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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
This is the other thing I wanted to talk about. But first, I’ll start with a kind of a disclaimer. To quote Haruki Murakami: “I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone.” This has been true forever. I enjoy the company of others, sure, but I need a certain amount of alone time to feel rested and complete.
For years, however, I was under the impression that this need for solitude was ‘antisocial’ and therefore bad or wrong. I worked very hard to suppress this drive for solitude, which meant that several years were more difficult than they had to be. Not in the sense that I was picked on or otherwise mistreated. Simply in the sense that I was more tired more often than I needed to be. Constant social fatigue wore away at my self-confidence, spilling over from the social sphere and into my adventure sphere. Fear of going out and doing something by myself (and fear of somehow failing or running into trouble in the woods alone) meant that I didn’t get out into the wild anywhere near as much as I wanted and needed.
It’s taken several more years now of practicing doing things alone again, but I’m finding joy in the rehearsal. It started small with going to cafés to work or quietly sip tea. Then, a few bars. (I love reading in bars. I don’t do it often because interruptions annoy me, but bar-reading is great.) Or the beach. Or driving to the resort alone to link a few turns in the lift-served playground. These places are as pleasant and enjoyable by yourself as they are when in a group.
And then there was yesterday – earning my turns in calm, satisfied solitude. The peace of walking upwards and the exhilarating joy of sliding back down again.
Of course, there were other people out enjoying the day – hikers with their children or dogs, other riders in small groups. We flashed smiles to one another and commented on the weather, but for the most part I was by myself. Then, when I finally arrived home, I hopped on my bicycle to ride to the beach and lay stretched out on a towel writing the rough draft of these two blog posts. Eventually, I headed back into town to join friends for dinner, drinks, and laughter.
This perfect day was all due to the realization that yeah, I got this. I woke up Monday morning with the confidence in myself, my gear, and my ingenuity to get up and have an adventure doing what I love. If I got hurt on the mountain, I had a plan. If I locked myself out of my car, I didn’t have a plan, but I’m sure I would have figured something out.
Maybe this is just a small thing, but like icebergs, even small-seeming things can be quite large.
Just as earning your turns lets you experience both the Uphill and the Downhill, so too does following what you love give you the opportunity to be both Together and Alone. There’s nothing quite like stopping halfway through a powder run to trade high-fives with your friends, but there’s also nothing quite like savoring a mountain that is yours and yours alone.
This is what I wish I learned years ago: whether you’re in the middle of a crowd or standing all alone, just keep doing what you love. Everything else will fall into rhythm.
For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. Families roll out barbecue grills. Co-eds drink beer in folding lawn chairs.
Today, Memorial Day 2013, I went skiing.
Between Saturday night and Sunday, a beautiful nor’easter dumped 8″ on the summit of Mt. Mansfield (and 3 feet on New York’s White Face). The lowlands were pelted with rain. Monday morning had me waking up to sunshine and blue skies. Naturally, I threw my skis into my car and high-tailed it for the hills.
All day, two thoughts circled through my mind. One I’ll write about now. The other I will save for the next blog post.
The first: Brendan Leonard over at Semi-Rad wrote about a divide between Uphill People and Downhill People. He is of the former – finding pleasure in the journey UP, whether it’s sending a climbing route or skinning into the backcountry. As he describes, “I enjoy the Zen rhythm of methodically skinning up the snow, forcing myself to stay at a pace that I could hold for an hour straight without stopping…”
I have a deep appreciation for the uphill. Movement is my meditation, after all; the more all-consuming the better. This morning, I took a round-about way up to avoid the sight and sounds of other hikers (all four of them). In no time at all, I fell into a natural, steady pace. With no one to catch up to or slow down for, I simply walked forward. And up.
It was a warm day in the sun, but the wind flowing downhill was cold. It picked up the smell of the snow and beckoned me ever forward.
I stopped to eat lunch below the gondola summit and leaned again the pylon. Here, the snow lay inches thick and heavy with the morning’s warmth. I felt no need to walk any higher. The tops of things don’t interest me, particularly when I’m hungry and surrounded by snow. By the time I was done eating, the cold wind had picked up and drove me to my skis.
Clicked in and buckled up, I pushed off. The first turn wasn’t so good. Neither was the second. But, as I made my third arc, I hit the rhythm and my face exploded into a wide, open-mouthed grin. I turned off Gondolier and onto Switchback – which was perhaps not the brightest idea. Riding down Switchback meant navigating over ditches and large rocks while sliding on a fifty-fifty mix of snow and small rocks. I loved every minute of it. I was drunk on the same heady elation that overcomes me on long powder runs. It’s a thick, rich, sweet feeling of absolute thankfulness. (I imagine this is analogous to drinking Turkish Coffee.)
See, I’m a Downhill Person. I love stepping down, then down again, then down once more, ever faster as momentum builds. I love the jarring shock of my legs absorbing the full weight of me with each step or turn. When I ski, I fly downhill. When I hike, I run downhill. When I am in the throes of a moment I want to savor forever, I run downhill. Even when I’m afraid, I find it’s best to take a deep breath and go downhill.
If the uphill is meditation, the downhill is ecstasy. At speed, I am released to being the child flying, arms flailing, as she runs into the arms of her mother.
(Aside: My love of the downhill is funny, because I am afraid of heights. But I think much of my fear isn’t fear at all, simply a horrified reaction to l’appel du vide. The call is strong in me. It stubbornly persists, insisting that I could fly if only I jumped. I long to fly. If I could, I would fly as high as Icarus, then drop like a peregrine, only to open my wings and climb once more. This is why I ski. It is my answer to l’appel du vide.)
The balance between Uphill and Downhill is the joy of earning your turns. By going both ways, reap the benefits of both motions and mindsets. The zen and the ecstasy – or whatever it is that goes through your heart as you get out there and enjoy.
How did you spend your Memorial Day weekend – going Uphill or Downhill? (Or relaxing around a grill?)
24 years of skiing and this sport still surprises me. Mid-winter coverage all the way into April. Corn snow as light as powder. With every turn, the falling ssshhhhhhh sound of sand downhill. Only… it’s still snow.
Clouds hung on to the summit for dear life – like winter holding out against spring. The sun broke through in the lower elevations, however, baking the corn into wet, soft mush.
We spent the day in the trees. In April.
The next morning, I sat on a porch in a t-shirt sipping coffee watching the grass turn slowly greener.
Two weekends ago, Craig (the snowboarder) met me at the mountain for a few Easter runs. We found still other friends and rode the gondola swapping stories and comments on the overcast sky.
The woods that day were certainly a happy surprise – untracked, empty, heavy with the best snowpack Vermont’s seen all season. After the first run, we were so hot and sweating that we both shed layers and got back out at it, our snowpant vents zipped open.
March is a funny month. Just as people gear up for spring, cabin fever driving them mad, winter delivers. Mid-week snow storms that make me dizzy with envy as I watch from work. Long days on the slopes with smaller crowds. Or even short romps – a few hours, a few runs to justify sitting in the parking lot with a beer and a portable grill.
Now, April. April plays tricks with hearts. Snowing one day, hot sun the next, rain yet another. Sometimes, two or three seasons in a single day. I think I agree with T.S. Eliot:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
But last weekend, riding to Massachusetts for my nephew’s baptism, I saw the earth and just the earth. If nothing else, April in Vermont rubs the world down to its body. It reveals the contours – the rolling hills, the glacial-worn cliffs, the geography – that all other seasons hide. And that’s a beautiful view, too.
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.
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?