This winter, unlike the others

Maybe I’m imagining things, but it seems like I started working in the ski industry only to stop writing about skiing. Part of this change is due to the simple fact that I’m not skiing the way I was skiing at this time last year.

At Stratton, I usually (but not always) get out on the hill multiple times a week, which is amazing. My on-hill day count is fast approaching 30. If I get on the hill, usually (but not always) it’s just for an hour or two at most. I might (might) get out for a half day on one of my days off, Tuesday or Wednesday. Sometimes both. But most often, I ski for two hours, get sick of fielding presumptuous questions and comments on the lifts and retreat to the gym instead. (The most common: “Where are your friends?” Yes. Great. Thanks for that one. They’re working. Why aren’t you?)

Skiing alone is not my favorite. Skiing is a dangerous sport best enjoyed with backup that knows what do to if a ski or bone breaks. I’ve never been in a major accident, but if I do, I want my ski partners with me.

Which is why I’m so excited for next Tuesday. Doug’s coming to ride.

When I first moved to Vermont, my first ski buddy was Doug. We tore up Smuggler’s Notch like two wild things, topping off our days with poutine and good beer. We hit Jay Peak during a freak snow storm, shivering from toes to nose on the lifts, whooping powder lines all the way down.

Like most, Doug’s job is a Monday-through-Friday deal, so I was surprised and delighted when he told me he was taking a day off to come hit my mountain with me. We’ll have the mountain to ourselves. My first full day of the season.

I can’t wait.

Pray for snow.

Pray for snowUpdate:

My stars. I wrote this in a pre-coffee daze and neglected to link to this: Friends On A Powder Day. A short, sweet, pow-ful treatise to why skiing is better together. To quote the Swedes, “Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow.” There is nothing more joyful on this blue earth than skiing. I want to share it with you.

Yeah. You.

By the way, you’re looking very nice today.

 

#100HappyDays

I don’t so much burn the candle at both ends as I chuck the whole candle in the bonfire then claim that it’s all going according to plan. In short, I’m sick. A sinus infection.

Happy Days are Here at last

The past week, while sick with sinusitis, I skied three days in a row (granted, just an hour or two at a time. Granted, two powder days), swam for 45 minutes one evening, and two nights ago had my first tennis lesson in probably 16 years. My whole body aches, from thighs to wrists to nasal passages. And yet I still want out. I want to open my stride and fly down these dirt roads. I want to click into my bindings and push my edges into the soft snow. I want to feel the power of each butterfly stroke. I even prefer the frustrating, maddening challenge of learning the proper way to hit a tennis ball to this. This: sitting still, blowing my nose at regular intervals.

That said, it’s good to slow down. To appreciate one’s energy. The ebb and flow of it. The itching fire. Sick days are good days to launch new experiments, to test out new waters. Hence why you’ll see my Instagram account suddenly littered with #100HappyDays.

Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?

Thank you, modern medicine. #100HappyDays
Thank you, modern medicine. #100HappyDays

I’m in an incredibly happy place now that I’m at Stratton, but the fact that this happiness still surprises me is a very, very bad thing. What on earth was I doing for the last few years that made me so casually miserable? What on earth was I missing? I’d rather be happy.

The honeymoon won’t last forever. I’ll have bad days, bad weeks. But I want to keep the happy going as long as I can. And not only do I want to keep it going, I want to be able to stop and appreciate it once in a while. To look my day in the face and say, “yup, still happy,” because of and in spite of what that day brings.

Wanna try it, too?

Follow the line no one else sees. Just hit it. You’ll be fine.

This Saturday is International Women’s Ski Day. While I’m pretty sure it’s something that K2 dreamed up as a marketing tool, I’m really glad they did and was sure to jump on the #IWSD bandwagon.

As the watchful sort, I see a lot of women-focused marketing around the ski/snowboard world, and I find a lot of it doesn’t apply to me at all. Some is focused on women who are busy parents who are less interested in the slopes than in getting their husbands and children bundled up. (This “snow bunny” will be bundled up in the lodge with either a hot chocolate or a Bloody Mary, thank you very much.) Some treats skiing women as tag-alongs in need of lessons in order to keep up with their 8 year-old sons on the trail.

Gag me.

No offense meant! Really! I’m sorry! But it’s an honest fact that neither of these ideas of “skiing female” resonates with me in the slightest. I find them both vaguely offensive, but that’s a product of who I am and my upbringing in a high-testosterone admit-no-defeat den of bro-dom.

