A-Basin

Arapahoe Basin

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.

How to Teach Your Lover (and have them not hate you)

See! He's even smiling a little... .... ...!
See! He’s even smiling a little… …. …!

It’s common wisdom that two people engaged in a romantic liaison should never under any circumstances teach one another to do anything. From running to poker, nothing good can come of this.

Or can it?

R and I have survived the winter of sharing our sports with one another. Here’s how we did it without one stabbing the other with a sharpened ski pole.

1. Have an actual interest in learning the sport.

I’m serious here. Reasons you should learn a sport from your lover: you want to play that sport and want to play it with them at some point in time. Reasons you should not learn a sport from your lover: you want to keep an eye on them, you don’t like them having their me-time, they’re forcing you. These are bad bad bad bad reasons and will only make the experience miserable.

I dated someone who forced me to run with him. It was the worst. I didn’t start running again until nearly 3 years after we broke up. Why? Because it was torture. Don’t torture; it’s mean.

2. Establish a teacher-student relationship that is different from your partner-partner relationship.

During teaching time, let the teacher teach and let the student be a student. Don’t just acknowledge that the teacher knows what they are doing, take it for granted. Believe it from your frostbitten nose to your tennis-shoed toes.

For us, this was pretty easy. We’re both athletes used to being coached, for one. But, perhaps more importantly, we do a pretty good job of communicating our lesson needs to one another. Teaching tennis is part of R’s job. It’s what he does, and he does it quite well. When it came time to teach him to ski, I took cues from our tennis lessons on how to talk, how to explain things, and how to listen.

This isn’t to say it’s always easy. R, for example, does this thing called “talking” which drives me nuts. I can’t listen, wind up, aim, and hit a ball of yellow fuzz all at the same time.

3. Know your limits as a teacher.

I can’t speak for R here, but I can speak for myself. I have never taught skiing to anyone. I am navigating this teaching thing by guesswork, relying on examples and tricks I either overheard or vaguely remember from the two winters I raced. I know I can’t be his only instructor, which leads me to —

4. Allow and encourage them to learn from someone else.

You’re not the only person in the universe, and you may not be the best teacher for your lover. I’m not the best person to teach a complete newbie how to ski, so I helped R get set with rental gear and gave him a good luck kiss before he went off to take lessons from a properly trained professional.

In tennis, a shoulder injury prevents me from doing a normal overhand serve. The person who taught me my serve wasn’t R, but one of our friends who happened to know enough about tennis to suggest it. R don’t take it personally that someone else’s boyfriend fixed my serve.

Coach on the court. Coach’s girlfriend, not paying attention. Per usual.

I use the word fixed very loosely here. My serve is terrible. But at least it doesn’t feel like my arm is tearing through the socket every time I try.

5. Kiss them when they’re happy, kiss them when they’re pissed.

Unless they don’t like kissing. In which case why are you dating this person?

Here, basically, no matter what, be positive. If they’re driving you nuts, be positive. If they’re getting ticked at you, be positive. Tell them that they’re doing great. If they really aren’t doing great, give them a kiss and say, “That’s enough for today.” Maybe they had a bad day. Don’t make it worse by forcing them freeze on the chairlift or hurt themselves by flailing frustratedly at a ball of fuzz.

That’s all the advice I have. Do you have experience teaching your loved one, or being taught by them? Funny stories, epic fails, or brilliant victories? Tell me about them. 🙂

Where the air hurts your face.

DepressedAlien.com is a really good comic. Very much worth reading through a few panels.
DepressedAlien.com is a really good comic. Very much worth reading through a few panels.

This single-panel comic turned up multiple times last week, both on my FB newsfeed and in causal conversations with friends. I laughed the first time I saw it. The second time, I giggled. The third time, I started to wonder. Why on earth do I live where the air hurts my face? And why on earth do I have no intention of ever leaving a place where the air hurts my face? Simple.

Because I know how to keep warm.

I ski the trees and find myself sweating at 20°F. I turn my face to the sun when I stand in the woods. I wrap myself in flannels so broken in they’ve lost their structural integrity, but not their warmth. I drink whiskey with my friends, letting the liquor warm our throats and our tongues. I am carried away by the sight of the stars burning fiercely through the cold night sky. Then, later still, I curl up beneath a layer of down and fall asleep to the peculiar silence of falling snow.

Why do you live where the air hurts your face?

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

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!

