Backcountry Skiing with Dogs (or, I want to write about heaven)

“I want to write.”

Has your brain ever spoken to you so loudly that it feels like a voice external to you speaking?

Last night, in the dark, where just a moment earlier I had been falling asleep, came the not-sound, insistent.

“I want to write.”

I haven’t stopped writing. I write a dizzying number of emails. My journal is never far from my side. And yet, I don’t write.

Instead, the evenings and weekend hours when I would have written, I still write but I swap one language for another.



I’m sure I’ll talk about that more some other time. For now, suffice to say, even in this moment when I’m writing (finally), I feel the guilt.

I’m writing, but I’m not coding. I’m not studying. I’m not working toward something.

Am I?


Let’s not get distracted.


Nova is curled up, a tight bun shape, on the couch. She’s tired because yesterday she ran.

Oh, how she ran!

We – my boyfriend, my dog, and I – went to St Vrain. There’s less snow than when he and I went last year, but the snow that is feels surprisingly soft. No melt freeze crust to punch through, just snow wind packed.

When I got Nova, I resigned myself to having a dog that might never be allowed off leash. Huskies aren’t known for their penchant for sticking around. But there is something else in her. And this other side is what I wanted – obedient, responsive, a white shadow at my heel.

Granted, she doesn’t actually know “heel.”

She is a mix of these things. A snow dog that loves to run and wander. An independent spirit who checks back to make sure I’m still there. Who learns quickly to run behind the skier, just to one side. Who comes when called – eventually.

But who gets distracted and has to be gone back for, calling her name as I carry my skis back up the skin track until rounding the corner I see her, just at the next corner up, looking down to be sure it’s me.


Can I try to tell you what it felt like to see her running with me?

I have new skis, new bindings, new boots, and new skins. I’ve skinned up this path on St Vrain before, but never with such comparative ease. The pain in my knee that plagued and crippled me all last winter, gone. The weight of my old equipment dragged me down and held me back. The right, light gear seemed to propel me forward.

And a white dog ducking in and out of the woods. She alternated between trotting along on the skin track and wiggling through the deep snow on her belly.

We hadn’t broken tree line when we decided to turn around for the day, but discomfort in my right foot (the previously broken foot) and rising wind speeds made the decision easy.

My partner and I switched to downhill, and so did she.

We alternated, finding it best to keep the dog between us as we skied.

When it was my turn to ski first, she ran at my tails as if she knew the command for “heel.”

She ran just at my periphery. A tilt of my head and there she was, tongue out and charging.

When we stopped to let her catch her breath, she dove into deeper snow. When we started again, she was there, running at the heel of whichever of us was first.

In me, with skis on my feet and dog at my heel, the sense of Vonnegut’s heaven; everything is beautiful and nothing – not my knee, not my tweaked shoulder, not my mind – hurt.



Climb up with me

Climb up with me.

Let’s lay against damp shingles

On the rooftops of our most possible dreams.

We’ll stare at the anvils in the sky,

These great thunderheads,

The unreachable ones,

Radiant with their own suns.

You would rather wake with a cold nose in a cold car than this.

It’s been a while, and it will be a little while longer before I have anything new to share.

So, how about this instead. A note I just rediscovered. I wrote it after the events of this post.

That thing when you disappear into the hills with your dear and your phone dies but you have your dog and you let her eat bacon grease and lick the last of the soup. Then when you go back to civilization the car ride makes her stomach roil and protest. Then a fire alarm battery wakes you up at 3:00am and then her stomach wakes you at 3:30am and you don’t know what’s worse the beeping or the gurgling as you stumble, limping heavily with sleep.

But then on your back, your dear asleep, heavy with sleep, you can’t sleep. You can’t fall back to sleep.

So, you think of limping to the car with the dog and driving back and letting your phone die and sleeping through the sunrise. You would rather wake with a cold nose in a cold car than this.


In Between Home


Have you ever experienced the feeling of being not-quite-home?

I’ve been in this place a lot, at the intersection of one life and the next.

