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,