Too soon.

It’s always to soon to leave the mountains and the cold behind – the white coating that erases the pressures and stress of life in the valleys.

Last week was the last ski race of the season, and with an old knee injury aggravated, I’m afraid it might just be the end of my winter. But it’s too soon. (It’s always too soon.)

I can feel my knee healing by increments as some combination of ice, ibuprofen, elevation, and gentle exercise combine. Minutes on my bicycle add up to a stronger joint, but the going is slow and I am impatient. I’m worried it won’t be strong enough in time  the long hike up to Tuckerman Ravine, my favorite part of spring.

The knee problem has happened before. The last time, my knee gave out on Tuckerman Ravine, which gave me my first ever, albeit mild, concussion. I won’t be making that mistake again, but I want to be on that mountain. There is no better way to say hello to spring than standing on the ridge of Mt Washington, looking down on the green world emerging.

I couldn't see anything. It was awesome.
I couldn’t see anything. It was awesome.

It’s cold again. I even biked through a Friday snow squall with flakes as large as quarters blurring my vision. But soon it will be warm. It won’t be long before I’m running outside, floating in Lake Champlain, and (if I conquer my fear) mountain biking.

I know plenty of people who say their favorite time to ski is in the spring, when powder days are interspersed with warm sunshine and soft snow. Smiles on faces and barbecues in parking lots. But I hate it. I hate watching the snow melt away. I hate emerging from hibernation, shedding layers in the heat until it’s me that’s melting.

For everything there is a season. But winter will always be mine.

Will you be missing winter, too? Or is there something special about spring that you can’t wait for?

Mountain Purist

The hardest part about writing this blog is remembering to take photos.

Sometimes when I remember, my phone’s already dead from searching for reception. Sometimes I remember, but it’s too cold to pull my hands out of my mittens. Most of the time, though, I don’t think of it. I’m too busy skiing.

But, then again, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my days on the slopes. I don’t listen to music. Until this year, my phone was turned off in the parking lot and only carried along in case of emergencies.

While I prefer my mountain days to be vacations from the rest of the world, there’s something to be said for snapping a few shots along the way… and capturing the beautiful days, perfect lines, and brilliant people with whom I share the mountain.

sunny day at Stowe
Crazy, cold, beautiful sky.

“Let the mountain come to you.”

I am sore, aching, and exhausted from two days on the mountain.

Friday’s storm dropped 11 inches on Stowe, filling in the rutted glades. It’s not enough (is it ever enough?), but the mountain feels whole again – complete under a fresh coat of white. Saturday was spent flowing through trees, and pounding through row after row of soft moguls. Sunday was for cruising with my coworkers, leaning into the turns, and taking the scenic way down. These were my best two days of riding so far… and not just because of the freshies.

Skis, snowboard against the sky

I haven’t ridden my best this year. I spend a lot of time frustrated, struggling with lines and recovering from poor decisions. Earlier this year, I even grazed a tree hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I want to blame my boots, the longer length of my new skis… anything to explain why I’m struggling. Rookie mistakes.

Saturday, I ended up upside down in a tree well. As I squirmed, one of the guys called out “Relax, don’t struggle.” Which… I didn’t do. I was too embarrassed and angry with myself for bailing out. Instead, I grunted and fumed. Between the two of us, I was right side up in no time, but rattled… The feeling was not improved by the next obstacle – a thin, steep chute narrower than my skis are long. Cover was thin… and the wall of solid ice on one side of the run-out was hardly reassuring.

The only way down was to take on turn and go for it, skis pointed straight. Which… I didn’t do. I was too scared to take the line, and ended up sliding part of the way and fumbling the rest, redeeming myself with a single solid drop into a pillow of soft powder.

Looking up from the bottom of the chute, I watched the next rider come down, moving with the fall line much more gracefully. Standing there, I thought about a story that Bob Berwyn shared with me about the woman who taught him to telemark. Something the woman said stuck out to me when I first read it, and just then it came back to me like a tap on the shoulder.

“Let the mountain come to you. And trust your skis.”

After the group shared high fives in celebration of our survival, we turned to the fall line. I exhaled, the worst over, and found myself finally relaxing into my turns. Too tired to battle my skis, I let them follow the fall line through the white.

Today, I ducked in to the woods to lap up what was left of the soft, riding easily. All the while, I reminded myself, “Relax, don’t struggle. Let the mountain come to you.”