I alpine skied for years. I could pretty much ski wherever I wanted on any mountain in any conditions, but over time I actually started getting a little bored. Then, about ten years ago I entertained the idea of trying snowboarding. Half a day on that thing and I sold a brand new alpine set up and vowed NEVER to ski again. I honestly loved snowboarding that much. Even today, anything more than six inches of fresh powder will cause my eyes to roll back in my head and I’ll be overcome with some form of mild hyperventilation…usually followed by a mysterious cough that forces me to miss a day of work.
In addition to hitting the resorts during the winter season, I also find heading into the backcountry, climbing a high peak and ripping some uber-giant turns in deep, untracked powder marginally orgasmic. Sure, riding a high speed lift all day and piling up tens of thousands of vertical feet has its merits, but working your ass off to climb some steep ridge in waist deep snow, having a spot of warm tea on the summit then dropping into an ocean of deep powder is bordering on (if not tantamount to) a spiritual experience.
I will always be a snowboarder. I love it. L-O-V-E it. But I’ll be the first to admit that heading into the backcountry with a snowboard can be tough. I’ve entertained the idea of a split board at times but that doesn’t really appeal to me, plus they’re crazy expensive. I’ll sometimes take snowshoes if I know the snow will be really deep, but it’s just more gear to carry and not always that much easier than just dipping my head and powering through the deep. But let me say right here, the pros of a solitary descent off a ridge or high peak far outweighs the cons of all the hard work that goes into it. I know that’ll be hard to understand unless you’ve truly earned your turns, but for those of us who have, well, you just have to do it to fully understand.
One small thing that I really don’t enjoy so much about being a snowboarder instead of a skier are the days at resorts when the conditions are hardpack or icy. Having both feet strapped to the board means that when you catch an edge (and you will at some point) you are going down fast and going down hard. On a powder day, who cares, but taking a digger on some boilerplate ice can definitely wreck your ability to efficiently hold a beer due to a broken wrist/arm or even worse, permanently impair your ability to use all the gray matter you started the day with. I’ve cracked a helmet from a hard hit…it hurts. So, while those of us who live here in Colorado, New Mexico and the rest of the west are extremely fortunate to have lots of epic powder days under bluebird skies, there are still those ocassional days when the conditions are not quite up to “epic”.
Although I totally fail to understand why, most of my friends are not snowboarders. They aren’t alpine skiers either. Instead, most of my friends are tele skiers, or at the very least they hit the hills with an AT setup (that means All Terrain in case you didn’t know what AT means). All I hear during the winter season is stuff like “free your heel and free your mind”, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Well, I am a compassionate and understanding person so I have looked past those shortcomings and forgiven the transgressions of my non-snowboarding friends. I’ve even been known to socialize and yes, even “ski” with them from time to time — and I use that term loosely.
Okay, although I hate to admit it, there is an ever-so-slight advantage to tele skiing over snowboarding. There, I said it. That advantage comes in the form of speed and climbing efficiency in the backcountry. With the right pair of climbing skins and a sufficient set of lungs, it is almost impossible for me to move as fast as they do…move uphill that is. Downhill = Game On. And while I’m eating this healthy portion of humble pie, I’ll also admit that having tele skis is better suited for times when we hit flat terrain both in the backcountry and at resorts. Instead of having to stop and take off my board (and walk), my tele friends can skate or glide through the flats quickly and efficiently and be on their way without much ado.
So during this off season (“snow sports” off season that is) I’ve come to a lot of realizations and conclusions, both about life and about the upcoming winter season.
I’ve come to realize that life is short. I know that’s a super cliché statement, but because of the way things have gone down this year, I truly know what those words mean. Getting that heaping helping of reality has made me evaluate everything about who I am, what I’m doing and why I’m doing it…or why I’m not doing it. Through all that philosophical exercising and soul searching I’ve re-realized that I am only tapping a minuscule fraction of the grooviness this world has to offer.
Looking back I can see that focusing so much on ultra distance running this past year maybe made me a little too myopic in the grand scheme of things. However, spending a few days with a good friend recently kind of poked me with a sharp stick that maybe I should trying using both eyes again, open my mind up to new disciplines again, have even more fun and live even bigger. In other words, I should have it all.
With all that in mind I obviously had choices to make, about life AND the coming winter season. I’ll definitely deal with the life part in due course, but not here. As far as the upcoming winter season though, I realized I could surely keep my focus on ultra running and go after my first 100-miler next spring as planned, snowboard just a little, ice climb just a little and essentially globally underachieve for yet another winter season. Or, I could back off the running a tiny bit (but still keep running 50-milers), climb like a freakin’ maniac all winter, rip big turns every time a new storm hits and voila!, have it all.
As bitter as the taste of my own words are, I’ve already started informing my “skiing” friends that I have indeed procured a set of tele sticks in anticipation of the coming “ski” season. Damn it, I hate when that happens. I’m still on the hunt for tele boots, but that should be resolved in short order. I also know there is a steep learning curve ahead but I’ll remedy that by taking my lumps and drawing on some of that determination I seem to be blessed/cursed with. I did however make the disclaimer that until further notice, big powder days will still be reserved for the snowboard. Otherwise, those hardpack days at the resorts and those long treks into the backcountry will probably be seeing the new Barry, tele Barry.
Yeah, I’ll definitely have it all please.
Run long, paddle far, climb high, SKI hard and live big.