Category Archives: Telemark

The Question I Ask.

Pretty much every day of the work week I go out during my lunch hour and take a walk. I’m fortunate enough to work in a place where greenbelt paths and trails abound and the horizon is dotted with snowcapped peaks. It’s my midday regimen of flushing away the mental toxins of working in a cube farm for eight hours each day, plus I like breathing in fresh air and seeing things in non-fluorescent hues.

Today, as I was coming back into the building, a coworker strolled up and asked me where all I walked, whereupon I explained the general route and said, “just a stroll ‘round the neighbourhoods and parks”. Barely could I get the words out of my mouth before he started quizzing me about how long it takes for me to make the loop. Whaaaaaat? Regrettably, I told him about forty minutes and that I typically take a minute or two more because I like to sit on a bench and look at the mountains.

Literally, and I do mean literally before I could get those words out, he informed me that he did it seven minutes faster on average. Clearly I was put in my place and I knelt humbly upon one knee in his presence and the virtual blue ribbon of decisive victory he wore so proudly. What a douche.

Seriously, that was the first question he had for me? Not how was my holiday? Did I go skiing? Did I visit family? Man, I hate that competitive mentality.

Over the years I’ve dabbled in lots of outdoor endeavours, some things I still do, some I don’t. Unfortunately there have been things I really enjoyed but  getting lured into a competitive mentality totally killed the buzz and I quit doing them, at least as much as I was.

Climbing was one of those things. I love to climb and I especially love the process of climbing. I like all the gear, I like the sounds and especially love the necessary focus. What drove me away though was that regardless of what I climbed or wanted to climb, it had to be measured up and graded against a benchmark or it wasn’t really “climbing”.

Climbing magazines are the worst at perpetuating this competitive buzz kill. You can’t pick up a climbing magazine and find article about people climbing 5.8 or 5.9 trad routes, which are considered pedestrian or warm up routes amongst the “core” boys and girls. It’s either the hardest, or it doesn’t count. Never mind that some people like me just like getting out and climbing stuff for fun. Climbing gyms are infinitely worse than climbing magazines. So much flexing and bravado talk and so little actual climbing. I rapidly grew tired of it and eventually drifted off in another direction (though I still love ice climbing).

Skiing in resorts is unfortunately sort of getting that way too. I honestly can’t go skiing without later being quizzed on how many vertical feet I did, how fast I could ski from top to bottom, how many runs I got in, did I only ski groomers or ski off piste, how many EpciMix virtual pins did I get at Vail, did  I get first and last chair and the list goes on and on.

You know that distinct sound a cat makes just as it’s about to hack up a fur ball, that ACK-U-ACK-U-ACK sound? That’s what I start doing when people start asking me all those questions.

First of all I’m a telemark skier. There is nothing fast nor conventionally competitive about it. Many times it’s just survival and attrition. Furthermore, telemark skiing isn’t necessarily conducive to a bell-to-bell day at a resort. It’s hard and exhausting, yet beautiful when done properly.

I picked this sport because it essentially forces me to slow down and by nature, it doesn’t lend itself to a lot of measurements or competitive benchmarks. Oh, and it’s hard, really hard. The unenlightened sometimes say it’s stupid and a dying discipline, yet it’s sort of been around since the 1870s when Sondre Norheim from Morgedal, Norway revolutionized modern ski travel with his radical telemark stylings, so I’m not all that worried about being out of fashion. It may just be me and my silly theories, but I’m pretty comfortable with a 140-year test period.

This past week my good friend Melanie came down from Washington and we called our mutual friend Jesse to coordinate a day of skiing in the backcountry up near Vail. As we were getting sorted out at the trailhead, I realized that this was probably one of the rare times where everyone in my group was on teles. Many times I’m the ONLY one one teles. Realizing the makeup of our little trio gave me high hopes that the day would be one of those special ones, one of those that I’d cherish for a long, long time. Three like minds all together, so how could it not be?

