively steep­ens on the rim of a deep gorge. Large peaks com­prised of rocks as black as coal rise up in the dis­tance, their sum­mits awash in the golden light of sun­rise. Af­ter an hour and a half of climb­ing, we fi­nally emerge from the cold shad­ows into a sun­lit for­est. The light cast by the sun against the trees turns the slope into a vi­brant can­vas of pur­ple and white ze­bra stripes.

Sev­eral years ago, a friend who grew up with Fred­lund in Billings, Mon­tana, said to me, “If Beau ever asks you to go for a ski tour, po­litely de­cline.” It was a joke in­tended to con­vey Fred­lund’s in­tense de­sire to go far and his men­tal tough­ness to deal with pain. As a back­coun­try ranger in the Ab­saroka-beartooth Wilder­ness while in col­lege, Fred­lund once dis­lo­cated his shoul­der and still man­aged to hike out sev­eral miles on his own while car­ry­ing a 42-pound back­pack. Through­out the last decade, he has gone on nu­mer­ous over­seas ski ad­ven­tures, set­ting out on epic slogs in New Zealand, Kam­chatka, and Cen­tral Asia.

But to­day, through this for­est, Fred­lund’s pace is slow enough to breathe eas­ily. As if he’s walk­ing through a church, he care­fully and qui­etly shuf­fles his skis through the six inches of cold pow­der, sa­vor­ing the mo­ment as he crosses from shade to sun to shade to sun. At the edge of the for­est, Fred­lund stops at the base of a large cirque. A tan­gled mass of ver­ti­cal black rock tow­ers into the deep blue sky. Be­neath it is a mel­low pitch with per­fect pow­der that’s call­ing to him. There are places around Cooke City where snow­mo­biles can’t go. This is one of them. It’s re­fresh­ingly hon­est, safe, and sim­ple, and al­most like it could be the qui­etest place on Earth.

It is said that the ac­tual qui­etest place is within the Hoh Rain­for­est, in Olympic Na­tional Park, Wash­ing­ton. It’s a sin­gle square inch of space, de­fined as a spot com­pletely free of hu­man-caused noise, and there are ef­forts to pre­serve it in or­der to help vis­i­tors ap­pre­ci­ate the value of si­lence. And that’s where we are in 2018: We are treat­ing a quiet place the size of a postage stamp as rare and pre­cious as a geyser in Yel­low­stone.

When you step back, it cer­tainly feels like we’ve reached a tip­ping point where even the most iso­lated places aren’t safe from the mech­a­niza­tions of hu­mankind. More than half of the 7.4 bil­lion peo­ple on the planet live in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. In 30 years, it’s ex­pected that two out of ev­ery three peo­ple will live in a city, mak­ing it even more dif­fi­cult for hu­mans to con­nect to their nat­u­ral her­itage.

A few weeks be­fore I skied with Fred­lund, I hiked out to Del­i­cate Arch in Arches Na­tional Park, Utah, at dusk. It had snowed ear­lier in the day, and the La Sal Moun­tains in the dis­tance were painted a bril­liant pink by the fad­ing sun. As I took in the awe and won­der of the arch, I heard a coy­ote yip nearby. Or so I thought. It was ac­tu­ally a woman watch­ing dog videos on her cell phone. Then she yelled to her friends, “My phone says it’s go­ing to start snow­ing in nine min­utes. We need to get outa here!” Si­lence: bro­ken. Re­spect for oth­ers: gone. My faith in hu­man­ity: ex­tinct.

Time to go ski­ing, where the weight of a deep snow­pack muz­zles sound, and where cold thins the herd by ex­ploit­ing weak­nesses.

Skiers have long known that there are tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to be­ing con­nected to quiet places in na­ture. In a purely phys­i­cal sense, there is no ski­ing with­out that con­nec­tion. You could say the same thing about walk­ing, since in or­der to walk, you must place two feet squarely on the ground. But walk­ing is pri­mal, a prod­uct of our evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy that goes back mil­lions of years. And though walk­ing can take you to quiet places, it can also lead you to war, a con­struc­tion site, a food court at the mall, or a night­club in down­town San­ti­ago that glows neon blue and thumps with elec­tronic mu­sic.

Ski­ing, on the other hand, is learned, an ex­pe­ri­ence that can be both painful and ex­hil­a­rat­ing. By learn­ing to ski, we grow to study and ap­pre­ci­ate the whims of na­ture, and how we must re­spect it in or­der to prac­tice the craft. Weather, air tem­per­a­ture, an­gle, time of day, and as­pect all af­fect snow, and thus, our in­ter­ac­tion and re­sponse to it. To ski is to be con­nected, how­ever ten­u­ously, to the Earth by the ephemeral and tem­po­rary ex­is­tence of snow.