Where the place I am doesn’t feel familiar enough, but the place I’ve left feels just as strange.

It’s been more than six months since I packed up my world and moved to Boulder. 

But, Boulder doesn’t feel like home yet, either. I step through my routine of sleep, coffee, work, run/bike/hike, repeat. Write a little. Read a little. Call my mother. Send love notes to my friends.

And yet, Boulder isn’t quite home yet.

The landscape (dry, even after weeks of rain) is so foreign to me. The flora (sequoia pines that smell like butterscotch when you press your nose against their bark, sage growing wild by the trail). The fauna (rattlesnakes, mountain lions, magpies).

I hike and sit on the rocks, slowing turning bright red from sunburn, looking out over the plains with something akin to confusion. Then, I turn my back and look west toward the mountains, bravely white-capped against the warming world.

In the city I make small talk at the coffee bar. I bike along the creek to and from work. The living is easy here. Easier, I think, than what I’m used to. Even having a food allergy is impossibly easy. “I have a soy allergy–“ “Oh, we don’t use soy in this restaurant.” “What? No soy in anything? Not even the chocolate cake?” “That’s right.” “Give me six of the chocolate cake, then!”

I learned to make Cuban coffee in a moka pot, although I use less than half the normal amount of sugar. I learned, too, how to stuff herbed butter under the skin of a Cornish Game Hen and how to trim climbing skins and how beautiful the Flatirons are when illuminated by alpenglow.

The beer’s not as good here. But the mixed drinks are much better.

I’ll make it back to Vermont next summer, I hope. Right now, I’m on my way to Baltimore for my cousin’s wedding and I wonder, I can’t help but wonder: what will it feel like to come… home?


Mountain Lions Aren’t Real: A Conspiracy Theory

I don’t believe in mountain lions.

This surprises me as much as, I’m sure, it surprises you! I had no idea that I didn’t believe in mountain lions. It never occurred to me to seriously contemplate whether or not they existed, until now. Now, I live in a land of mountain lions. I hike on trails posted with signs that say “mountain lion territory.” And yet when I read these signs, my mind automatically replaces the words “mountain lion” with “unicorn.”

I’m very fond of the word catamount. It rolls off of my tongue so sweetly, so naturally. I decided that I wanted to go to Middlebury College when I was ten because of the bronze catamount statue in their sports center. (Spoiler: I didn’t get accepted, but I went to a different small liberal arts college that tried very hard to be Middlebury, only in brick instead of marble.) I wrote a moderately good poem in college with the lines:

A catamount behind circus bars

cannot carry off your children and chickens

to kill and eat.

And yet, for all the word rolls off of my tongue so sweetly, so naturally, I find myself firmly believing that catamounts, real live cougars, are figments of one’s imagination. Here’s why:

Vermont’s last resident mountain lion was killed in 1881.

“Hey, whatcha thinking about?” “Oh, I don’t know. Mountain lion things, I guess.”

I found an article from 2012 that says Vermont’s division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gets 45-50 cougar sightings a year. That’s 45-50 people a year who don’t know what a bobcat/deer/large dog/fox/Maine coon cat/etc. looks like.

So, pardon me for being suspicious of anyone who says they’ve seen one. I also never believed in the toothfairy; I just played along as long as I kept receiving cash deposits under my pillow.

Mountain lions are, apparently, a serious thing out here with several verified attacks on human and even human fatalities around these parts. I even picked up a book specifically about the mountain lions who are my new neighbors, The Beast in the Garden by David Baron. It’s quite good, reading like a fast paced crime novel and cautionary parable. I biked by the trail where a woman my age was treed by two cougars.

Apparently, they wander into town fairly regularly. Or they lounge in the trees off of popular hiking spots just out of town.

Reading The Beast in the Garden was supposed to cool my enthusiasm about the possibility of running into a mountain lion. The accounts really are frightening. But. I can’t help it. I get a little excited thinking…

I get to see a real live unicorn someday.


Writing Where You Can See

Hello! How are you – won’t you tell me your name?