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I love skiing in the backcountry. Yes, it’s risky and sometimes scary and yes, it’s way harder than simply turning up at a resort, plunking down hundreds of dollars to ride a lift and ski on prepared slopes. There are no lifts in the backcountry and you have to climb and slog your way to wherever it is you’d like to go. This in itself is a huge deterrent for the vast majority of people who ski — though you can pay hundreds and hundreds or thousands of dollars and have a cat touring company or helicopter transport you. Add on the little detail of telemark skis having a loose and floppy heel and that they’re very hard to control in deep snow and the list of backcountry aspirants grows infinitely smaller.

One of my favourite books of all time is Robert Pirsig’s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Overall the book is basically about how we define quality. At one point in the book he gives an example of the way people learn or measure themselves. He posits that if you take a classroom of students and declare on day one that there will be no tests or grades for the semester, the people who are typically good academic students and who depend on achieving a “grade” will falter. They will not have a tangible way to measure themselves against others and will be knocked off form. Conversely, and quite likely, the students who don’t typically test well in a restricted and measured environment might actually learn better.

Our overall world definitely falls more in the traditional sense of measurement. Everything we do MUST be measured and MUST be compared to validate ourselves. There MUST be questions and answers so we can validate who we are and what we do. No internal questions mind you, just measurement against the masses. Job titles, salaries, cell phone speed, car acceleration, gas mileage…everything. There are questions surrounding everything we do it seems, except the most important one. Does it make us happy?

When Melanie, Jesse and I got back to the car my hopes of having one of the best ski days I’ve ever had been granted. It wasn’t because we climbed “X” number of vertical feet, skied top to bottom in “X” amount of time or anything measurably conventional that skiers typically base their outings on. However, there were two metrics that I measured this day by and they are the two key things I use to determine any good ski day.

The relevant numbers from our day were 22 and 1. Twenty two was the number of photos I took and one is the number of smiles I had during the day, and that one smile started when we got out of the car and I’ve still got it almost a week later.

You know, I never take photos when I’m at resorts because it seems the point is only to ride up and ski down as much as possible to maximize the lift price/vertical foot ratio or some other such thing. I absolutely hate having to race as fast as I can from the top of the lift right back to the bottom only to stand in line to do it all again. I’ve missed everything I went up there to see in the first place…beautiful mountains, clear blue skies, talking to my friends, etc, etc, etc.

If I’m actually taking the time to take lots of photos of the amazingly beautiful places we often find ourselves in, to talk about the latest book we’ve read, to talk about life, to spend time with the people we care about, well, then skiing becomes infinitely more than just simple comparative statistics, it becomes integrated with life itself. I know my non-telemark friends will cringe (again) with all this hippie talk, but it’s why I chose it as my sport of choice to begin with. It’s hard, it takes patience to learn (lots and lots of patience) and it forces me to slow down and appreciate every step along the way. Even the small steps are appreciated and cherished.

I truly believe that the best moments in life are the ones you share with friends doing the things you love, not frantically amassing meaningless numbers or making meaningless comparisons. When the friends you have share the same philosophy and you can merge all that goodness together, your soul can’t help but overflow with a genuine happiness you can carry over from day to day for the rest of your life. You never have to worry about beating a record or someone else doing more because it’s always the right amount, the perfect amount.

The only question I ever need to ask myself, and it’s the most important one, is whether I’m still smiling. If I am, then it was a successful day.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply, smile a lot.

Getting What I Want

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Me getting my first turns of the season.

My friend Jesse and I have recently been talking a lot about visualizing living the the life we imagine — and achieving it. Seems like a huge topic, and indeed it is, but when I really think about it, it’s not such a daunting thought. The only things that makes it seem huge and overwhelming are the self imposed roadblocks we sometimes put up for ourselves. Allowing myself to be truthful (and realistic) about what I want out of life has been an amazing and enlightening exercise. Like the title of my blog claims, I’m “Livin’ the Dream” (at least my own dream)!

As this conversation with Jesse has unfolded, I’ve thought about some silly and benign things from the recent past that now seem relatively relevant, at least as they relate to visualizing what we want from life.

