Back country skiing isn’t easy. You want the best, untracked, freshest snow and you won’t accept anything else. Thing is, you have to work for cold smoke. You earn your turns. You skin, you slog, you sweat. You don’t feel your legs screaming. You don’t notice the ice cold air flooding your lungs with every gasp. It’s you, the mountain and you’re paying your dues. With every fucking step, you pay your dues. Snow so deep that you can barely make forward progress? Good. Cliffed out? Awesome. Steep tight trees that you can barely thread a skin track through? Fucking fantastic. The worse the up, the better the down. I want the mountain to fight me every step of the way because it’s just going to make those turns I’m earning mean that much more, feel even more perfect. Chairlifts are for sloppy seconds loving weaklings. Sleds can’t get through the trees. Helis are for pampered old people.
Back country skiers, real back country skiers know that more work, more pain, more sweat, means more powder, more faceshots, more perfect turns.
I know how to work for powder. I know I work for glory.
This story takes us back about two months to the quaint town of Calgary and a day that I found myself sitting at the Vehicle Registry getting my old beat up Subaru wagon registered for another season. Just before I turned to leave though, I asked the guy about personalized plates. A couple of hundred bucks and I could emphatically state my driving force on the license plate of my car. I love wagons, I’m addicted to the most habit forming white powder on the planet.
Only one possible plate for me.
My suby is the Powder Wagon. It takes me to the mountains, it brings me home, it shelters me at night. My suby is my partner in the powder hunter’s quest for glory. She’s my Powder Wagon.
She deserves these plates.
I paid my money, explained what the plates meant on the application and was promised I’d have those plates in two weeks. I was stoked.
Two weeks later, the day of my birthday, I don’t have plates. I have a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles at Service Alberta letting me know that they’ve decided that my ‘configuration’ does not “fit within the guidelines set out by Service Alberta”.
What. The. Fuck.
Personalized plates are almost universally owned by self-indulgent, narcissistic jackasses who take themselves way too seriously, so my initial thought is ‘meh, whatever’. But then I realize that this is just another mountain, another uptrack between me and Powder. Also, I am a self-indulgent, narcissistic jackass who takes himself way too seriously. So I call the phone number on the letter to find out what the heck they could have possibly rejected my ‘configuration’ for.
I get an incredibly nice and friendly ‘information officer’ who has to call the head office to find out what the deal is because she sure doesn’t see a problem. A short hold later she’s back on the line with the reason. The head office is concerned that powder could be a euphemism for cocaine. Apparently, Service Alberta feels that the word powder must mean cocaine and is so sure of it that no license plate can have that word on it.
I can’t stop laughing.
She asks if I want to appeal. I think this is getting ridiculous. It’s a vanity plate. But you know what? That rejection letter? It’s a cliff band on my uptrack. What do you do when you’re cliffed out on your uptrack? You contour around, find a weakness to exploit, keep going up. You work, you fight, you earn your powder. I want my PWDR.
So I find myself writing a letter of appeal to one Mr. Firoz Mohamed, Director of Motor Vehicles for Service Alberta. A reasonable person must see reason here and grant me my reasonable plates. My only hope is that Mr. Firoz Mohamed is reasonable.
I’m contacting you because I just tried to order some personalized plates and was told by letter that my selected plates were deemed not acceptable. The plates in question? PWDRWGN — a contraction of PoWDeR WaGoN. As I explained in the application, I’m am a dedicated back country skier and think that every car on the road should be a station wagon. The only thing I use my car for is to drive out to the mountains on weekends to go back country skiing or mountaineering. I’m chasing powder and normally sleeping in the back of my car so I can be the first guy at the top of a remote peak when the dawn breaks.
I just called in and spoke with a lovely information officer who let me know that the reason (and she had to contact the head office to find out) was that the word powder could be a euphemism for a narcotic.
I’m not even mad; I really just can’t stop laughing.
