Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Changing of the Mind

Seven years ago, I ripped my ACL for the first time .... 
Six years ago, I ripped my ACL for the second time ...
Five years ago, I ripped my ACL for the third time ....
Four year ago, I ripped my ACL for the fourth time ....

Seeing a pattern develop?


Little by little, my addiction to skiing has eaten away at the fibers of my anterior cruciate ligament until there is nothing left.  A lifelong strength athlete, I lied to myself and blatantly refused to admit that perhaps I should ease off.  Maybe some other body couldn't handle it, but I was convinced that mine would be able to continue skiing sans ACL.   I totally had this.

And then the problems started.

I didn't have enough strength to drop my right knee for a tele turn, so I put my tele skis away.
I didn't have enough range of motion to carry a high edge angle, so I skidded all my turns.
I didn't have enough strength to take the vibrations, so I skied slower.  Much Slower.

And still I lied to myself.
And made excuses.

If I could click in to my binding, I could ski.

Anything to not admit to myself that perhaps the continual shredding of my ligaments was taking away my choices on the snow.  I convinced myself that it wasn't that my knee couldn't do these tasks, it was because I didn't want to do them.  Tele skiing was dying anyways; efficiency of movement requires more skill than strength; and that anyone can ski fast.

The problem was that I really want to do all these things.  I found myself skiing more and more alone, going to crazier and crazier locations in the woods because no one could see the bizarre reality of me making step turns around down logs and gnarly branches.  I found skinning to be a way to increase my time on my skis without making turns and then the pre-opening conditions would be perfect and, therefore, less challenging, for the descent.  

I would try anything, just so that I wouldn't have to admit to myself that maybe, just maybe, I couldn't solve this problem on my own.  Even after my collapse at the beginning of May, I stubbornly lifted the heel of my binding when I couldn't push the heel piece down myself.  I skied on one leg, knowing that one misplaced ice chunk could leave me with my lower leg dangling and unattached.  Even as I rode the lift, unable to dangle my weighed ski booted foot, I knew I was being just so unbelievably stupid.  I could barely walk to the lift, but I had convinced myself that I was NOT going to miss June.

I was so frightened of not skiing, that I destroyed myself.

Now I am trying to mentally prepare myself to miss the entire 2017-2018 ski season.

But I must see this as my golden opportunity, a chance to grow up and change the way I look at skiing and life.  A chance to break my obvious & dangerous addiction and come back both physically stronger and mentally wiser.

Time spent celebrating the culture of skiing and not just the sport itself.

My favorite days this past ski season were not the ones spent racing for powder or that perfectly groomed morning.

They were the days in May that I spent icing my knee at the bottom of the Superstar Quad, celebrating the Killington lifestyle with a community of the most amazing ski bums that I have ever known.

I cannot wait to listen to your stories; to share your adventures on our mountain; and to celebrate ski bum life by sharing a shot ski with you in the parking lot.

Look for me.
I may not have my skis on, but I will be there!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Deer Tracks through the Snow

Where I am going,
I do not know.
I am following the tracks
of a deer through the snow

With skis on my feet
I can slide through the pow
Over logs and under bushes,
where is this deer heading now?

We've been sharing a skin track
for just the past few weeks
We take turns breaking trail
and then being the meek

This time he is the leader
through the newly fallen snow
And so I blindly follow
I don't really care where we go

Because the snow it is everywhere
on the ground and in the trees
On my hat and down my jacket,
A blanket as deep as my little deer's knees

I can't help but blindly wander
through the snow drifted wood
I just know this deer is taking me
To where the skiing is just too damn good.

Somehow it will keep snowing,
I can't tell you how I know,
But I can feel it in my skis,
this year, we should expect a lot of snow.

It's not even Christmas, or New Year's!
we're already skiing stuff we haven't in years
I think our whole town has gone sappy
Because I am not the only one crying tears.

Have you been out and skied it,
the snow in this unbelievable year?
I mean, look at this photo -
I'm almost mid-thigh over here!