Back in the summer a group of us went to Fruita to spend a weekend mountain biking — always fun and always challenging. Three of us were riding a particularly sandy and technical trail when one of our little posse rounded a corner and took a digger after her tyre dug into some loose sand. As we were sorting out the bike and scrapes, Adam very lovingly said to our riding partner who had crashed (we’ll call her Karen for this story), “I totally saw you look at the exact spot where you were going to crash“. It was certainly only a friendly little jab said in jest, but what he said was 100% spot on. Instead of visualizing the whole technical section of trail were were riding, Karen in all likelihood lost focus of the big picture, saw the obstacle and put to much focus on that. I’m certainly not picking on Karen because I ‘m totally guilty of it too, as we all are at times.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out riding here near my house and without really thinking about it in the context of me and Jesse’s conversation about “life visualization“, I decided I would try and ride my bike along 100-150 meters of trail with my eyes closed, just to see if I could do it. The first 10-20 meters went pretty well but my mind was consumed with what could go wrong…what WAS going to go wrong! Sure enough, I lost my focus of the overall goal and ran off the trail and crashed. When I dusted myself off, I looked back and was disappointed that that I’d probably only made it about a quarter of what I originally wanted. For some reason, the whole thing really bugged me, a lot. Right then I remembered what Adam had said, and I also put it into the context of me and Jesse’s ongoing conversation. I had done exactly the very thing we’d talked about having to avoid in all aspect of life…losing our focus.

Before I had even started physically pedaling on my first go, I had closed my eyes and rode the entire section in my mind. I saw every bump and bend and I saw myself being successful. The very second I pushed off and clipped into my pedals, I thought of every imaginable thing that could go wrong and I immediately lost my way. What if I run off the trail? Where am I? Of sh#$%, this is really stupid! Turn right, TURN LEFT…..aaaaaaand then I crashed.

I love this stuff.

Undeterred, I hopped on my bike and rode back to where I started, looked at the trail again and decided that what I needed to do was only focus on the positives, the path, the place I wanted to be and not break away from that. That didn’t mean that the obstacles weren’t there and I should consider them, I just needed to contain them, manage them and deal with them…and not let them stand in my way of achieving what I wanted to achieve. Once again, I looked down the trail, then shut my eyes and visualized a clean ride. I opened once more and confirmed the physical trail, shut my eyes again, visualized it again, and pushed off.

This time I forced myself to feel how fast I was going and visualize where I was on the trail — not where I going to crash. I could remember the subtleties of the trail and the one slight bend. Most of all,  I visualized 100% that I was going to do this. When I stopped and opened my eyes, I was about 5 meters short of where I thought I was, but I hadn’t run off the trail and I hadn’t crashed!  Most importantly of all, I hadn’t let negativity get in the way of what I wanted.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and this past weekend Adam and I went up to Keystone for our first day of pre-dawn skinning and skiing of the season. The first day of climbing on skis is always an experience. The ski legs usually have acquired a thick layer of dust on them from non-use over the summer season. And regardless of how much we mountain bike, hike or climb during the summer, it’s just a different muscle group being called into action and something we learn to embrace with love each and every year. Much to my surprise, this year wasn’t horribly painful but still, you’re climbing steeply for close to 1,000 vertical meters in just a couple of miles (with skis on—at altitude) so it’ll still get your attention. Anyhow, we quickly climbed up to the summit in about an hour and fifteen minutes and though I was a little worked, we had a world class resort all to ourselves and life was good.

As I was stripping the skins off my skis, I knew the five alarm quadricep fire was going to commence once I dropped those first few tele turns. Again, I don’t care how much you train, those first couple of days of the season on teles are downright painful. Nevertheless, I was excited to get going. Adam dropped in and  true to form, was at mach speed ripping long, beautiful arcing turns down the wide open trails. He would never admit it, but that dude can totally rip it on skis. Holy crap! I followed (well behind) and true to my expectations, my quads were ablaze after the first six or eight long, deep telemark turns. It wouldn’t have mattered if we’d ridden the lift to the summit instead of climbing, those first few turns are always like heaven and hell…oftentimes more to the hell side. Still, we had the place to ourselves so I took nice, long turns without ever a fear of being plowed over by another skier. Just sit back, drop the hammer and enjoy the ride.