I want to see women portrayed as athletes. Which is why my heart goes pitter patter whenever I see the name SheJumps or the Outdoor Women’s Alliance updates their Instagram account. This is why I refuse to retweet or link to any article that focuses more on Lindsey Vonn’s relationship status than her powerful downhill drive.

I say this even though I was too shy to join into the SheJumps event at Stowe last year. I was there at the mountain. I was the chick in the red coat and pink goggles standing off to one side before ducking my head and scurrying into the singles line before any of the bold women in pink tutus and powder skis could noticed me. (I’m working on it.)

To honor #IWSD, I pulled my coworker and web-content wizard, Courtney, aside. I told her about the day and asked her if we could profile some of the bold, brilliant, brave women at Stratton. Courtney ran with the idea. I cans till hardly believe how much passion she threw behind the project. Every day in the two weeks leading up to December 14, she’s posting a profile of a new Stratton lady on the Stratton Be. Blog.

Liz Millikin Stratton Blog Slider

To my surprise, she volunteered me as a participant. And, to my further surprise, she made me sound pretty cool. My favorite paragraph, of course, is the one that ties into the Slackcountry Living mission:

As for my advice, Millikin referenced something her brother once shared with her. ‘Follow the line no one else sees.’ “The path you take down the mountain is yours and yours alone,” says Millikin. “Be creative. Make your own path.  It’s yours. You got it.”

Of course, said brother called me out on that line. “I don’t remember saying that. I remember saying, ‘Yeah, just hit that. You’ll be fine.'” While this is a much better example of typical big-brother-to-little-sister advice, I maintain that he said what he said, even if not in the same words. He never told me to be creative, but he did tell me to look for my own line. In retrospect, he probably thought I was going to poach his.

Back on topic – check out the blog posts in honor of #IWSD. There are some amazing female athletes on the hill, maybe more than you thought.

Oh – and if you’re wondering, yes. I did hit it. And yes, I was fine.

What’s the best ski advice you’ve ever received?

Music on the Mountain

For the winter, my weekend is Tuesday-Wednesday. This is both strange and wonderful. Strange in that most of the people I know are working these two days. Strange in that I seem to want that Friday post-work run or beer, but that craving kicks in on a Monday afternoon. But wonderful to that all of the shops are open and empty. I can go to the bank, the post office, anywhere really, completely at my leisure and have these places be open and unencumbered. Including the mountain.

It this isn't nice, I don;t know what is.
It this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

This was one of the first times I’ve ever ridden with music. I tried once last year, plugging myself into some singer/songwriter mix of mine, but my mind revolted after only one run. I couldn’t stand the whispering voice, the strumming guitar.

Today, on the near-empty mountain, I dialed up Imogen Heap to keep me company, hoping that her atmospheric style would jive better with the day’s ride – sunny, warm, and uncrowded.

With “Have You Got It In You” just starting to vibrate in my ears, I dropped my hands down to my boots and leaned into the first drop. Grizzly Bear’s a pitchy run, much more so than any of the other currently open runs at Stratton. It turns sharply, forcing you to switchback across its strong fall lines, then drops you without ceremony or apology. I can already tell where the ice patches will grow come January when packs of skiers and riders scour clean what the wind misses. Right now, on this warm day, there’s just enough give for Imogen and I to dig in with two edges and cut a sharp arc in the snow.

Imogene Heap struck the right balance of music and melody to match what I needed from the day – a relaxing tour of my new home, taking the hill, my skis, and my new boots out for a test ride.

Ol' Yellow didn't always steer me right but they never did steer me wrong. Black Beauty's got a lot to live up to.
Ol’ Yellow didn’t always steer me right but they never did steer me wrong. Black Beauty’s got a lot to live up to.

My new boots, by the way, are Salomon X Max 90s. I got them because my feet and ankles are, apparently, itty bitty. even at 24.5, I still feel like I have too much wiggle room, but it’s such an upgrade from my old Rossi Race 2s. I noticed today that I’m not having as hard of a time staying up and over my skis. Usually, I’m a tragically backseat driver when it comes to skiing. I’ve been driving myself mad the past few years trying to correct the issue. Maybe I finally figured it out. Money well spent.

Do you listen to music when you ride? What tunes do you recommend? Otherwise I’ll just put this one Imogen Heap album on repeat.

