Thursday, September 29, 2016

Day One? September Skiing in Vermont: the First Frost makes for Fast Grass

It's been just over three months since I last felt my skis beneath my
feet. I'll admit, my ski clothes are still hanging on the hook right next to my closet. They haven't moved from the last time I wore them. My jacket and uphill pants are waiting. My skis sit silently, ready and willing for the moment when they will once again play in the snow.

 For me, September is always the hardest month of the year. The air has changed but snow & skiing still seem like forever away. It's the last month where we don't get to ski, but the first month of pure torture. I check the weather in constant anticipation of the first frost, in hopes that will calm my soul. But it never does, instead making all my pre-season jitters worse.  I mountain bike, I paddle, I trail run and spend countless hours in my garden ... and they are all just endless quests for the feeling for that I most long ...   

I spend my whole year
waiting for the air to get cold enough,
for the ground to freeze
and for the snow to fall.
Waiting for Winter.

Until this year.
 I just couldn't take it anymore.

So much is violently changing in my life and I needed the release that only my connection with the mountain can calm. I seriously could not take it anymore.  Its only been three months, but my feet needed to move, one step at a time, bogged down by the weight of my ski boots but still swinging forward; my mind needed to get lost in the movement of upward travel in anticipation of the promise of pure unadulterated freedom on the way down.  I know, I realize that I sound unbelievably crazy, but I desperately needed the calm that only the feel of my skis gliding can bring me.

As Sunday River tested her snow guns and the weatherman predicted the first frost at high elevations across Vermont - I made the call. I would go. In my mind, if I could ski rocky pitch of lower Superstar in the late spring mud, then I could make something out of the fast grass on Rime. Plus, I had never skied Killington (or anyplace) in either September or August. For every factual argument against this ridiculous adventure, I could counter with great fortitude.  We all know the risk of early season skiing, where the over enthusiasm for the return of winter leads to over zealous gaper decisions.  I felt so utterly stupid, crazy and acknowledged these potential dangers, the least of which was ending my ski season due to injury before it had even begun.

But I would let my mind could contemplate those thoughts.

I needed to ski.

And so I went, starting my journey up the mountain at 5:15am, as the bright crescent moon led the way under a wonderfully cold and clear star lit sky. I prayed to the ski gods that the grass would be short and frosty enough to let this whole ridiculous adventure be worth the effort of hiking Killington with ski boots on my feet and skis strapped to my back. The sun rose just as slowly as I did, my body obviously not ready for the added weight as I made the first ascent of the season. I hiked the ancient path I had walked so many times before, crossing the newly trodden paths of Spartan Racers, as my eyes searching for any sign of frost. There wasn't much.

I began slowly to worry that this might be the stupidest thing I have ever done.

Oh my god, it so totally and absolutely wasn't.  It was amazing, wonderful, ridiculous and the most fun my soul has had in months. From the moment I dropped my skis onto what was more like small bushes than grass, I knew everything was going to be all right with the world. As I shuffled my feet to get a feel for the plush surface beneath, I began to glide. Not quickly by any means, but gliding. Moving faster and faster down the hill until a sound a hadn't heard in months snuck out of my lungs ... Woohoo! I found myself crying aloud as I headed down Upper Double Dipper. 


I was skiing!!
at Killington!!
In Vermont!!
In September!!

Turning ended up being not such a good idea, but the glide was all I needed. Over and over again, I would angle my skis to catch enough speed to glide but not enough to lose control of my bindings or ski tip got caught in a bush. It went on this way to the bottom of Rime, the joy of feeling my skis completely overtaking any horribleness that life might have in store. I felt like the Grinch on Christmas morning -- I didn't need fancy packages or snow, all I needed was the feeling of the glissé and my love of skiing.

My skis were safe and clean with no core shots. My knees and all my body parts came out unscathed - although my upper quads were screaming by the end of the run. My boots looked just as beat to shit as they do all late spring and my aching feet were screaming from the walk down. My poor little Dynafit bindings took the worst of the fast grass, but even they held up perfectly.

My smile - that powder day kind of smile that sticks with you all day? The one where you giggle for no reason, except that there is so much joy inside you that oh have to let just a little of it out at a time so as not to scare people? Yay, that smile was there.