Sci­en­tists have now shown that there are very real ben­e­fits to that con­nec­tion. Time in na­ture low­ers cor­ti­sol lev­els and blood pres­sure, and re­duces the risk of obe­sity and di­a­betes. Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Utah and Stan­ford have proven that we are health­ier, and bet­ter at be­ing hu­man (i.e. less dis­tracted, more present), when we are out­side and un­fet­tered from tech­nol­ogy. Re­searchers have also con­cluded that sim­ply spend­ing time be­neath a for­est canopy gen­er­ates calm­ness, re­ju­ve­na­tion, and restora­tive ben­e­fits. Since the 1980s, the Ja­pa­nese have in­cor­po­rated “for­est bathing” as a cor­ner­stone of na­tional medicine. In the U.S., doc­tors have started to pre­scribe the out­doors as part of a healthy life­style through ini­tia­tives like Parks Rx, a pro­gram de­vel­oped through the In­sti­tute at the Golden Gate in part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice to en­cour­age parks and green space as a form of health­care.

At the in­ter­sec­tion of good health and the en­vi­ron­ment is quiet. Peo­ple like Fred­lund know that the best way to find it is to ski there.

Fred­lund skis with his feet close to­gether, hands out front, el­bows cocked at 45-de­gree an­gles like he’s a prize­fighter coiled to make quick jabs. His turns are tight and well rounded, even on open slopes. In the shadow of those big black rocks, we make at least a dozen laps in cold pow­der.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, an air­plane crosses the sky 30,000 feet above our heads as our skis make their own con­trails across the soft snow. Clark’s nutcrack­ers swoop down to in­ves­ti­gate us, mak­ing harsh calls that re­ver­ber­ate off the cliffs, but it is oth­er­wise silent.

Fred­lund’s old-school style of ski­ing be­lies his his­tory. As a kid, he skied at Red Lodge, Mon­tana, a small hill on the east­side of the Beartooth Moun­tains, where he wanted to hit jumps and ski rails. Fred­lund was the one to show Wi­ley Miller, a pro­fes­sional skier he grew up with, how to do a back­flip and 720.

Miller says Fred­lund was one of the best skiers in their high school, a ta­lented base­ball player, and well liked by his peers. Af­ter high school, Fred­lund moved to Boze­man to at­tend Mon­tana State Univer­sity, and his dad bought him a sea­son pass to Bridger Bowl that first year as a gift. “I sure would’ve loved some­thing like this when I was in col­lege,” says John Fred­lund, who works in oil and gas ex­plo­ration. “It was a no-brainer. This is go­ing to make his life bet­ter and hap­pier. He used it like 90 times. That blew my mind.”

Fred­lund loved it so much that the next year he took some time away from school and moved to Big Sky, land­ing a job as a waiter at the Hunt­ley Lodge. Af­ter one sea­son, he moved back to Boze­man and bought a snow­mo­bile. He sold it a year later when he moved to Salt Lake City, en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Utah and be­gan ski­ing the Wasatch with his room­mates, one of whom was Miller.

One day, af­ter ski­ing to­gether a few sea­sons, Fred­lund ap­proached Miller in their apart­ment and sat him down for a talk. “That sur­prised me be­cause Beau never opens up,” says Miller. “Ba­si­cally, he told me he’s ski­ing by him­self this win­ter and he wanted me to be OK with not ski­ing to­gether. He was very se­ri­ous about it.”

They had a dry erase board in their apart­ment, and each morn­ing be­fore head­ing out, Fred­lund would write down where he was go­ing as a safety pre­cau­tion.

Fred­lund’s sis­ter, Paige Hunter, says it was around this time her brother took ski­ing to a spir­i­tual place.

“That’s when his love of ski­ing re­ally deep­ened,” she says. “He’d sel­dom go out with other peo­ple. Part of it was that he wanted to be alone so that he could lis­ten to what he was go­ing on in the moun­tains. I think he wanted to know where he was go­ing in­ti­mately.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege with a de­gree in Parks, Recre­ation and Tourism, Fred­lund moved back to Mon­tana and landed in Cooke City. In­spired by Na­tive Amer­i­can his­tory, griz­zly bears, and early ex­plor­ers, Fred­lund sees Cooke City as a prac­ti­cal place to live closer to the land. Last year, he bought a par­cel at the edge of town and built a yurt, where he hopes to even­tu­ally live full time off the grid.

“Cooke City is closer to the moon and the stars,” says his dad, John. “But as a par­ent, you can’t fight it. He’s lucky that he doesn’t need the finer things in life and can get by on the in­come of a church mouse.”

Fred­lund says he’s not try­ing to es­cape any­thing, just search­ing for some­thing mean­ing­ful. He says the quiet places help him lis­ten more closely to things that mat­ter.