 

 

Back to White: Hello Winter 13/14

Now that the shock of last week’s tornados dulls back down into the low grade, white noise of confusion, I can go back to talking about what I like talking about. Winter.

Last Saturday I made my first foray up my new home, Stratton Mountain. After about 6 straight days of snowmaking, the upper mountain rolled with whales, but no lift service. So I did what any self-respecting slackcountryist would do: I strapped my skis to my backpack and hiked.

Stratton Mountain, Mid-Mountain

Memorial Day weekend, I hiked Stowe on my own. It was also the first time I’d ever done such a thing, and one of the few times I’d ever skied by myself. Looking back, I hiked Mansfield that morning because I had something to prove. Exactly what, I’m still not sure, but I think it had to do with love and independence. (Spoiler alert: most everything I do in some way returns to love and independence.)

I needed to prove that I love skiing for skiing’s sake. That this is the sport I do precisely because it’s difficult, because it requires time and sweat and heart. I also felt I needed to prove that I can take care of myself. That I can rely on myself to make wise decisions while moving with the mountain, not against it, and that I can do these things all on my own.

Last Saturday, I was three quarters of the way up the mountain when I realized I had nothing to prove. That day, wearing almost the same clothes and almost the same gear, it struck me that I was on the mountain because I love skiing, and that I was by myself simply because that’s what was most convenient. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I wasn’t even trying to impress myself. I was just going up for the sheer pleasure of going down.

It’s awfully exhausting to have something to prove.

Over a delicious salad, pizza, and beer, I told my sister-in-law that I felt that I’d found myself and – just like in the Avicii song – I didn’t know I was lost. She laughed and said, “Just think, you’re going to find yourself at least six more times in your life.”

I laughed along, too. She’s probably right, but I hope that I can hold on to this feeling of nothing-to-proveness for as long as I can. To quote my favorite UpWorthy video of the month: I do not accept the ephemeral nature of this moment.

Tomorrow is the first day of Stratton’s lift served season. I’m waking up early to capture the Opening Day excitement. Follow Stratton’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you can’t make it. I’m also sure I’ll be updating my personal accounts, too.

Happy winter. xo

Frank's Fall Line

26 in 26

Last year I started a tradition of making birthday resolutions. The goal is to complete a number of tasks or goals in a year. The number of tasks equals my age. I didn’t even manage half of my resolutions from last year, but I find something soothing about this list-making and goal-setting practice. More satisfying to me than accomplishing things on this list was seeing how many of the items were simply… no longer important. Accomplishing them was just frosting – a nice perk to the last 365 days of my life rather than an imperative need.

Here it goes: my 26 in 26. (In no particular order.)

  1. Get a dog.
  2. Finish the HackVT app content.
  3. Finish writing Drinking with Galatea.
  4. Go on a trip. Plane required.
  5. Get into the Christmas spirit.
  6. Read S.
  7. Ski an absurd number of days.
  8. Take snowboard lessons.
  9. Be a good long distance friend.
  10. Get a new car.
  11. Get a PO Box.
  12. Do Tuckerman Ravine this spring.
  13. Find a nice, dog-friendly apartment.
  14. Tag along on a sugaring session.
  15. Stop biting my cuticles.
  16. Explore southern VT.
  17. Pay off one student loan.
  18. Bike the Dirty 40 or an entire Century Ride
  19. Start swimming again.
  20. Swim from camp to the sandbar and back.
  21. Watch Man on Wire.
  22. Read A Moveable Feast.
  23. Drink loose leaf tea more often.
  24. Take a photography class.
  25. (Re)read The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays.
  26. Go camping.

That’s about it, guys. xo

Changing seasons

I wasn’t ready.

Just last night, I caught myself shivering and thinking, “No, no, not yet.” I wasn’t ready for the night to suddenly catch up to the day, filling in the evenings with darkness. I wasn’t ready for the way the wind nips through my jeans to prick my skin like mosquito bites.

I wasn’t ready.

Then all of a sudden…

I clicked through photos this morning of snow in the green mountains. My newsfeed came alive with white, and trepidation gave way to the hot pulse of excitement. It was like my mind flicked like a switch from off to on.

I’m ready.

Winter, I’m ready to fish my gloves out from the depths of my cedar chest. I’m ready to run my hands along the edges of my skis, feeling for dullness and rust. I’m ready to wind scarves around my chin and scrape ice from my windshield.