Most importantly of all, my soul, my spirit, my energy, was finally free - free to glide and intertwine with the spirit of the mountain, lifting higher than it had been in months.

I was at peace.

"My skis are the things,
That give me my wings
And make me an eagle and fly."
                              -Bob Gibson, In This White World

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Autumn arrives and I am called on an Expotition

All summer, I have been waiting
Laying around, working in my garden
feeling sweaty and gross
just hot. sticky. hot
and moist.

Ugh, I want to hide in my cold basement,
away from the blazing sun and excruciating heat.
I cringe when the weatherman says its going to be gorgeous
knowing those words only mean miserableness to me.

And then autumn comes,
and instead of being fat and lazy
I want to play, and run and explore

As I left for my run today,
leaves were circling in the air around me.
autumn had encircled me and I felt as though I was running through a thoughtful spot.
Like Winnie the Pooh would come bumbling by at any moment and suggest an Expotition.
I could feel An Adventure in the air.

And so I ran.
I got to the end of the road and kept running.
Like I never wanted to stop.
Like there was a world out there beyond by normal route
and today,
today, was the day I was to venture forth and seek the world.

I heard the call of an Expotition.
And so I ran.

And ran.  And ran.  And ran.
further than I had run in months.
I am Forest Gump.
I am me.

Because I could smell the difference.
I could taste the cold air on my tongue,

I noticed my breath,
a clean fresh breath
leaving a vapor trail in the sky.
I could see it.


(Sometimes I kinda freakout when I can't see my breath.
Must be a winter person thing)

With each breath,
my body relaxed,
feeling the world slipping into fall as I made my way
up long slow hills in a valley surrounded by mountains,
once a soft vibrant green now just beginning their change

Winter is coming,
I can hear myself think

And then I can't think at all
I lose myself:
   in my steps,
   in my breath,
   in my mind.

I have no idea where I went,
only that I finally found myself home
where I was once again embraced by the leaves of autumn
swirling around me as I take the final steps.

And my mind wanders to where the next Expotition will lead ...

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,
Female Ski Bum

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

#WinterisComing - Can it just be here already??

It's coming.

I can feel it.
The air has changed.
It's colder.  Cleaner.
I can breathe easier.

Only I can't.
Because I want to ski.
Not in a month.  Or 6 weeks.
Like now.

I hike through the beautiful mountains and watch the leaves change color.
I pedal the trails and see the leaves begin to cover the trails.
I look at the mountains surrounding the water as I paddle along.
I spend hours in the garden, trying to pass the time by growing food for my little family.

But it's simply not the same.

It's my drug, this skiing thing.
It's all I've ever wanted in life, no matter how hard I try to refocus.
My goals, all fallen by the wayside as I search for more days on snow.
My dreams, completely full of fluffy white goodness falling from the evergreen trees which surround me on all sides.
I want something else to be important, to be relevant, to be ... anything!

But it's not.
Nothing matters anymore, except turns and snow.

I try.
Really hard.
There are so many different things to do during the summer in Vermont, but they all seem like pale substitutes for the true prize.

I don't know why this is and if I knew I am not sure I would want to change anything.
As the snow melts in June, I find myself enjoying the farewell, the parties and the drinking, the toasting, paddling and biking all filling my days with excitement and adventure.

Then the heat comes.  and the Humidity.  And I spend a few weeks basking in the sun's warmth.

By the beginning of September, I am done with it all.
It's exhausting, trying to find things to do while I wait for winter to come.
I just want to go to sleep and wake up with snow on the ground.
It's cold and I just want to go skiing already.
That is all.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,
Female Ski Bum

Sunday, June 5, 2016

My Journey to the 200 Day Ski Season

I still don't believe it.

Yesterday, just like any other day, I went skiing in the morning before work.
Only it wasn't like any other day, not even the littlest bit.  Not even at all.

As I sat in the drivers seat of my car and pushed the ignition, I noticed that my right hand was shaking.  Violently.  My left hand was shaking, too.  And in that moment I realized that my protein shake was not as settled in my stomach as I had first believed.  My heart was pounding and I was either going to vomit or burst into tears.  I did neither.  

A Perfect Day
Until I was driving up the Killington Road and saw the snow.
Then I lost it.

