Sometimes skiing isn't about the powder. It's not always about the number of laps you take, or the pillow drops you zipper through. For me, my best days of skiing are what I like to title, "Ski days for the Soul." Last weekend my soul was happy, my skis were happy, and my camera was happiest of all. It was the perfect combination for a ski day just for the Soul.
I lack a season pass. People look at me and always say 'awe, that's too bad! You live in Steamboat; it's a bummer you don't get to ski every day." I accept the remarks from these folks and acknowledge that sometimes it sucks, but really, deep inside, my heart starts beating faster with excitement when people discuss my lack of a season pass. I don't tend to tell folks when we're discussing resort skiing, but I have a secret far greater than the value of a pass; I know where the powder stashes are at 3pm, and the places where I will giggle and gasp my way through deep powder or smooth surface frost without seeing another person all day. I don't need a pass to wait in crowded lines and rush down the hills next to strangers who anger me and take my lines. I'm a back country skier, and I privately let my skis sketch doodled curves through white powder canvases all on my own, without the pressures of resort skiing. Secretly, I hang my head to these strangers about not having a pass, when really, I'm just hoarding the goods for myself. Other people think "oh, poor you," but I think, "Ah, I live the best life!"
Last weekend, Drew, Brian and I left Steamboat at the decently late time of 8:00am, with only a minor lag from me having to drag my sans-reverse snowmobile off of my trailer and onto Drew's. (Thank goodness I was skiing with guys.... I'll admit, I can't drag it off by myself.) I just got the '02 Polaris RMK 800, which I have now named the BLUE BEAST due to its size. Although it's old, I was excited to see what kind of doors it would open for me that were closed to me last year. Many of the best peaks to summit and pitches to ski are MILES off of the beaten path; too far for even the most avid hiker to reach in one day. This sled was my new mobility to access these remote gems.
I can't tell you where we skied. It's part of the unspoken code of backcountry skiing; you don't say where you went or how to get there. (Sounds like a "Fight Club" movie reference, doesn't it???) Our adventure started with a 9 mile ride on a challenging approach that gave my spirit another boost of energy when not a single one of us buried our sleds. Snowmobiling is a sport I lovingly call 'Digging;' sometimes those couple hundred pounds of beastly machine can't stay on top of the powder and when they sink, they go all the way to the bottom and take hours to dig out. The fact that we all made it through the challenging and deep snow was my first indicator that this was going to be an amazing day.
When the mountain we wished to ski appeared in sight, we abandoned our sleds, slapped our skins on our skis, and began our hike approach to the peak I will refer to as 'The Lady" to protect her location. *wink wink, don't tell who she is if you recognize her!
The hike in was almost as exhilarating as the turns out. It was a stunning blue-bird day, and the higher up we got, the more beautiful it became. The views stretched for miles and as the air became colder, Winter's grasp became more apparent. The trees turned into standing ghosts of their former selves, and the air froze coming out of our mouths. My favorite image of the day is of their ghostly appearance as we summited the west ridge of "The Lady's" neighboring peak.
At the top, the most gorgeous vista awaited us. Massive cornices towered off of The Lady's north side, where old slide activity could be seen. We dug a snow pit, which is a way to gather data about the avalanche dangers of the slopes we wanted to ski, and determined that with a CT test of 7, there would be no skiing on her steeper pitches. Instead, we agreed upon summiting from the west ridge and then skiing down her west face, which had an average slope of 27 degrees. Steep enough to slide, but unlikely given some of the bridging and sheer tests results we conducted.
Talk about Skiing for the Soul. I could feel the pitter-patter of my heart as we passed the large cornice on her north side. I could barely keep up with my partners as each direction I turned flooded my senses with incredible beauty and invoked me to pull off my gloves and document my surroundings. I lagged behind them the entire way, breathing in all of the beauty around us, and completely shirking my trail breaking duties to the stronger and faster guys while I took photos (and caught my breath). There are no words to describe the feelings that overcame me, other than saying I felt more alive than any powder day in a resort, and happier than anyone in Routt County at that moment.
At our summit we ripped our skins off and looked at our decent. Crisp air blew around our cold faces, encouraging us to descend quickly. Brian took off first, and Drew and I glanced at each other to see who was next. I patted the massive camera on my side that I had lugged with me, and he agreed that I should go next so I could get some shots of him coming down. We both put our Avalungs into our mouths out of caution and grinned awkward grins with the hoses clamped in our teeth. (An avalung is a hose that is hooked to your backpack that allows you to exhale out of the bottom of your pack so that in the event of an avalanche burial, you increase your survival time by diverting the warm air of your breath away from your face as it can create a suffocating ice sheet.) I took off, linking together 1,000 vertical feet of the most perfect turns I have ever achieved. Each turn was like flying; I could feel the skis take control as I finished a turn and they would guide me into the next, where I'd take command and initiate the smooth carve, sinking into the deep snow and then following the skis out of the turn as their engineered shape dictated they do so. Fat skis for fat, floating turns.
Drew chose his lines down carefully, sailing through the dead trees in graceful arcs. Brian was waiting for us halfway down, and we leap-frogged each other to the bottom. Without the winds we encountered at the top, we found balmy temperatures at the bottom and removed layers for our slog of a hike back up to the West Ridge. From there, we skied a second pitch through mellow open patches of standing dead trees back towards our abandoned snowmobiles. The sun was starting to melt our precious snow, and we wanted one last descent before it became sticky.
From his smile, I knew Drew was thinking what I was thinking. This Day is INCREDIBLE. Blue bird skies, warm weather, good friends, hard hiking, incredible view, and perfect turns. Rather than leaving behind push piles in-bounds at resorts, we descended to our sleds and left only our quiet tracks in our wake. We did not see another person all day or cross another skier's tracks. This day was a day of quiet mountains, good friends, and skiing strictly for the happiness of the soul.
Thanks for visiting! My blog is a resource guide for clients and other photographers for educational and informational purposes. (And sometimes the occasional rant about Photoshop, high-waisted skirts, being too tall to wear heels and Chacos being too casual for work life, and other venting topics.) I write my articles using my experiences and various other resources such as the the web, dusty books, and of course Myth Busters (if you have never watched that show, it's well worth the couch time). That being said, anything I say on my blog doesn't come as guaranteed advice; it's opinion only. By visiting my blog, you're essentially signing a contract that says "Yup, I understand; you make no guarantees and I won't try to sue you or report you to Obama. That might make our new friendship awkward."
Read on and enjoy, life is full of adventures!