“In the cur­rent age, there is so much noise, in the form of in­for­ma­tion bom­bard­ing us, that it’s hard to fil­ter out the in­for­ma­tion that is im­por­tant,” he wrote in an email. “Go­ing out in quiet places seem­ingly sim­pli­fies that flow of in­for­ma­tion. It’s a nice re­prieve from the over-stim­u­lated realm. It’s like med­i­ta­tion, in that the prac­tice of qui­et­ing your mind even­tu­ally al­lows you to fo­cus more clearly on the dis­tilled, good ideas.”

For Fred­lund, many of those good ideas boil down to the aes­thet­ics and chal­lenge of ski­ing a line in the mid­dle of nowhere. Any­time you en­ter the back­coun­try, there comes a mo­ment when you feel the um­bil­i­cal cord of civ­i­liza­tion break free. Cross­ing that thresh­old typ­i­cally car­ries the weight of be­ing en­tirely on your own. That is the draw. That is the thrill. That is the dan­ger.

We cut the cord the next day af­ter our third skin tran­si­tion of the morn­ing, when Fred­lund, Clark, How­ell, and I de­scend into a dark for­est on the back­side of a moun­tain in the op­po­site di­rec­tion of town. And yet, we still have two more tran­si­tions to get to our ob­jec­tive: a steep and nar­row couloir hid­den on the north side of a prom­i­nent peak. At the base of it, we strap skis to our packs, af­fix cram­pons to our boots, and pull out our ice axes. Fred­lund takes the lead and be­gins kick­ing steps into the side of the moun­tain. Hang­ing across the top of the 1,500-ver­ti­cal-foot couloir is a cor­nice the size of a bus. Fred­lund is con­fi­dent that it won’t break, but like Gan­dalf the Grey, he says we must not linger. Years of bru­tal as­cents and bush­whacks and men­tal and phys­i­cal stamina come into play as he hur­ries up the couloir, his lean legs ag­gres­sively kick­ing steps above Clark and How­ell, the sharp points of his cram­pons flash­ing like teeth.

The snow gets deeper as the slope grows steeper. Past mid­way, it’s so steep that my skis—at­tached A-frame to my pack—are hit­ting the snow above my head with each step up. My gloves are com­pletely soaked through, freez­ing my fin­gers as I keep a grip on my axe in one hand and a ski pole in the other. Men­ac­ing black rocks hang over ei­ther side of the couloir like gar­goyles. Stress ham­mers loudly in my brain. If the cor­nice breaks, there’s nowhere to hide; I’m well out of my com­fort zone.

But we keep go­ing. The top of the couloir nar­rows into a five-foot-wide pinch. A nifty climb over a small ice bulge near the sum­mit com­pletes the as­cent, and we pop out of the top like ro­dents. It’s sunny here, and windy. The view is noth­ing but moun­tains in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Fred­lund found this spot a few years ago af­ter por­ing over maps. He skis it a cou­ple times of year, and has har­vested blocks of solid ice from the moun­tain’s sum­mit to chill his tum­bler of whiskey when he gets home.

Af­ter a quick snack, Fred­lund ropes up on be­lay to drop in first, mak­ing three or four hop turns, giv­ing a hard ski cut each time. The snow is sta­ble. He re­leases the rope, and skis out of sight. Then me, then Clark, then How­ell. The snow is soft, but not ef­fort­less due to the steep an­gle. Back un­der the cor­nice, we de­scend as quickly as we can, farm­ing the sides for pow­der. At the bot­tom, we slap on skins and head back up through the dark for­est, clearly happy to be out of the shad­ows.

The quiet in the trees comes over us like a warm blan­ket: ob­jec­tive ac­com­plished, no more haz­ards, no more scream­ing in­side my head. I don’t know if this is the qui­etest place some­one could ever go ski­ing, but that’s not ex­actly the point. Each one of us has our own quiet place. It’s what’s in­side our hearts that re­ally mat­ters—be it a line in the wilder­ness or stash at the lo­cal ski hill— and makes nav­i­gat­ing the chaos that much eas­ier. We just have to go find it.

At a clear­ing, we get ready for a fi­nal mel­low de­scent of south-fac­ing corn back to town. The val­ley is a gi­ant U-shape ringed by 10,000-foot peaks. The build­ings in Cooke City re­sem­ble tiny pieces on a Mo­nop­oly board. “Beer awaits,” Fred­lund says be­fore shov­ing off.

Upon reach­ing the pave­ment, we slowly walk back to the truck. A car comes, and we step aside.

Above: Beau Fred­lund lives a life of rel­a­tive soli­tude at the end of the road.

Op­po­site page: The act of ski­ing grounds us, al­low­ing us to revel in the wilds of na­ture. Fred­lund sa­vors the si­lence of the turn.

To dis­con­nect from an over­con­nected world some­times re­quires per­sis­tence and stamina. But the calm­ing and in­cred­i­ble views make the ef­fort a wor­thy and noble pur­suit.

Fred­lund, left, is in­spired by the aes­thet­ics and chal­lenge of ski­ing dis­tant lines in the wilder­ness, and finds com­fort in shar­ing the bounty with friends.

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