Winter, I’m ready for you. Come soon.

The real women of freeskiing

 

 

Shades of Winter poster – Ladies who rip.
Shades of Winter – Ladies who rip.

In my post about women in upcoming ski films, I call out Sandra Lahnsteiner by name. I loved Sandra’s last film, “Suhkran Morocco,” and expected good things from “Shades of Winter.”

Two weekends ago, I drove the two hours from Burlington to Montreal for the premier. “Shades” did not disappoint. In fact, it was my favorite of the three films screened that day, the others being “Eye of the Condor” and “Valhalla.”

“Shades of Winter” is a polished romp through some of the most spectacular terrain in the world – soft pillows in Japan, wide open peaks in the Alps, big air at Nine Queens, and big lines in Haines, Alaska. Many of the shots are the drool-worthy, classic crowd pleasers in the ski film industry, but it was the heart that set “Shades” apart. I can’t think of another film that so perfectly conveyed the sheer joy of skiing. Big smiles abounded. Laughter punctuated candid shots.

In short, “Shades of Winter” is happiness incarnate.

Can you imagine my excitement (and nervousness) when the Outdoor Women’s Alliance asked me to interview Sandra Lahnsteiner herself?

Yeah, I was pretty excited. And now I’m even more excited to say, the interview is live. You can read it here.

The coolest thing about talking with Sandra is the balance she strikes between genuine kindness and genuine passion for life. Her love of skiing and filmmaking really shine through, both in her films and in normal conversation.

I heartily recommend following along with Sandra and “Shades” on Facebook, and when you get the opportunity to watch the full-length video, take it. (And let me know what you think!)

Also, check out the Outdoor Women’s Alliance. It’s a non-profit media organization that exists to support women and girls as they embark on their own outdoor adventures. I’m the Editorial Intern, and it’s already been an inspiring learning experience. See you there!

5 Life Lessons Learned from Skiing

Skiing runs in the family. Mrs Momma Millikin.
Skiing runs in the family. Presenting Mrs Momma Millikin doin’ it right.

1. The latest technology will not solve your problems.

Being a gear head is fun. You reap the benefits of a multi-ski quiver, gloves with touch-tech, your phone’s fitness tracker, and goggles with snap out lenses. But none of these things are really going to make you a better skier.

There are fantastic skiers who rode straight skis long after parabolics became the norm. They lose their toenails every winter because their boots don’t have a walk mode. DIY slipboards with the graphics peeling away from the core.

Shiny new gear can help, but it won’t really fix anything.

To be a better rider, you have to put in the time, energy, and focus to build flexibility and strength. Experience is what makes you better. It’s the same in life. Chances are, you don’t really need the newest car, the latest iPhone, the fanciest college degree. These things are nice, but having them doesn’t change who you are or what you’re capable of. You are the most important thing you have. Put in the time. Be awesome.

2. If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.

Fresh and boastful after my first winter at college, I bragged to my dad that I hadn’t taken a single nosedive all season. Can you believe it? A full winter without falling over, crashing, or yard-sale-ing in full view of the lift operators. Dad shook his head and said, “Then you’re not trying hard enough.”

It was true. I was cruising through ski season without challenging myself. I wasn’t hitting anything that scared me, and definitely not pushing myself. I was really just bumbling along, cocky as a crow. The next year? I pushed harder.

Last year, I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked on skis, and you know what? I bit it. A lot. I had some really spectacular falls, but I also had a spectacular amount of fun and learned more than I have in a long time. Absolutely worth it.

Guess what? It looks like life’s the same way. Cruising doesn’t get you anywhere interesting. If nothing else, pushing the envelope makes for an excellent life story.

3. There is a world of difference between a ski buddy and a ski partner.

This comes from an old Warren Miller VHS, the one I watched over and over again growing up. The lesson is remarkably simple: ski buddies are people you can go out and rip with. Ski partners are the people you trust with your life.

With a ski buddy, you go out and rip. You have fun all day tearing up the slopes, then sit in the parking lot and cheers your PBR tall boys. You have a blast.

With a ski partner, you explore new terrain and push the envelope. These are the people who you trust. The ones you rely to help out when the going gets rough, scary, or injured. They talk you through the icy pitch, coach you over the drop, and could probably turn your skis into a makeshift sled to haul your ass out of the woods.

It’s very important to know the difference between the two groups of people. Cruise the slopes with your buddies. Do Tuckerman Ravine with your partner.