I just can't stop looking & staring,
at trees covered with so much snow,
Everyone's face is beaming,
putting off their own alpenglow

I never thought I would feel it,
A season where I almost didn't believe
But the disbelief in this December,
made me realize that perhaps I did grieve

But it's here, it truly is,
our world covered in marshmallow snow
The peace and quiet that goes with it
except when the strong north winds blow

Oh how I have missed you,
world covered with white,
To be wrapped in your spirit
Makes everything finally feel just right

The woods are a playground,
anywhere you want you can slide
Letting your skis take you down the mountain
Through a beautiful fluffy white ride.

I'm watching the snow as it piles up deep,
and dreaming of more that will fall while I sleep,
Together we keep wandering,
up mountains & through trees -
I will follow this deer -
Because for that, I will need my skis.

May You Find
the Spirit of the Mountains
Within You,


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Natural Snow, Skiing and Freedom

Pow Grins rule the day as Natural Snow Returns to the Vermont Woods!

Last ski season in Vermont, our world revolved around the placement of snowguns and the financial budget of our resorts.  Lap after lap, we were trapped on trails whose foundations had been built and rebuilt.  We watched, Wednesday after Wednesday, as the cold New England rain washed away the hard work of our snowmaking team.  The resort was painted white for winter as the surrounding mountains rolled away in their greyish-green of a not so-cold sadness.  In between the trails, you could still see the pine needles that lay on the ground, marking the woods as forbidden and dangerous territory.

We were trapped.  Trapped on ski trails that were firm as fuck, marked with thousands of stupid death cookies and the yellow of frozen groomer tracks.  Even ski racers, with their super sharp edges and course set variations were frustrated by the feeling on entrapment.  There was no where else to go.  Up and down, the same trails that we have skied over and over again.  The only variety coming from our minds, making up songs and perhaps skiing the left side of the trail this time.  In Vermont, after the third day in a row of skiing in the pouring rain, we learn to bring our own love of skiing to the mountains.  

It was all we had.

This season, however, has brought hope back to the millions of people who ski in Vermont.  With the snow-making success of the World Cup at Killington over Thanksgiving Weekend, skiers have chosen to once again believe that a snowy winter is indeed possible in our little state.  

And this past week has proved our faith.  

Killington is claiming 52" of snowfall for the 2016-2017 ski season so far - a whopping 65% of last year's total and we haven't even had Christmas yet!  In ski bum terms?  It means that we are finally - after what feels like forever - back to adventures in the woods!  

Oh my trees, my beautiful snow covered trees, I cannot describe how much I have missed you and the joy of once again wandering through your covered branches has brought me.  Look at these evergreens - covered in a beautiful marshmellow white that turns a grey day into a miraculous one.  To be surrounded by these majesties of nature, to have the snow brush off a branch and down the back of my neck, is a return to joy rather than a burden.  Screw the damn powder skirt - I want to FEEL the snow, to shudder as it melts against my warm skin, to be reminded that winter is truly here this year.

Winter is here, and with it a sense of freedom that only a blanket of white can provide.  There is no need to stay within the confines of highways of the well-engineered trail system.  Non-snowmaking trails are filled with the beautiful soft snow where you can freely bounce from pile to pile, rather than gingerly picking your way around a frozen clump.  My skis, thrown side to side without care, leave the ground because I know the snow will catch me.  Damn it, we skied powder again this week!

 To quote my favorite ski song, 

"My skis are the things,
that give me my wings
and make me an eagle on high."
  - In This White World, Bob Gibson

This winter, ... this winter is going to be different.  I have already earned more early season turns on real snow than I did all last season.  My legs are still shaking from the excitement of the past few days, diving off the groomed piste in search of greatness - and then laughing full-bellied when I actually find it.  In some moments, I just cannot believe that natural snow has returned.  I just can't get enough.  My body aches to have my skis on every minute, not wanting to waste a single hour of the day not exploring the natural snow that fills the woods right now.  

And so we shall ski, and skin and ski some more.  I will be excited to brush inches of snow off my car while I stand deep in snow.  I am pumped to wake up with the dawn and wander around in the woods while ascending a snow covered peak.  I will choke on cold smoke and feel the snow melt in the small of my back.  Everything is going to be wonderful this season, I can just feel it.