We live in a province that gets dumped on by snow. We have a ton of ski resorts and one on the biggest back county skiing scenes in the world. This is a province that just increased its dedication to powder safety by $150,000/year (now $250,000/year) in its support of Avalanche Canada. I literally moved to Calgary and started a career here because of the powder that is so accessible to skiers here. And I use powder here as meaning snow, not some clever double entendre. I’m guessing that there are a whole lot more skiers here in Alberta than there are narcotics abusers.
My plea to you Mr. Mohamed is two-fold. For one, I had no idea that the word ‘powder’ had developed such a nefarious and despicable undertone that the average person on the street could draw no other conclusion than that an old, green, 1995 Subaru Legacy Wagon, festooned to ski stickers and a PWDRWGN vanity plate, driving out past Canmore on its way to a weekend of shredding the gnar, must somehow be making a reference to narcotics. Let’s take back that word. Let’s return ‘powder’ its true meaning — that magical substance that drives so much of Alberta’s tourism — snow. Deep, fluffy, magical, snow.
The second portion of this plea is specifically how you can help do that. Please consider granting me my personalized plates so that I can continue to have fun driving my old beater Suby into the mountains late Friday night after a long week at work, loaded down with good friends, ski gear and a desire to explore the amazing terrain of this province, my home.
I will do my part. I will let everyone I know know that powder doesn’t just have to reference a narcotic but that it in general references any ‘fine, dry, particulate’ and that here, in this province, it means the lightest, driest snow found anywhere in the world.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Had to include the Ph.D. in there so that he realized just how deadly serious this matter is. A doctor doesn’t deal with trifling matters.
And so I awaited his response and it came shortly.
Mr. Tomlinson, Thanks for your inquiry and detailed information. Your request will be reviewed within the next business day or so. I will be in touch. Sincerely, Firoz Mohamed Director, Motor Vehicles Registry Services, Service Alberta I chose to be the bigger man and did not immediately rail at the miss-honorific. The important thing here though, is that he didn’t immediately reject my appeal out of hand. I was contouring that cliff band. I’m glad he appreciated my ‘detailed information’. Sounded like a man of reason.
A couple of emails back and forth later, mostly me pestering him for a response and I found myself on the phone with Mr. Mohamed. Pretty quickly I could tell I was dealing with a reasonable person. He explained that people are passionate about their plates and incredibly creative in their attempts to get offensive plates through. He told me about his battles over EPH OPH and GFYS and, oddly enough NEWFIE. He explained his concern that some people — not myself or himself mind you — might come to the conclusion that my license plate was referencing cocaine and take offence.
Mr. Mohamed said he could tell that I was quite the ‘ski buff’ and asked if I was interested in compromising with another skiing related plate like, say, SKIBUFF. I’m not compromising, I want my powder and I will contour this cliff band and thread these trees as far as I have to. No, I want PWDRWGN. After a bunch more back and forth he tells me that we have one final option.
Mr. Mohamed will ‘conditionally approve’ my PWDRWGN, but he’s going to keep an eye on the situation and if he gets too many complaints, he reserves the right to recall the plates. This is nothing short of complete victory, I found the weakness in the cliff band, the ascending bench through the trees, because he might call this ‘conditional approval’ but every plate is conditionally approved. He’s just been telling me about plates he’s recalled. I win. Granted I win thanks to a reasonable person seeing reason, but I win. I get my PWDR. My Powder Wagon gets her name tag.
Backcountry skiers, real backcountry skiers know you gotta work for your powder. We work, we sweat, we earn our powder — neck deep blower or an incredibly inane and pointless vanity plate for our beat up old Subaru wagons.
And so ends the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever written other than my dissertation. Seriously, I can’t believe that Mr. Firoz Mohamed, truly a reasonable man confronted with a completely unreasonably one was so unfailingly polite, professional and conciliatory and I cannot thank him enough for professional emails a hilarious phone call and my license plates (assuming they ever show up, they’re late).
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.