Snow. So fun. So ephemeral. So…radioactive? Yes. That is the state of snow post-bomb. The peaceful blankets of frigid marshmallow cream are now emitting toxic levels of neutron poisons – but not everywhere. Big Bear, which is hundreds of miles from where the nuclear bomb hit in 2008, is the only place in which these high levels have been detected. But how could that be?
Weather patterns might explain why Big Bear is the only spot where an excess of cesium-137 is found in the snow. Some atmospheric scientists say the isotopes traveled through the stratosphere landing in the snowy mountain tops southeast of Los Angeles. Meteorologists claim it was carried there by special wind patterns. Regardless of how it got there, radiation will of course change the quality of the snow. So what does that mean for winter sports like snowboarding and skiing?
I interviewed several skiers to get their opinions and was surprised by what I found.
34-year-old snowboarder Jeff Buggler says, “The powder totally shreds this year. Landing a McTwist was like landing on a cloud. That’s how soft this sh*t is.” When I mentioned the radiation levels, Buggler shrugged and replied, “I don’t have a job right now. The mountain is all I got.”
Recent empty-nester Faye Toliken agreed about the snow. “It almost glows in the sunlight. I’ve been around a lot [of snow] but this stuff is like skiing on the inside of my Ugg boot. Fluffy!” I asked if she was concerned about radiation and she smiled, saying, “My son is away at college, I kicked out my freeloading boyfriend and now there’s nothing stopping me from hitting the slopes. And women’s ski clothes have never been cuter.” Have to admit I was lusting after Faye’s Maori-inspired printed jacket in fig purple. You may not have good taste in men, Faye, but in clothes, you rock.
I guess it’s no surprise that people will take risks to enjoy the activities they love. But the sport is already dangerous enough to warrant fulltime ambulances waiting at the bottom of the hill. Isn’t adding radiation poisoning to the hazard list all too much? Paramedic Randy Hertz argues that skiers are a different breed of athletes. That they, “Thrive on danger and risk. Radiation only makes it more appealing, especially if it increases the quality of the snow.” Just then his Geiger counter began to beep and I decided it was the perfect time to get in a half-day of runs myself.