"Vermont must be beautiful this time of year, 
all that snow."
    -Danny Kaye, Irving Berlin's White Christmas

After waiting for two years, a truly white winter has finally returned to Vermont.  


May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tears of Pride as Killington, Vermont hosts our first World Cup

Like so many east coasters, I grew up ski racing.   Membership in the Killington Ski Team meant that my family had a legitimate reason to spend every weekend skiing.  Any small amount of success meant that I could justify taking Fridays or Mondays off as well.  Commitment meant that my dad and I could ski & practice drills at my home-home mountain after school a couple nights midweek.  For my dad and I, ski racing was always an excuse to ski.  And we couldn't get enough.  We would race through elementary school and high school and, later, a little college, traveling around mid-Vermont and later New England, experiencing the differences in the ski areas, learning their distinctive individual histories but marveling at a commitment to ski racing that was the same everywhere.  For me, the East was simply a collection of ski areas.  

We grew up gathering the stories of the great skiers of Vermont, but we never saw them.  Not one.  I had posters of Diane Roffe Steinrotter and Julie Parisien hanging in my room, but I never saw them.  I knew they existed, my dad & I watched ski races from around the world on television and our coaches spent hours analyzing their technique in the media room, but we never saw them.  My calves were so skier huge, that my ski shop was stoked to special order me a pair of Julie Parisien's black and pink boots from Rossignol, but that was as close as I ever got to seeing my heroes.   Growing up, I thought the tough and dedicated East Coasters just must not love ski racing as much as Europeans and West Coasties.  World Cup ski racing was a dream, something that happened far away across the world in Europe and Colorado, where people gathered wearing fur and $2000 jackets to cheer on their athletes while the nitty gritty ski racers of Vermont just ... well, we just weren't.  

History Made:
The First Run of the 2016 Beast World Cup Women's Giant Slalom

Until Now.

This weekend, over 30,000 people from around the East Coast proved to the world what we have always known, here, in Killington and Vermont, deep down inside.  No one - and I mean NO ONE - loves skiing more than us.  

Early Morning View from the Snowdon Triple
I could feel myself shaking as we pulled out of the house on Saturday morning.  The boyfriend and I were practically sailing as we speed walked up the Killington Access Road, too excited to wait on line for the bus, and we simply stared at OUR venue.  Superstar, the trail we ride all spring long, on which I got my 200th day and the trail my dad always claimed was his favorite, was awash in the blues and reds of ski racing.  Even though we'd been watching all the hoopla be installed over the past few weeks, it was nothing compared to that walk.  I listened to foreign accents analyze both the course and the hill, speaking of my home mountain with an awed respect. The biggest blue Killington banners I had ever seen hung from the back of the grandstands, shouting MORE everything.  There was an insane line for bag inspection and security guards everywhere.  Everything and everyone seemed to be buzzing with excitement.  

So we went skiing.  
We rode the Snowdon Triple and the Poma, the home of my ski racing career and the lifts on which I have spent more of my ski life than anywhere else.  I can ski the fallaway left on Upper Bunny Buster with my damn eyes closed.  As the trees broke at the top of the race trail, Highline,  I turned to the left and saw it.  World Cup ski racing in all its glory while we sat on the old AF Snowdon Triple.  The beauty of the moment, the simplicity and the magic of it all.  We listened to the names of Vermont's historic ski clubs being read as their young athletes paraded into the arena.   My history of Vermont all rolled together in one blurry moment.  It was the first time of many that I would find tears in my eyes on this day.  We tried, but we couldn't stay skiing any longer - we had to go to the races.

As members of Killington's 100 Day Club, the BF & I found ourselves high in the grandstands with an amazing view of the famous S.  And waited.  And people watched.  The familiar logos of the mid-Vermont ski areas mixed in with ski clubs from around the East Coast that I had no idea even existed.   American flags were swung by zealous fans alongside the flags of ski racing countries like Sweden,  France, Norway and Switzerland.  They were here.  My eyes were huge, watching the long line of fans down the access road as thousands of people incessantly streamed into the venue and filled in every inch of space at the bottom of Superstar.   As a community, we had hoped for 5,000.  As the day went on, we heard stories of anywhere from 16K to 25K people had made their way to this historic event.  To see this many people as excited and pumped to be there as I was ... just plain damn awesome.  If you live close enough and love ski racing, you showed up.  Period.  The day was beginning to becoming surreal and we watched with awe as our home became the epicenter of the ski world.  Just. Like. That.  

