Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Backcountry Birthday Tour for Backside Black Pow

I got home from work at 1pm to the boyfriend organizing his pack in the ski room:
Ready for a backside tour for my birthday?

It feels like forever since the woods in Vermont have just been so sexy you can ski anywhere and really not have to worry about it. It is like a dream come true, the depth of base that we pray to Ullr for every winter. It's the kind of snow that has me dancing around like a damned sugar plum fairy in a tutu at the beginning of the season. The kind that seems like it is going to stay easily into June...

But today is not June.
It is March.
it is our Birthday Week,
the week where we get to celebrate another year on the slopes and
traditionally the week of the most kick ass ski conditions of the year.
Last year, we skied 80 degree temps in the bowl at Tuckerman Ravine with a great group of ski buddies.
This year, just the two of us dropped off the backside of Killington to ski some black pow.
Now this was my kind of date :)

So the beginning is always a little sketchy.
We like to vary our entrance - how you gonna get some fresh glitter snow all to yourself if somebody else has already been there. And I am happy to report that both our jackets came through unscathed - although the top of my helmet looks like it might have been through a pretty severe battle with a forest.
Gotta love dagger branches - watch out for puncture wounds!

Or more importantly, watch out for your pole plants!
The sketchy early season base covered with Vulcan's pounding of snow has made for some dangerous planting conditions.
I am still laughing about the BF falling on our skin out because of an extra deep pole plant.
Just happy it wasn't me this time :)

Just a few more turns and we were at our marking point:
the emergency toboggan stashed in the woods by the Killington Search & Rescue team.
If we thought the skiing was sweet before,
the chutes were even better than we anticipated.
All fresh and sexy and white and fluffy and...
Whoop! Whoop!

There are steep and narrow ones, there are wide and playful ones.
This is the backside.
You can get here - maybe - but it's a 90 minute skin back up to the K or a good long skin out to where you are still a five mile walk back to the main road.
It is not for the unprepared or the random.
We study the topography, we were shown secret places by locals when we first moved here. We tell our family where we are going and are prepared to spend the night in the woods. We have shelter, we can make fire and we still might not be prepared for self-rescue. We have Wildness First Responder training from SOLO, and the BF was a ski patroller at Killington. We can pull traction and have an evac plan. This might be skiing, but this is serious business at its core.

And so we ski.
And skin back up.
And we ski again.
And skin back up.
We can't get enough.
The snow is so beautiful and the woods so quiet.
It is just the two of us, no one for what seems like miles.
Our own private oasis.

But we know the backside isn't just ours.
It is ours to share.
We are conscious not to take all the snow, just enough for what we need.
Plus, we still have the skin out and it is starting to get dark :)

It feels like miles and at the top of the first pitch, my left skin falls victim to the cold and decides it no longer will stick to my ski. We are now 70 minutes out with lots of climbing to do. I get out my cork, the BF is working on heating the skin up in his belly and I am rubbing my base in vain. This system is stupid. We take medical tape and wrap the skin to my skin just behind the toe piece. It works great - until about 20 minutes later when my never tuned edges cut through the tape. But I am resourceful and my skins are wicked tight. I adjust the angle of my left stride - and except for one flat section where i just pull the skin off to play scooter, it works!!
Granted, an exercise in patience but...

As we head up and around, the sun begins to set and our minds wander. Conversation covers topics from a new haircut for me, to new skis, to qishing that Vespi could have joined us on this trip and how we are going to make some adjustments so she can get to Tuckerman's somehow. We reminisce about how old we have gotten since we met, no longer the clean cut kids who could barely fit into their oversized ski instructor jackets but now scruffy looking mountain people.
We have no regrets.
We have truly become ski bums.
The sun has begun to sparkle through the trees and we realize that there is no other place we would rather be, that our problems are small and our lives are wonderful.