About half way down, I admit I was forced to stop and let the lactic acid drain from my quads. While I was standing there (massaging my quads, truth be told), I looked below me and saw a long, beautifully rolling, fairly gentle trail falling away below me. I know Adam will cringe (and laugh a little) when I say this, but for me, making telemark turns is something you feel and experience, not just something you do. When you link turn after turn together, it’s like dancing and flying all at the same time. It was right then when I decided I would make six turns with my eyes completely shut. Just like I did on my bike, I’d visualize the path in front of me and 100% commit to it. I visualized the rhythmic turns I would make and the concise arcs I would carve in the untracked snow. Most of all, I visualized success.

Without much ado, I shut my eyes and made those six turns without once opening my eyes. I stopped exactly where I had envisioned. When I looked back up the hill, I could see that my turns were uniform and exactly along the path I had imagined. I never once thought about failure, only about doing what I love and making it exactly what I wanted it to be.

I’m usually pretty good about visualizing exactly what I want from life and letting that be my guide. That’s certainly not to say that I fly through life with my eyes closed! It would be naive to think that obstacles won’t come my way from time to time in everything I do. But what I’ve become so incredibly aware of is that just like Adam mentioned to Karen, like what I proved out on my bike a couple of weeks ago, and like I demonstrated to myself on skis that past weekend, I have to keep my focus dialed in on what I want out of life for it to go off the way I want it to. Take on the obstacles and bumps which will inevitably come, but never, ever lose focus of what I want.

The only thing I truly want from this life if to be happy and share that happiness with those who I care about. The rest is just icing on the cake.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

Different Places, Different Paces

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I love autumn. LOVE. IT. And right now is arguably the best mountain biking of the year because the weather here in Colorado is about perfect. Not only that, it seems our entire state is blanketed in an ocean of gold leaves providing us a backdrop to trails that will take your very breath away. Because of that, the trails we’ve been riding all summer have suddenly taken on a different feel and it’s sometimes like we’re riding them for the first time instead of the 20th time. Even better, instead of dropping the hammer every time we clip into our pedals, our pace seems to slow and we tend to spend more time absorbing the views, our friendships and our good fortune of living in such an amazing place.

This week I’ve been making a point of riding after work just about every day simply because next weekend the time will change and our midweek afternoon rides will all but dry up with the lack of afternoon sun. Sure, we’ll still take a full afternoon off from to time to ride, but our staple afternoon routine of starting at 3:30 and riding until 5:30-6:00 (and many times later) won’t be so convenient as with the long daylight hours of summer. There is definitely some fun to be had night riding in the evenings, but again, not quite as relaxing as a summer ride if you have to wear a headlamp and bundle up against the cold.

As I mentioned above, I love the slower pace that seems to accompany this time of year. On Tuesday I rode with Adam and right from the start we set a nice leisurely pace, enjoyed the views, chatted aimlessly and caught up on life (like we don’t do that about every day) while riding familiar singletack we hadn’t been able to ride until recently because of the flooding. We’ve literally ridden hundreds and thousands of miles together since spring but I liked Tuesday;s ride as much as any other we’d done. We’ve definitely had epic days where we both were gasping for air on long climbs at high altitude and been gripped out of our minds on some pretty spicy descents, which aren’t really all that conducive to idle chit chat. That’s not to say we never talk when we ride, we do, but it always seems a little quicker pace of riding during the height of the season.

Same with my friend Carin, we’ve ridden hundreds of miles since spring and most of the time we’d just leave the trailhead and simply take care of business for mile after mile of singletrack. Yet, last night we left the trailhead to do one of our staple afternoon rides and right from the start, the pace was subdued. Unlike mid season, in a sixteen mile loop we probably stopped no less than half a dozen times to take in the view, talk about life, our future travel projects and take a few photos along the way.

To give you an idea of our pace, we can normally complete this sixteen mile loop, even with the climbing and couple of technical sections, in about an hour, maybe a few minutes more. This week when I rode it with Adam and again with Carin yesterday, it took us closer to two hours. Carin even commented at one point that she couldn’t remember a time when we rode so slow.