Over 25,000 People!
The Largest Crowd in the United States
Photo: Eric Hess, ski teammate at Deerfield Academy
And then the race started and the crowd rose up with a roar never heard before in the United States.  We knew that.  Everyone in that crowd knew what was happening on this day.  Every person there had grown up watching the piddly crowds out west get outshone by the enthusiasm of Europeans for their favorite racers.  We knew that we were making history, that we were making a statement, that we were showing the world what skiing means to us.  It didn't matter what county the lady racer hailed from, we respected their commitment and dedication to the same love that we ourselves shared.  And so we would cheer.  And for the first time in my lifetime, we would cheer together.  As Vermonters.  As East Coasters.  So very proud of the ski world we live in and for the first time in my lifetime, we were able to gather as one and show our love of skiing and ski racing to the world.  

Huge Ass Grins of Killington Pride
President Mike Solimano & the BF
As the first racer descended the course, tears openly streamed down my face. I tried to hold the tears back and I heard the BF ask, "Are you crying?"   I started to bristle and then turned around to defend myself - and didn't need to.  My full-bearded boyfriend had tears in his own eyes as he enthusiastically jumped up and down with the crowd.  I looked around and saw tears in the eyes of almost everyone.  The moment was understood, the suffering was over and huge sense of relief and glory filled with air.  The day continued with  so many greetings of "Happy World Cup" it was impossible to count.  Huge bear hugs held so much emotion it was hard to let go.  Later that day, we would share this story with Killington President Mike Solimano.  He took a deep breathe and laughed, relieved to know he wasn't the only one.  

I don't want this weekend to end.  No one does.  I don't care that after watching the races, we had to run down the access road with our skis on our backs to our restaurants shifts, sprinting the entire time we were there, and then head to the nightclubs to make sure the party didn't fade away.  My friends and I have been laughing about how we can't get enough; I have read every article, watched videos over and over again, grabbed at every photo and refused to remove my grandstand bracelets.  We keep rereading quotes from the lady racers, like the U.S.'s Mikaela Shiffrin and Canada's Mimi Gagnon calling us their favorite venue, the best crowd and how they can't wait to come back to compete on their home snow.  No one wanted to leave JaX late Sunday night, as we celebrated the amazing wave we had just ridden.  Exhausted smiles stretched ear to ear on everyone's faces, but the blurry and red shot eyes told the story of a family that hadn't slept all weekend, that was riding on their eleventh or twelfth boost of energy and was going to sleep all day on Monday.  Every single person, whether an employee, volunteer or fan brought everything they had to this party.  Not because its our job or our duty, but because Killington, because Vermont, because the East Coast loves skiing.  And it showed.

Vermont Ski Racer Mikaela Shiffrin
Women's Slalom Champion, 2016 Beast World Cup
Photo: Barb Wood, Killington Ski Instructor from my elementary days
Thank you so much to Mike Solimano, Jeff Temple, Chuck Hughes, Tiger Shaw and all the workers, volunteers and fans who showed up and made this little girl's dream come true.  We showed the world that the spirit of the skiing and the mountains is alive and well in Vermont, winter's original state.
Me, losing my voice watching Mikaela Shriifin
receive the Simon Pierce trophy that I got to hold!!
Photo: the Boyfriend

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ski Sisters, the Beast World Cup ... and Pantsuit Nation

This weekend, the best women skiers in the world will gather in Killington, Vermont for the 2016 Audi F.I.S. Ski World Cup.  As the "White Circus" rolls into town, the strength and technical skills of women will be on display in Vermont for the first time since 1978, and on the East Coast since Julie Parisien won gold at Waterville Valley, NH in 1991.  Finally, as global warming threatens almost all early season ski races across the world, Killington Resort is able to do what we who live here have always known they could do: put on the greatest display of man-made snow ever seen in the history of skiing.
For the past month, Killington locals have been watching in anxious anticipation as our snowmaking team demonstrated why it is considered the best and strongest in the world.  Our groomers have two new piston bully winches that have been running virtually non-stop for over a week while the rest of the mountain ops team has been diligently building a world cup level venue at the bottom of the trail now famous worldwide, Superstar.  We continue to prep for what will be the most stunning weekend in Killington's storied lifetime, an event that will undoubtedly make the hey day of the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge seem like a pee wee football game.