There are no shrinks here, just the mountain and the snow. My skis tell me all I need to know about my life, i know I need to use more rotary and direct my ski rather than just let my edges roll and my skis go where they might. If only it was so easy to direct my life as it was to direct my skis....just a few drills on Snowshed and I could have my life together?
How sweet would that be?
Ahhhhh...the dreams of skinners

It's exactly 8 o'clock as we spot our first white blaze and spot the much buried roof of Cooper's Cabin in the distance. We have arrived just in time to throw on our puffy coats and watch the sunset from the roof. It's a perfect night, the stars are out and the sunset is a dream. We can hear the groomers working hard in the distance and we are happy.
Life is Good.
Screw that, Life is Wonderful.
....and all because We are Skiers.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,
Merisa & Aaron

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Vespi: Cancer, Courage, and, of course, Skiing

I'm on my hands and knees, scrubbing yet another blood trail out off the floor while the boyfriend is working on washing the carpet from the intense amount of drool. We recently bought a diffuser to try and mask the extremely offensive smell of rotting flesh that seems to pervade our entire home. The laundry machine is going, yet again, with more sheets and blankets from off of the couch, the floor, the carpet. Outside, the pure white snow is littered with splatters of blood and long trails of a nauseating yellow goo. Her head leans to the left, a result of her recent attack of Vestibular disease and she is constantly crashing into things and losing her balance. We buy paper towels by the cartful, have become frequent purchasers of smell remover...and we have never been prouder.

At first glance all anyone can see is the tumor, steadily growing on the left side of her mouth. It began under her gums, pushing her lip outward until she could no longer keep her saliva in her mouth and her nostril has been compromised. Ever so slowly, the tumor has stretched out her skin so that there is now a developing sore on the left side of her face. The tumors are pulling her eyeball back into the socket, disrupting her vision. A old sore on her back seem incapable of healing - her body seems to preoccupied with fighting the tumors. Her once soft and beautiful fur is beginning to scraggle, moving toward the future when clumps of it will simply find its way to the floor, behind the fridge and wherever else dog hair magically travels to.

Ahhh, living with a dog with cancer. But this is not just any dog. This is Vespi - the female ski bum - and she is not giving up without a fight.

In the beginning, she was carried outside and her human friends had to hold her tail up so she could do her thing. Then she bounced herself off of the snowbanks to make her way down the walkway. She trips, she stumbles, she braces herself. But she has a destination in mind, a goal, and she is not going to let anything keep her down and inside. She would shake her head and knock herself over, eyes large with surprise that she was struggling with even the basics. Her paw would itch at her face, causing blood to come spurting out of her sensitive tumor. She tries to turn on a dime, and ends up with her face in the snowbank, her front left leg tucked underneath her. Sighing, she lifts herself back up and continues in her way.
She can walk by herself.

The stairs present the biggest worry, the biggest threat of danger. She keeps looking at them, having mastered walking and now running in a straight line when we ski. But her depth perception has altered, she puts a foot on the first stair, but can't tell how far she needs to go for the next. She looks up at me, knowing she need to be carried but seeking to avoid the shame that she has endured for the past 10 days. Seeking, hoping, for any alternative but that one - and then, we hear voices. A group of snowshoers, strangers, who we had never seen nor would ever seen again. Motivation. She backed up, got a running start, and with sheer determination, used her memory to launch herself up the stairs.

These are just small annoyances, not something that stops her.

While she was resting beneath the register at the shop,
someone once referred to her as a lazy dog.
At least until someone mentions the magic words:
"Puppy Skiing?"

I have to carry her down the stairs to where the trails begin, but something changes as soon as her feet hit the snow. She is everywhere. While she barely moves indoors, out here she has energy. And enthusiasm. There is a lightness in her step, she seems to float along behind me. She stops to eat some snow, loses her balance and ends up in it. So she chills for a bit and eats the snow lying down. She is not flustered at all. She is happy. This is her white world. Vespi follows my ski tracks through the woods, around trees and over hills. Her path no longer seems crooked, her neck begins to straighten, her body appears to once again be whole.

As I learned from my dad last winter,
skiing can be a magical motivator.

Skiing brings Life.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You