It’s springtime in Colorado, though for someone used to the growling weather in New England, it’s felt like spring for an awfully long time. The clouds roll in and high above us linger. Here, again unlike the east, the clouds seem so far away and, for all their attempts, appear thin. I swear I can feel the sun through them.


Even the dark days seem bright.

Two weekends ago, driving back from a weekend in Fruita, we drove through sun, rain, snow, and rain again. Now that felt like home.

Do you remember (it feels so long ago) when I wrote down my resolutions post Wanderlust Fest? Once of them was to write where other people can see.

I’ve always been afraid of showing people what I write. But there’s this wonderful thing that happens when I’m busy or distracted. I write, I write well, I edit, and I publish without a moment’s thought to my inner critic because my coworkers have already gone over it to say, “Yes, yes. Change this, not that. Looks good. Hit send.”

In the course of these last five months, I’ve written a lot. I’ve conducted more interviews than I can probably count. Edited more articles than I can recall. And hit the publish button over and over again.

Here are just a few pieces I’m really proud of.

Interview with Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World.

Interview with Sarah Bowen Shea of Another Mother Runner.

What (and How) to Pack for the Backcountry.

Interview with Tim Robinson of Bentonville (and Walmart).

That last one?

That last one was actually pretty nuts. It was the first time I’d interviewed anyone since college, for one. For two, Tim Robinson was elected to the Bentonville, Arkansas city council. For three, he’s also a director for Walmart. He and I covered so much ground in that interview, me from my tiny desk after hours, him from his car overlooking the city. Far too much didn’t make it to the final piece.

We talked about bikes, you see. But what I was really fascinated was the look into Walmart that didn’t show an evil corporation, but instead showed the passionate, civic-minded people who really are trying.

I still hate Walmart. But.

I think that’s an important thing. Incredible things can be accomplished by people who try. 



It’s a little bit funny that this blog is, still, remains, a ski blog. It’s funny because I have a really, really hard time writing about skiing.

I can tell you about my routine before a ski day.

I can show you how a life can change in just one run.

I can share with you the lovelorn ache of a skier in summer.

But I can’t show you skiing.

I can’t describe the way the world drops dead the moment before one drops over a cornice and into a field of moguls. How the universe contracts and expands to encompass just the line – your line – through the mounds that rise and fall at their own leisure, not yours.

Maybe I can explain this:

One of the first runs we took lead us through a copse of trees called Half Moon. Early on, the grade pitches down, snow caked against a rock face. There is a left line and a right line. Neither is particularly narrow or long. A couple of turns, then out. No biggie.

Left line, two turns and I’m down. Thrown backwards and twisted so that my skis are above me, momentum pulling me down, down. Still sliding, I (panicked) barrel roll and, with my skis below me, I brake to a halt. A few seconds, that’s all.

I curse.

Arapahoe Basin

My ski partner laughs and compliments my “smooth recovery.” Let this be a lesson to you; barrel rolls are always cool.

This fall is my achilles heel. It’s happened, moment by moment, dozens of times before and with the same result. I try to dump speed, I fall. The fall is always caused by imbalance, my weight thrown toward the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s incredibly frustrating. Even in the moment, it feels like a rookie mistake that I’ve been on skis too long to make.

I dust myself off, emptying the snow from my coat.

And we skied off.

We skied hard pack, we skied trees. We dropped off the sharp rim of Zuma Bowl. I pointed us down mogul runs until Brian, respectfully, started to decline and met me at the lift.

Maybe I can explain this, too.

I like the way moguls, perhaps more than any other terrain, force you to adhere to their path, bending you and your skis to their will. I like the way that if you ski them and ski them well, then in a way… your rhythm, your heart beats in time with that of the mountain.

But maybe Hemingway said all that needs to be said about skiing. It really is better than anything else.

It’s dumped something like five feet in Vermont in the span of a week, while here it’s hardpack and heavy, sun-warmed cement. I don’t mind. A day in the mountains is a good day to be alive.