Nothing happens in a bubble.  Even as over a foot of snow falls to cover Killington in a much needed blanket of white and we enjoy the fun of powder skiing this week, I cannot help but think about the chaos that has embraced our nation over the most recent election.  Over the past 18 months, the increase in public displays of misogyny have left many women feeling depressed and frightened, as if the ascension of this new President will return the United States to the eras of smelling salts or poodle skirts.

But this weekend, the best women skiers in the world will gather in Killington.  They are coming to compete, to watch the race with their mothers, daughters and ski sisters, to celebrate women in skiing and in athletics.  This past week has been filled with revelation amongst my ski sisters on the hill: This weekend isn't just about the amazing sport of skiing - this will be the first international event in the United States to celebrate women athletes since the election.  Even Michaela Shiffrin, the top ranked woman in slalom, was quoted in the Connecticut Post as saying: "My grandma, she is 95, I think is coming.  I hope she will be able to go.  That would be amazing."  This event will showcase women performing at the highest level of competitive sport.

Not once, in any article or interview, did any one question the ability of these women to completely dominate on what will basically be a vertical sheet of ice.  I have not heard a single snort of disdain for women thinking they belong in a man's world, no derogatory comments about women wearing skin tight clothing in order to do anything but ski faster and cut the wind.  Videos on social media demonstrate the intense and difficult training these athletes participate in rather than how cute or sexy they look.  In fact, I have heard more worries from high level ski friends who are slipping the course that they can get their edges sharp enough to not slide down the whole thing and embarrass themselves in front of the ski community across the world.  Without question, these women are accepted as strong & powerful.

As I sit here writing this, I am wearing a sweatshirt that reads "I know I ski like a girl ... try to keep up" that was given to me by my non-skiing mother-in-law and a mug filled with hot chocolate (what else) that reads "Ski Chick," "Girl Powder," and "Ski Like a Girl" while I write a blog called Female Ski Bum.  This past week, I found myself in wave after wave of strong women skiers who all hail from Killington, who aren't afraid of a little ice but are afraid of what will happen to this country in the future.  In my previous blog, I wrote how I used skiing to find my inner balance after the devastating news of the election.  I already have plans to meet up with my many ski sisters, near and far, in celebration of this weekend.  For me, this weekend will not just be about skiing, but also about healing the wounds, about calming the fears and about uniting the sisterhood.

I'm not saying that one race can change the country, but it will sure as hell demonstrate to the young female skiers marching in the parade and watching the event both in person and on television, that women are strong, beautiful and intelligent.  This race will show the women who fought for equal rights in the 70s that women do not see themselves as less than we are.  But most importantly, it will demonstrate the sisterhood that is womanhood, skiing and athletics.  I cannot wait to see all the women of all different ages gathered together this weekend in the celebration of women in skiing.

Now, I only ask one thing of you all this weekend.  Take photos with your ski sisters and use the hashtag #skisisters to share them.  Celebrate the sisterhood of skiing by taking lots of photos with your ski sisters.  There will be pom pom hats, fur trimmed hoods, sequin neckies and crazy print pants in all the colors of the rainbow.  There will be women dressed in Gore-Tex, Primaloft, Down and Wool.   There will be former Olympians, future Olympians and just plain crazy dedicated not-so-ever Olympians who just love the sport of skiing.  There will be women and girls everywhere.

And not one person will second guess our right to be there.

I'm not saying that one weekend of ski racing can change the country, but I can pretty much guarantee one thing about this upcoming weekend:  You are going to see a lot of Pantsuits.

To all my ski sisters throughout the years who have made skiing so very special and shown me that women can ski - and be - anything,
thank you

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,