When it comes to off-slope life, have fun with your buddies. But trust your partners with your heart and soul.

4. If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.

I was raised on a steady diet of Warren Miller movies, and at the end of every one, Warren’s soothing voice warns: If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.

Thanks, Warren, for imparting a premature, morbid understanding of mortality in a 9 year old.

At first, this saying echoed in my head to chastise me for cowardice. No, I didn’t follow my brother off that jump because I’m 9 years old. Next year, when I’m 10, maybe I’ll do it. Emphasis on the maybe.

Now that I’m in my twenties, I’m starting to see it in a different light. I’m not yet old enough to worry about my physical health, but I do realize how quickly life changes. If I don’t drop this chute this year, I might not have a chance next year. Why? I might have a pass to a different mountain. I might have packed up and moved, or the friend who has been dreaming of this line might move. Without him or her, dropping in won’t feel as special.

At the same time, there are definitely things worth waiting a year for. Last year, I didn’t make it to Tuckerman Ravine due to a recurring knee injury. But you know what? Next spring, when I’m one year older and wiser, I’ll be more prepared. My knee won’t let me down.

I have no idea what the rest of this year will throw at me, let alone next year. Life, love, family, friends, work. Anything can change in an instant, so listen to that voice that says “you’ll regret it if you don’t go.” If you don’t go now, for better or worse, you’ll be one year older when you do.

Finally…

5. Relax. It’s just skiing.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, an expert, or a professional freeskier, in the end, it’s just skiing. It’s supposed to be fun.

I remind myself of this often – to step forward with a shrug and a smile.

Go out and enjoy wherever your ride takes you.

What life lessons have you learned from your sport? Tell me about it in the comments!

Ladies getting some much needed air time

If you haven’t been keeping an eye on the latest trailer releases, you’re in for some excitement. This ski movie season is going to be stellar – just check out the likes of Into the Mind and Valhalla. If your pulse doesn’t pick up, you might already be dead.

But there’s a new ski film trend that has me on the edge of my seat, leaning forward with a big stupid grin on my face. All-female films. Usually I’m not into girls-club, but I cannot wait to see these films.

According to the latest SIA stats, 40% of skiers and 33% of snowboarders are women. Think about it. What was the last ski film you saw? (Maybe you were just watching The Art of Flight for the umpteenth time like me.) What percentage of the riders were kick-ass women were in it? Not 40%. Not even 33%. And don’t you dare say that women don’t go big enough or ride heart-stoppingly gnarly lines. Just check out these teasers/trailers.

The first one I heard about was Pretty Faces, Lynsey Dyer’s compilation of female skiers tearing up some of the most technical terrain in the world and going bigger, harder, faster. My favorite quote from her on making the film?

Skiing has been everything I know. I’ve learned from skiing (about) discipline, how to get through suffering, committing myself, and listening to my intuition. I think a lot of girls think they can’t do what the guys are doing. Skiing’s taught me that I can.

Dyer, you’re speaking my language. The only bad thing is that Pretty Faces doesn’t come out until Fall 2014.

Bummer.

Fortunately, two more films are on their way, highlighting the strength of female riders. Sandra Lahnsteiner’s Shades of Winter premiers this September in Montreal. (Might be worth a road trip to see, but definitely worth tracking down afterwards.)

I’m looking forward to this one… I saw Lahnsteiner’s last film, Shukran Morocco. It’s fairly short, but tapped right in to my wildest dream… to throw my gear on my back and head into Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. The snow never looks very good, but riding in Africa requires an adventurous spirit and a deep appreciation for the culture and geography you’re skiing passed. I love it.

SHADES OF WINTER trailer from Sandra Lahnsteiner on Vimeo.

Shades of Winter promises deeper snow, gnarlier lines, and a larger cast of powerful women. So. Stoked.

3) Finally, there’s Hecuba. I haven’t been able to find all that much chatter about this film, other than that it should drop either this fall or the following spring. My fingers are crossed for sooner rather than later, because I just took a few minutes to browse Aprés Visuals‘ site. They have an incredible eye for sick, slick cinematography. The teaser is below.

I can hardly wait to own each of these films, invite some friends over, and cheer on some of the best riders in the business.

What do you think of these three films? Are you as excited about them as I am…. or are you drooling over another film? There’s plenty of good ones on the way this year. Just check out the list of trailers at Freeskier. You can’t watch just one.