Sometimes during the season we’d get back to the car after a big day out and we’d feel mentally and physically exhausted, though fulfilled, with pushing our respective envelopes, which is always fun. But in direct contrast to that, I’ve felt that our rides this week have been even more fulfilling because it was more about slowing down and simply spending time with each other while we do what we love.

Same thing when I ski. Yeah, there are days when it’s fun to come out of the parking lot with our guns a’ blazin’ and just rip up thousands of vertical feet in a matter of hours on the piste — and those days definitely have their place in the mix. But the days I love most are the early mornings when we get up (and I’m talking about 04:00 a.m.) and skin up a resort long before the crowds ever wake. Just me and a friend trudging up some steep trail to a ridge where we’ll sit, talk and wait until right before the lifts open to the crowds whereupon we strap on our skis and helmet and let it fly in complete solitude. Same with the backcountry. I love getting away from the crowds, setting a climbing pace where we can talk, catch up, philosophise and exactly like I said about about mountain biking, do the things I love with the people I love.

I’m so fortunate to have such amazing family and friends who truly appreciate the fortune of good health and the fact that we live in such an amazing place and can do the things we do. But I’m even more fortunate that these same people appreciate what livin’ the dream is truly all about — sharing the things we love with the people we love. That’s the only stuff that counts when it gets down to it.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

Cha-Cha-Changes

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Had I taken the picture above two weeks ago, there would’ve been no whitish hue across the high peaks. However, every year about this time everyone here on the Front Range peeks up that way during their morning commute anticipating the first legitimate dusting of snow signaling the changing of the seasons. Yes, the leaves generally start changing colours a couple of weeks or so before the peaks get hit with white, but seeing the mountains change really opens the door for thoughts of the next season and all the powder days ahead.

Summer is always full of fun times filled with long days of hiking in the mountains amongst beautiful wildflowers, mountain biking along high ridges, strolling along Pearl Street with friends, music festivals, beer tastings and sitting outside at restaurants with friends long into the evenings. Then, invariably, come late August or early September, the wind will pick up one afternoon, it will smell different, maybe the rain comes and voila!, when you walk out the next morning to go to work, you feel that sharp bite in the air and you grab a jacket for the for the first time in three or four months.

When that scenario plays out, my little group of friends will typically kick into emergency mode and start getting all the season’s unfinished projects (mountain biking, climbing, etc) moved to front burner and completed before conditions dictate they be brought to a close. Just a few weeks ago we rode the Monarch Crest, a classic high altitude traverse down in Central Colorado, knowing that our window for dry trails (re:no snow) was closing fast due to the changing seasons. Sure enough, a week after we rode it, severe weather here across most Colorado pretty well closed out that opportunity for another year.

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Another way we “celebrate” the changes of the seasons is by sequestering ourselves into my garage for an evening to prep the coming season’s gear. For the change from summer to winter activities, we have come to affectionately call these little soirees our “Wednesday, Wax and Whiskey Sesh”. These are nights when we pop the top on a beer or sample a little whiskey while we wax and tune our skis. We also catch up on the latest doings in each other’s lives and in the case of this past Monday, start dreaming about all the powder turns we’ll make in the coming season. Of course during the actual ski season, these Wednesday evening sessions (about every 4-5 weeks) will convert over to reminiscing about all the powder turns we’ve made thus far and naturally, those still yet to come.

I feel bad for people who don’t get out each and every season and have things they love to do. If I didn’t ski, winter would seem way longer than it already is. If I only skied and didn’t mountain bike, trail run, climb, fly fish and camp when it’s warm, summer would just be a time when I had to mow twice a week until winter came back. Making the changes from season to season is easy when you fully throw yourself into life and just have fun with what Mother Nature gives us! Like the saying goes, “No such thing as bad weather, only improper gear and clothing”. Embrace the changes!

So, as you see, I’m usually not all that opposed to changes. In fact, I see changes as opportunities for new experiences, new views and new paths. However, sometimes changes can kick you right in the gut, like the loss of a friend or a family pet, both of which happened in my little household this past month. While the passing of life is painful for the people still living, it is one of the realities of existing we simply can’t escape. Sitting along the Bagmati River in Pashupatinath, Nepal a couple of years ago, watching pyre after pyre being built and seeing the steady stream of the deceased being cremated right before my eyes brought this reality home in very guileless and unnervingly graphic terms.