Dressed up for the Big Day
Not my breakfast, thank goodness, but any control I had over my emotions what so ever.  I let the tears fall, letting my chest heave violently up and down as I pulled into the parking lot at K1.  The sky was a stunning blue and the green mountains, only recently having popped, were showing off their sparkling plushness that seemed to come alive in the slight breeze.  It was an absolutely perfect day for earning my 200th day of skiing and I was going to let my soul take me on the adventure of a lifetime.  

4 June 2005: My Dad skiing the fast grass way before Candide 

This emotional roller coaster had started a little over a week before, when my mom discovered a collection of photographs hidden in my dad's desk from his first time skiing in the month of June.  He had been captivated by my tales of hiking up after the lifts had closed and skiing until naught but the tiniest patch remained.  The combined excitement of skiing with his dog and checking another month of skiing off his list was too great.  So, on 4 June 2005, my dad  & his golden retriever, Ripper, joined Vespi and I on his first (but definitely not his last) earned turned adventure.  He wore jeans.  I was on teles.  And the dogs were beyond stoked to finally get a chance to ski together.  

It was one of my best days of skiing ever. And I'm pretty sure it was dad's idea to ski the fast grass that first time - he joked about having to do some patchwork.  We theorized about leaving no patch un-skied and would walk back up to a little section if gravity pulled us past her, while the dogs ran and rolled and frolicked like dogs will do.  There is a sense of freedom in manipulating each little patch in an attempt to ski every square foot of available snow while the lifts hang quietly above us.

May 2013: Earning Turns in the Rain
This was the type of adventure we would repeat every spring, my dad and I.  If my dad was in Killington and there was snow, he wanted to ski.    It no longer mattered if the lifts were running; in fact, we often had more fun in spite of the closure.    There was snow to be skied and we had better ski it.  One year, we skied in the pouring rain at the end of May because that was the day he was able to make things work to be here.  So the raincoats went on.  And skiing we went.

Then I looked again at the date.  June 4th.  When my mom found the photos, I would have to ski every day I would get my 200th day on June 4th.  It was too much of a coincidence for my mom to randomly find these pictures, with this date with a little more than a week to go before my big day.  There was no longer any question about relaxing and letting the days come as they may.  It was now a done deal.  June 4th would be my day 200.  Only I wasn't sure that my mind and body would be prepared for the onslaught of memories that would haunt me on the ascent.  
It's safer with the bug net

The journey up to the top of Skye Peak was the hardest I have ever hiked.  It felt as though the weight of 37 years of ski memories were riding in my backpack, weighing me down more than my skis ever did.  Each step felt like what I imagine climbing the Himalayas without oxygen would be.  With no one or no dog beside me, my thoughts were at the mercy of my backpack, and the memories poured over my head whether I wanted them to or not.

But I was wrong.  It wasn't a haunting.  It was wonderful.  Every memory, from every era of my life, was filled with laughter and happiness on the slopes.  From the beginning with my great Uncle Jerry and his Billy the Kidd hat ... to ducking ropes at Vernon Valley with my dad ... to Thursday nights jumping off chairlifts at Sterling Forest ... to dyeing our hair green at the NE Championships championships for Deerfield ... to analyzing technique at ski school with the instructors (no matter if I was one of them or a student myself) ... to constantly skipping gate training to play in Echo Woods ... to being part of an extended family that loves skiing ... to spending days without poles but with a trail of Hopefuls or Ministars behind ... to convincing my bestie that ski bum life is the best life possible ... to grabbing the best pow in the best waterbars on the best day of the best worst winter ever ... to the first day my dad put his skis on again months after discovering he had cancer ... to finding that one person with whom I could spend the rest of my life making turns ... Skiing has brought me nothing but the most wonderful part of my life.  I have never spent a bad day skiing, even the day I wrecked my ACL or when the snow couldn't really be called snow.  I laughed on those days, too.

A few years later ... and dad's still in jeans
Photo Credit: Will Rizzuto
Throughout my life, I have struggled to "fit in" and find my place.  Probably because I was never mentally anywhere but Killington anyways.  My TPS yearbook listed my "Where Found" as Killington Resort, but it took me until my now long-time boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go skiing with him on my first day teaching at Ramshead to realized that this is where I belong.  And so here, in Killington, I stayed.

