“Oh my God! Look at his beard!” The exclamation echoed down from people riding the chairlift above me, followed by hoots of joy and frenzy. It was a March morning, and over two feet of creamy spring fluff had fallen overnight on Park City Mountain Resort. My friends and I knew the skiing that day would be big, but we never expected to arrive at the gate leading to Jupiter Bowl exactly when ski patrol dropped the rope, we never expected to grab second chair, and I never expected to feel so justified in growing a winter beard as I did on that glorious day.
When we got off the Jupiter lift, the occupants of first chair sped off to the west along the ridgeline, leaving the bowl totally untracked. It was all mine. Amazed, I dropped in and was immediately swallowed by powder that had no bottom. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. My only sense was gravity pulling me down the hill with every turn, and stinging snow flowing into my face like a stream. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I stopped beneath the lift just to take a clean breath. Catcalls and hollers echoed down as skiers and snowboarders practically vibrated out of their seats in anticipation of their turn in the deep. I looked up at the packed chairs hanging above me with probably the most involuntary smile ever expressed, and that’s when the voice from above cried out, “Oh my God! Look at his beard!”
I couldn’t see it for myself, but my beard was completely caked in snow. Judging from the reaction above, it must have looked pretty burly. In that moment, my decision to grow a winter beard was validated, despite protests from my wife, jabs from my co-workers, and laughter from my friends. In that moment, I decided that growing a winter beard is awesome.
At first, I didn’t even want the beard. It was only grown in protest. I’ve never been known to have facial hair, and I never really thought about growing a beard before. Sure, there were times when I tried, like when I sported a bit o’ chin-muff in college, but I had no desire to cultivate a full-on mountain man beard. The only reason I started growing my whiskers was in response to the pitiful start of the 2009/10 ski season.
November was a bad way to start winter in Utah that year, and December wasn’t much improved. In anger, I shook my fist at the clear, blue heavens and vowed to never shave again until I skied on a powder day of at least 10 inches or more. Funny thing is, this beard business was all my wife’s fault. Our neighbor had mentioned to her that he wasn’t going to shave until the first powder day, so I decided to join him in the hopes that if enough of us grew our man-groves, then Ullr would be pleased and give us his white bounty. Upon communicating this to my wife, she rolled her eyes and told me (thinking it would last a week) to go ahead and grow a beard.
A week became two, then three, and no powder fell from the sky. A month approached and our fuzzy protest had done little to blanket the rocks and ice that ski resorts were struggling to advertise as the “perfect time to rediscover our ski legs.” Slowly, to my wife’s horror, my facial hair started to grow long and fill in. The only saving grace for her was to delight in pointing out the gray hairs that sprouted on my chin.
I didn’t even like the beard at first. It was irritating, scratchy, and my wife didn’t want to kiss me anymore. Then finally, low pressure systems moved in, the air got cold, and our winter season had begun. My first real, glorious powder day that year came and went, and the entire ski community rejoiced. But that powder day also meant it was time to pay up to Mother Nature and shave. So the beard came off, and my wife was thrilled. However, that first taste of pow (with scruff in tow) showed me the benefits of having a winter beard, and they are many. In fact, there are so many benefits, that upon my next ski day, I regretted ever keeping my side of the bargain by putting razor to face.
First, the winter beard insulates. After shaving off the fur, frigid wind felt a thousand times colder on baby-bare cheeks and chin. Sans beard, I had to hide my face inside my jacket collar instead of holding my head high like Mighty Thor in defiance of the wind’s attempt to penetrate my natural “mansulation.”
Second, the winter beard totally gives me outdoorsy cred. Nothing makes a man exude an image of outdoor experience better than Jeremiah Johnson-style whiskers. In fact, because I was born and raised in Colorado, my Californian grandfather nicknamed me “Jeremiah.” Therefore, the beard is my birthright.
Third, the winter beard lets me taste flavorful foods long after I’ve eaten. I simply lick my mustache to relive that savory apple cobbler or mint chocolate chip ice cream over and over again.
Fourth, the winter beard gives me something to stroke and tug on while deep in serious thought. When a being of superior authority tries to explain something to me, the simple act of pulling at my chin projects an image of thoughtful contemplation. This movement also comes in handy while reading large tomes of literature, and is especially appropriate when employed at hipster coffee shops.
And finally, the winter beard acts as a collector of the thing I love most – sweet powder. Whether I’m face-deep in the most fathomless blower a man can ski without choking to death, or standing on a wind-blown ridge while blizzard snow stabs my face with needles of pain, the winter beard becomes a magnet for snow. It’s truly a great feeling to be able to stand beneath a lift ridden by poor souls about to ski my sloppy seconds, then bless them with the image of a lambskin-white snow beard split only by an enormous, snow-eating grin.
I am transformed into a living measurement of snow depth. I become a breathing projection of face-shot probability.
Of course, there are downsides to letting my looks fly south for a noble cause. Friends tease, either out of jealousy or true perplexity. When the beard is paired with a flannel shirt, managers at the office state that I appear as if I’m employed at a hardware store. And pulling icicles out of my ‘stache hurts like hell. But I endure, because the winter beard is bigger than my ego, and its value can’t be quantified by the number of pros, to the number of cons.
That first ski season, I upheld my agreement to shave after the first powder day, but nothing in our verbal contract stipulated that I couldn’t grow another beard. So I did. And you know what? My wife started to actually like it… encouraged it even. Now the winter beard has become a yearly tradition, with a growing season that begins in October and lasts through April. And I’m not alone. These days, the mountains are filled with dudes sporting their own winter beards. And when we spot each other, a simple nod expresses a brotherhood that needs not be spoken, yet symbolizes a shared knowledge that growing a winter beard is a simple, beautiful thing.