While adapting to changing seasons can be fun, changes like losing the people and things you love is certainly tougher to adapt to. When this does happen, my therapy is generally to get on my bike and go for long, long rides, maybe strap on my skis and go for a nice, long tour in the mountains or simply go camp by a river and just have time to think. The point for me is not to escape, but to experience ALL the emotions fully, without filters. My meditation is to fall into the arms of the places I love and simply let go. When I do this, I can honestly  learn to accept and more importantly, sincerely learn to heal.

Because of my spiritual and philosophical beliefs, I fully accept the reality of change and accept that there is nothing I can do that will ever stop it. What I can do though is live every day to the fullest, tell the people closest to me how much they mean to me, never let an opportunity for fun pass me by and sincerely live with no regrets. I’ll always miss my friends who have passed and definitely will miss the pets that I’ve loved, but I will always have the comfort going forward in knowing I’ve amassed an over-stuffed cache of good memories because I never let a day pass that I wasn’t up for a bit of fun.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live big.

I Hate You Whitewater Ski Resort

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This past weekend’s weather forecast promised a healthy dose of new snow here across the Central Rockies. All indications were that Colorado was getting into the storm track and at long last, we’d finally be able to ski some soft snow on the piste instead of the all-too-common groomed up manmade stuff that turns to boilerplate ice after the first hour of being assaulted by spring break tourists.

Yes, we got some new snow, about 10cm, but it wasn’t all that fluffy so instead of floating through a pillow of softness, it was more like surfing over a coral reef at low tide. Chunky, choppy, whatever you want to call it, it was just another typical day in the Colorado 2012-2013 ski season. I know this is spring in the Rockies and conditions are supposed to be variable, but I think frustrations are just high due to yet another subpar powder year.

What makes it even worse for me is that just two weeks ago we were in Nelson, British Columbia, one of our favourite places with a couple of our favourite friends to ski at Whitewater Ski Resort and be part of the Annual Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Festival.

Whitewater is truthfully pretty much the antithesis of what skiing in Colorado is typically like, save for a few of the small “gem resorts”. No frills, no holier-than-though attitudes, no lift lines, an endless supply of blower powder, world class terrain (read:steep), reasonably priced lift tickets, lodging and food, super friendly locals who love to share the stoke and an entire community that truly embraces the very soul of what winter is supposed to be about.

I first went to Nelson a few years ago with a friend who lives up in Spokane (about three hours away from Nelson). She endlessly touted it’s coolness, it’s laid back grassroots attitude and vibe, and of course it’s unworldly deep powder and phenomenally steep terrain. She even went as far as saying that if she could figure out a way, she’d make Nelson her home. Keep in mind that this friend is an uber stout and discerning skier and it takes something special to get that type of glowing endorsement out of her. Naturally I was intrigued with all this hype so I accepted the invite to go see what it was all about. That was the exact start date of my love-hate relationship with Nelson, BC and Whitewater Resort.

Yes, Whitewater could be a bit intimidating at first glance because it’s definitely first and foremost a no frills skier’s mountain with some of the sickest lines in North America. Experienced skiers will start salivating the very moment they round the corner and look into all the steep chutes and juicy glade lines below the magnificently beautiful Ymir Peak. However, even if you’re a complete skiing neophyte, you’ll immediately get wrapped up in the fun, relaxed vibe of the locals and any worry or intimidation instantly vanishes. There is truly something for everyone at Whitwater and people are amped to share it with you! Now that I think about it, it wouldn’t be overly hard to just stand in the parking lot and stare at Ymir Peak all day and leave calling it a total success.

It’s hard to explain really, but your DNA actually changes when you’re there. Things move at a slower, but more amazing pace. People are actually courteous and nice to each other. The snow is so soft and confidence inducing that you’ll find yourself doing silly things, even without a GoPro strapped to your helmet. You can eat amazing food without mortgaging your house to pay for it. You can park right next to the base area — for free! Your face will literally hurt from smiling and laughing so much. And at the end of the day, the delightfully funky hamlet of Nelson will be just down the hill waiting to give you a big, warm, genuine hug welcoming you back home.

