The Art of Falling Down

Are you clumsy?

There’s a strange pleasure in having bruised knees and scuff marks on your shoes. Nothing new stays new-looking long and most of the dents and tears don’t even come with good stories, just a simple, “Oh, I don’t know. I must have tripped.”

Clumsiness comes from some combination of head-in-the-clouds inattention, awkward physical comedy, and, if you’re like me, a touch of recklessness.

T-minus 10 minutes to impact
T-minus 10 minutes to impact.

Last week, I went on a short snowmobiling tour. Just ten minutes after starting, I crashed the sled and was upside down in a ditch of soft powder, relaxed and reclining with my right foot stuck under the machine while the guide and Ted came sprinting to help me. They were, reasonably, totally freaking out. I was totally not.

When the sled was righted and I sat back down on it, the guide asked me “Are you okay?” I said yes. He repeated himself. I repeated myself. And I wasn’t lying. While I’d been nervous for the first leg of the tour, after flipping the sled, I felt much more calm and in control.

Falling, it seems, has the strange effect of making me less afraid.

I was terrified of road biking until I had my first big fall, scraping skin from both of my arms and leaving a welt on my hip as big as an egg. I was afraid of sailing until I capsized in the middle of Seymour Lake all alone, fighting against a too-strong wind and trying to get back to shore. Afraid of dropping the cliff until I land, too far back on my skis and forced to bail.

Because the impact is never as bad as my fears, I now know that while I’m afraid of falling, I’m not afraid of the fall itself. This makes me reckless, because I know that once I fall, the fear dissolves. Once I fall, I take stock of my body, stand up, and dust myself off. I brush snow from my shoulders, gently flick rocks out of my wounds, or shake water from my eyes. A less reckless version of myself would not have crashed that snowmobile. The less reckless me would have played it safe, would not have pushed herself to try to keep up with the more comfortable and more experienced members of her party. She wouldn’t have dared to try so hard. She also wouldn’t have enjoyed herself anywhere near as much. (Or had such a good story to tell, which, unfortunately, seems to be the story that is circulating amongst Stratton employees. “Liz from Marketing? She’s the one who flipped the snowmobile, right?”)

The most important thing to learn when trying something new is how to stop (this being my issue with the snowmobile. I’m accustomed to my right hand controlling the brake, not the accelerator). The second most important thing is how to fall.

Because you will fall. If you don’t, you’re not trying hard enough.

This reminds me of watching my nephew learn to ski. He fell a couple of times, but every time he did, my brother, my dad, and I immediately roared with laughter. “Nice one!” We’d yell as we scooped him up and placed him back on his skis. “That was awesome!”

We’re teaching him that falling is more than just no big deal, it’s downright fun. Even if it leaves you smarting, wincing, crying in pain, falling is fun.

Now if we turn this into a metaphor for life–? Puts quite a few heart-and-headaches into perspective. After all, if you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.

But really, are you clumsy?

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.



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.

Introducing “Delphi Project.” (Another Hackathon, Another App)

Remember how my last post was about getting a team together to build an app in 24 hours?

Well. One week later, we did it again.

This time the valiant members of Team Worksandwich came together to compete in the first ever StoryHackVT. The goal of this competition was to create a story in 24 hours using at least three different types of media. As the competition proved, multi-media (also called transmedia) narratives come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. Worksandwich harnessed each of our team members’ unique skills and talents to build a killer story.

And I do mean killer.

“Delphi Project” is a story played through an app, but more than just a story, it’s a fully interactive narrative. You are immediately made part of the plot, and it’s up to you to solve the mystery. The premise is this: by sheer chance, you download an app that is possessed by the spirit of a dead woman. She needs your help to find out who murdered her and why. Before you know it, you are in the midst of a conflict between the multi-national pharmaceutical company, Phoibe, and the shadowy, vigilante Aether Collective.

Check out the trailer, then follow this link to vote for our team, Worksandwich! Voting closes this midnight EST. We need your votes to win!

Justin lent his skills as an app developer, building a smooth interface from scratch. If there was an interaction we needed for the narrative that he didn’t already know, he taught it to himself. During the 24 hours. Without skipping a beat.

Brad designed the user interface – no easy task when we kept going back and forth debating which buttons and fonts went where. He made Delphi come to life.

Coby, an assistant professor at Champlain College, built the Phoibe, Corp website and brainstormed the coolest set of puzzles and riddles. Really, the man is a wizard when it comes to making meaningful, engaging mini-games.

Craig provided valuable design and plot advice, and even though he had to give a talk in the middle of our work time, also volunteered to film and edit “Delphi Project”‘s cinematic trailer. We couldn’t have showed off the app without him.

I provided the narrative and supporting text. For the past year, I’ve been mulling over the basic plot points and characters that became “Delphi Project.” The concept is mine, but I am so thankful for all the honest input my teammates had. Together, we talked our way through plot holes, dead ends, and tricky situations. I love what we’ve built so far.

We’re hoping to have the app polished and released to the App Store in 2014.

It’s going to be a busy winter.

I can’t wait.