Partners in the Snow

Stash, Kaki Orr’s dog, takes in the view from near the top of Mt. Glory on Teton Pass.

BY Ted Kerasote
PHOTOGRAPHY BY jonathan selkowitz

HE LEADS THE way, tail steadily beating his joy. Today, we’re on dusk patrol, having left the parking lot in the late afternoon, headlamp in my pack. He, of course, doesn’t need one. His nose can lead us home.

Muscles rippling under his golden fur, he bounds ahead, disappearing into the forest. A minute later, he’s back with his bright-eyed scout’s report: Grouse up there!
On he goes, and at our habitual drop-off, he waits for me, his eyes lustrous as they peer downhill.

Wag-wag-wag goes his tail as I come up to him: Couldn’t be better. And he’s right. It’s totally untracked.

While I rip my skins, he tears a dead branch from a nearby spruce, places it in the powder, and flicks it high into the air with his nose, leaping up to catch it. He glances back at me, making sure I’ve noticed.

“Well done, Pukka!” I cry.

He grins and continues to play.

“Do you want to ski?” I ask him.

In an instant, he’s by my side, laughing.

And down we drop, spiraling into the dusk, snow flying over my shoulders as he arcs like a golden porpoise from a darkening sea.

“Oh, ski dog!” I cry, as he swims the last steep, panting in glee: Ha-ha-ha! What a run!

“What a run!” I agree, as he puts his paws upon my shoulders and rubs his cheek against mine: Oh, I love you!

From the moment we left the house, he has asked no questions about the route. And though it’s now almost dark, he’s made no comment about the lateness of the hour.
His trust is complete, his faith sublime, our partnership like no other.

After our hug, he forges ahead, and soon comes to a junction where he gazes to the right, his look saying, This is the way.

I follow. I learned long ago to let him bring us home in the dark.

Ted Kerasote is the author of The New York Times bestsellers Merle’s Door and Pukka’s Promise.

Timber follows his owner, Brady Johnston, up a peak in the southern Tetons.

Johnston, skiing with Timber on the west side of Teton Pass, says the dog used to ski one hundred days a season.

Crystal Wright and Brian Mulvihill’s border collie, Tess, barrels through fresh snow on the Pass.

Ted Kerasote, who wrote the intro for this photo essay, and his dog, Pukka, get face shots on the south side of Teton Pass.

Tracy Stull’s dog, Hazel, was a backcountry adventurer in her younger years. Now that she’s nine years old, her big days of backcountry skiing are over. In this photo from last winter, Hazel waits for her ski partners on the west side of the Pass.

 

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