Over the past 15 years living in Killington, I finally felt at home and at peace and in a place that I could finally be myself.  Yes, my emotions still swing violently with the changes in weather.  For some reason, I still get extremely depressed in April as the snow begins to melt but am then reenergized when May rolls around and plenty of snow remains and the next bike & paddle & golf & hike begins.  But most everyone here does also.

Living the ski bum lifestyle in Killington, I have made some of the best friends and ski buddies from simple chairlift rides or the passing of a bowl or a flask of Jack.  I've learned that it doesn't matter who you are, where you are from, what age your are or what you do, as long as you love skiing (snowboarding or telemarking), you are okay by me.  Well, unless it's a powder day.  There is a common bond that mountain people share, a clear acceptance that a life connected to the mountains is a far more peaceful and wonderful way to live.

Life is simple.  If we cannot ski, what is the point?  If we should spend our days in search of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we should ski.  And we should ski with the ones we love.  Over the past 37 years, I have skied some of the most disgusting and most amazing conditions with the best of friends, ski buddies and family.  I have never felt so happy as when I was making turns on the mountains with the ones that I love.  And so we make commitments to ski and to our ski family. Somewhere in the back of my head, is my dad's voice, asking me how the skiing was today ... and wishing he had been there, with me.  If he were here, he would be skiing. How could I let him down?  How could I not go out skiing and get today's ski report for him?  

On this day, even though I was completely alone, my soul sought to remind me as long as I am skiing, I will never be alone.  And so my subconscious released all the memories at once.  My mom sent me texts from her needlepoint shop all the way up: "Go, Mer, Go!"  Barb was up there somewhere, while a Stray Flake was hiking for his turns, an awesome couple of Beers greeted the conclusion of my grassy descent with a standing ovation from the U-Bars and I was greeted with so much love on social media.  As I continue to relive every amazing and stupid moment I have spent with all of you on the mountain, I am nothing but grateful.

This blogpost is my thank you note to everyone with whom I have ever made a turn, ridden a lift or been on a ski adventure.  Each one of you has taught me something about myself and skiing, have brought me a little closer to nirvana and exposed the depths of my soul.  If it wasn't for you, I would just be a crazy woman in the mountains.

As I finished my run, I screamed, bouncing up and down in joy, stopping shaking just long enough to click out of my bindings and then collapsed to the ground with pure mental and physical exhaustion.  My entire body was shaking and I felt as though I was gasping for air.  For a day that I have never really thought would come, Day 200 turned out to be way too intense for me. I have spent my whole life trying to squeeze more and more skiing out of every season, manipulating jobs and school to make it work.  I don't think my mom realized, all those many years ago, the effect that her writing our first initials on a calendar to mark a day on snow would have on my life.  

2016: My turn for some fast grass

I cried the entire hike up.
I cried for all those with whom I no longer have the honor of skiing: my Great Uncle Jerry, My Dad, Vespi, my sister, my Cousin Megan, and so many who have moved away or we have lost.
I cried because the vastness of the memories is overwhelming.  
I cried because I cannot believe how unbelievably fortunate I am to have such a wonderful life in the mountains and have a ski bum boyfriend to share it with.
I cried because I really am pretty much that crazy mountain woman you avoid on the street.
4 June 2005

Day 200: 4 June 2016
Photo Credit: Rick Beers

I cried for pretty much the whole damn day.

Except when I was skiing.

Then I couldn't stop that grin from taking over my face.

Thank you so much to everyone who has ever strapped skis on their feet and thrown themselves down a mountain with me.  You have taught me so much about both skiing and life.

I wish you all happiness in the only way I can gift it: I wish you all more days on snow than you had last year.

I love you all and cannot wait to ski with you again next season.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains
Within You,

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tuckerman Ravine 2016

We made it to Tuckerman Ravine this year!

