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,

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My 2016 Post-Election Ski Adventure

"I go to the hills, when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear, what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed, 
With the Sound of Music 
And I'll sing once more."

Waking up this morning, I felt hollow.  My body ached from the heaving tears I had poured as I cried myself to sleep and lips were cracked from dehydration.  Glazed eyes glanced around with no real focus and I felt empty.  Like someone had scooped all my insides out and laid them on the ground somewhere to rot.  My brain was a mush and filled only with an all-encompasing fear for our future.

I honestly could not tell you how I got to the base of the mountain today.  It seemed as if every moment since I had awoken was leading me to the only damn thing I know how to do anyways.  Even if my mind had no idea what was going on, still caught in the traumatic shock of the evenings events.  Yet here I was, in a car packed with 3 different jackets and an extra fleece because I obviously had no decision making skills back at the house.  My ski socks, tucked into my ski boots, are exactly where they were when I removed them the day before.  Mittens & goggles were neatly tucked into my helmet and I realized that besides the skis in the roof box, perhaps maybe I don't need anything else in life.  Skiing, the glide down the mountain will heal my soul and ease my mind.

Numb & tired, I made my way to the gondi, not yet capable of having conversations outside of my grief and still too caught in my own mind.  I kept my head down, avoiding any form of interaction with the well loved lift ops crew, as I tried to hide my tear stained face and ridiculously puffy eyes.  Sighing, it took almost all my effort to lift my skis into the rack and I immediately was grateful for the fact that I wouldn't be having to walk down the walkway at the top.  I was going to need those few easy turns on Great Northern to wake my body the hell up.

A subdued nod was all I could muster for the top shack boys as I descended the stairs and looked out past the ski patrol shack and at ... the gloomiest view I have ever felt.  There wasn't a fog or a haze, just a sad, humid sky that looked like it was trying not to cry.  Thank goodness, I would think later, that it was a quiet, humble day on the mountain.  I don't think I could have handled the awesome party zone that was Tuesday afternoon.  Honestly, yesterday was just an absolutely awesome party at the NRT in the 60 degree bluebird wonderfulness.

Today, however, was different.  The snow was fantastically soft and void of practically anyone save the mountain school groups.  It was wonderful.  Today wasn't going to be about banging out bumps turns or slalom turns or making deep trenches - although the snow was absolutely perfect for all of those.  Nor was it about merely sliding down the mountain completely unaware, caught in only the movements of my body through the turn.  My experience on the hill today was all of those things and nothing.

Today I listened to the mountain.  I took the time to look around and embrace my surroundings.  I saw branches on the side of the trails and collections of leftover snow spotted on the trees.  And most importantly, I felt the mountain through my skis.  Every turn, a connection of the inside tip all the way down to the tail, every inch of the edge touching the trail and I could feel the contours of the snow and the trail.  My skis pressed into every nook and cranny, not missing a bit of the snow below. I was reaching into the ground, extending my roots into the earth as far as they could go...

As my roots extended, I could feel my soul refilling.  Every turn reminded me that the earth would still be there, in varying textures beneath my skis, and the repetition gave me peace.  Over and over, my skis found different paths down the mountain, my ankles and knees sometimes reluctantly along for the ride.  Sometimes the mountain led us into the soft corn bumps reminiscent of Superstar in the Spring, other times the turns widened and we were launched off random mounds of the afternoon conditions.

My Pantsuit complete with Suffragette Purple, of course!
But oddly enough it was on the chairlift where my soul began to refill.  It was as though the lift gave me time to process the energy I had just absorbed on the descent.  My breathe slowly began to regulate away from the hiccupy post- emotional breakdown of the past 12 hours and the fog in my mind began to clear.  I even found myself bopping to only of my dad's little ski songs, usually reserved for only the most balanced of ski times.  It was only after I got in my car at the end of the day, after taking a deep breathe ending with my first real smile of the day, that I finally realized what had happened.

Skiing had replenished my soul.
The glass is refillable.
This is why I ski.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Female Ski Bum

Friday, November 4, 2016

Ski Bum Season Starts in October

I totally missed October.
A whirlwind of time, where my mind is focused on only one thought.

When will it happen?

And, holy crap, can it please be way sooner than it's really supposed to be?

There are days when my body can't stop shaking, where I literally have to pick up my shoulder and dig the bonfire pit deeper just because I can't seem to relax.
There are moments when you can ask me a question, about anything, and I will honestly have no idea that someone was even talking to me.

Moments when me eyes stretched across the horizon in the direction of the mountains, willing my eyes to see beyond their grasp.  Times when I reached out with my soul to reach futilely for the snow, for the mountains.  I can't focus enough on anything to read and would sit mindlessly scrolling for any glimpses of snow anywhere close to home.  Perhaps willing the season foreword in my mind.

And then the snow falls.  And I find that I have be once again been swept into the abyss.  Somewhere in my mind I am pretty sure I should probably check my email and pay a bill sometime, but all I can think about is when am I going to get to go skiing tomorrow?  What is my plan?  How will I ensure that at some point tomorrow I will get to breathe freely, that I will finally be able to take deep breaths, filling my lungs with clean, crisp winter mountain air.  My jobs are like ropes on which I dangle, sometimes being pulled back into the straight world.  But every time it gets harder.  I don't want to go back; I just want to be lost in the ski world forever.  To be in my head and follow wherever that my lead on any given day.

In many ways, the first month of winter is for me very much the most difficult.  My obsession with skiing quickly overwhelms everything else around me.  I forget everything, and sometimes everyone, in my thoughts which are, to be honest, completely overwhelmed with ski thoughts.  Technique, Gear, Weather, Drama, Resort, Mountain ... keep naming things that have to do with the ski world and my mind has touched that.  There is no balance until I have to grab onto to something.  Although usually it is my boyfriend who saves me.

It is November and skiing has officially taken over my soul.

It's scary sometimes, knowing that there is something out there that has completely overtaken your entire life and you are, for all intents and purposes, unable to alter the outcome.  I can no longer imagine myself in the Straight World, researching for hours in the library stacks followed by hours at a desk with a computer and documents strewn all over my bed.  But I have no idea what to do in this White World, either.  Because, whatever world I live in, I don't really care.
I only want to focus on one thing anyway.

I laugh and giggle and sing all day long.
I am that six year old doing whirlie birds.
I am that pre-teen skiing backwards.
I am that teenager bombing past you.
I am that old lady singing in the rain
I am me.
I am free.
I am skiing.

May You Find
    the Spirit of the Mountains
       Within You,

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,