That's all I could think about as we hiked up the work road style trail with all our backcountry ski and camping gear strapped to our backs.  It's a long slog up the first part of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, but made even longer when the rubber on the YakTracks that I found lying on the trail out to Pico Pond several years ago finally decide they were going to snap.  So after hobbling up the icy sections for a while, the Boyfriend rigged the first, then the second and finally a third snap back together with the binding force of the universe: duct tape.  Our oaks weighed less than 50 pounds, but after virtually no skinning this past winter, my body felt completely out of shape.  Did this feel like the worst ascent ever?  Yes.  Did the boyfriend break his ascent record?  Yes.  And I say yes with a huge smile, after more than six years leaving with a traumatic brain injury, having him lead the ascent was a ginormous success!
A much less snowy Left Gully & Center of Tuckerman Ravine

But the real excitement, especially in this dirth of a snowfall year, was that there was enough natural snow for us to try and ski the ravine in the first place.  Since our own resort of Killington relied so heavily on snowmaking after receiving less than half of their worst snowfall record ever, we were extremely worried.  But - low and behold - we would not have to miss a ski season at Tuckerman Ravine.  Even if the entire right side was closed due to the dangers of falling ice and undermined snow, we would still get to experience the White Mountains and the mecca that is Tux.

So how much snow was there, really?  Well, I like to judge by the amount of snow surrounding the water pump at Hermit Lake.  Growing up playing with the pump at my camp, I find a strange peacefulness in having to pump the water through iron pipes and into my Nalgene.  Most years, the pump sits at the bottom of a 3-4 foot dug out hole.  This year: nothing.  There was a base, but instead of feet it was mere inches.  I could have filled an entire roll of film just comparing snow depths.  The cairn leading to the shelter was completely exposed, yet there was still frozen water on Hermit Lake itself.  While the summit had been free of snow for weeks before we arrived, we awoke our first morning to snow at the Chocolate Factory (our nickname for the summit towers).  As we ascended up the practically snowless entrance to Hillmans Highway, it was a lovely contrast to see the snow covered summit.

The Boyfriend arriving at the base of Hillmans Highway.  Mount Washington is the snowy mound in the distance.

But we were there, not to gawk at the snow, but to ski it.  And so we did.  Extremely carefully.  With so much undermined and rotting snow, it was essential to hike up the trail you were going to ski down in order to study what was around you.  And so, our ascent up Hillmans was filled with comments back and forth about this waterfall peeking through and that waterfall not quite showing yet, so lets not try and go that way on the descent kind of thing.  Luckily for us, one of the caretakers also decided to ski Hilllmans that morning, so we chose the safest descent route: hers.  It was definitely not one smooth run filled with whoops and hollers.  It was a pick your way, stay close but not too close, manipulative ascent.  The only goal was to ski safely.  It was an exhausting, mental exercise, but a successful one.  I was grateful for all the mountaineering we have done and the knowledge we have gained, but it also made us aware of how small we are in the real world.  The east coast might be small, but it packs a mighty punch.

I know this, because I forgot my big puffy jacket.  And I was freezing both nights.  Like hypothermic freezing.  Each night, as I was practically in tears from the cold, we discussed going down to the car and giving up on our Tuckerman Ravine experience this year.  It was a conversation we needed to have, but I would have stayed up all night doing jumping jacks and burpees if it meant we could stay.  Wonderfully, the boyfriend loaned me his extra warm puffy coat for the night and we snuggled to stay warm. There are indeed advantages of winter camping with your spouse.  It was yet another reminder to me that it is the simple act of consciousness in our activities and lives that make the small differences.  If we had paid close attention on Hillmans, we could have ended up downstream under the snow.  And I can bet you that I will never again forget my big puffy coat.  Watch me be extra cautious now and pack that coat for 50 degree nights canoe camping this summer.  Especially in the life and death situations of winter camping, attentiveness to the small details will have the biggest effect on the success of your mission.

We spent the remainder of the trip enjoying the mountains, spending our first nights - of what will hopefully be at least 31 - outside for the year and playing in the bowl partially filled with snow.  There is something to be said for just taking some time to sit in the ravine and soak in the entire experience.  We watched the ski-mo crew run laps around the young boy without crampons struggling to make his first ascent ever up Left Gully, while the mom tried to avoid the creepy guys while she waited for her husband and daughter to make a second run without her.  Killington Mountain School showed up with the entire school.  And then there was us, quietly ascending and descending, just celebrating another wonderful ski season spent in the mountains.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,

Thanks for Reading!!

and thanks for all the great comments :)