Before I ever went to Whitewater, fighting traffic, standing in long lift lines, skiing hardpack conditions and worst of all, sometimes having to deal with rude people all day was just part of the norm of a typical ski day. It made it hard to get excited about going out to ski at all but that’s what we had. It’s honestly why my friends and I pretty much stick to the backcountry when the avalanche conditions allow. Now that Whitewater’s spoiled me forever, anything but a once in a decade powder day at a resort here in Colorado simply falls into the category of “just another day”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to live in Colorado and to have some of the nicest resorts in North America at my disposal. There is never a day goes by that I take that savoury bit of good fortune for granted. But until you ski a place like Whitewater and experience a town like Nelson, you can’t fully understand what a grassroots ski experience is all about and how it sets the bar impossibly high for a skiing experience anywhere else on the planet. Just yesterday as we sat in standstill traffic on I-70 coming down from skiing, Donna said, “You know, Whitewater will probably be the best ski days of my entire life”.

As a backcountry skier, grassroots experiences is what it’s all about for me and my friends. Easy and convenient doesn’t necessarily equate to good. We ski because we love to ski and we don’t mind working hard to float those beautiful powder lines. Whitewater gives me those beautiful, deep powder lines, for a fair price, always with a smile and always surrounded by likeminded souls. If you ski for the pure love of skiing, you’ll get what Whitewater is all about. If you enjoy genuinely friendly people who are thrilled to share the stoke of winter and will be happy to drink a beer with you at the end of the day, then you’ll fall in love with Nelson and it’s residents in a heartbeat.

Now that I’m back here in Colorado, I find myself trying to get stoked about skiing anything less than Whitewater (which is everything except Whitewater itself). I admit my thoughts are already drifting to next season and the idea of introducing Whitewater to a couple of my close backcountry friends from here, those friends who will definitely “get it”. However, I must be careful and not let the secret out too much, lest I endanger the very reason I go to begin with.

I hate you Whitewater for setting the standard of a purely organic skiing experience so ridiculously high and making the remainder of my season here in Colorado seem so “average” — but I also love you enough that I’ll always return every season for the rest of my life.

Climb high. Pedal far. Ski hard. Live big.

Holiday Dawn Patrol

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Climbing to Lenawee Ridge at Arapahoe Basin as the sun breaks over the horizon.

I love the holidays. I really love some of those sappy holiday movies like White Christmas, The Christmas Card, Polar Express and The Christmas Gift.  I’ll even occasionally tune in to our local radio station who plays 24-hour holiday music, though they tragically started in early November (I refrained until December). Though I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks in general, I always enjoy getting a cup of Christmas blend once or twice a week during December on my way into work. Even the seasonal red cups make me feel much more “Merry”. And don’t even get me started with those damn festive snowman cookies…ugh, like a siren pulling me onto the rocks.

What I don’t much care for during the holidays are the barrage of advertisements and incessant pressures that makes people feel like they have to give the “perfect gift” to the people they care about, else risk shattering their hopes and dreams. The pressure is constant and enormous. Though I am not religious, I find it kind of silly that a religious holiday has turned into a season of financial overextending and emotional turmoil. I feel so fortunate that most all my close friends and family have gotten past this.

Over the past week or so, instead of fighting the crowds to find the perfect gift for my friends, I’ve tried to spend time with them. I’m extremely fortunate to have a few of those friends living here in Colorado so I can see them in person. Others live in places like China (though is in NYC en route to Dayton at this very moment), others in Japan, California, Washington DC, Mexico, Canada, Washington State, New Mexico, Idaho and Montana. When I say spend time, I obviously can’t be in all those places in such a short period of time, though the logistical challenge to do so is something that definitely appeals to me. What I mean by spending time is letting people know how much they mean to me even if it’s only with a holiday card, a phone call or in the case of my friends here, getting out in the places we love and just hanging out. Sometimes words aren’t even necessary because simply being together in those places is all that needs to be said.

For three out of the last four days I’ve gotten up at 04:30 to go meet friends. One morning I picked up a friend of a friend to take her up to Beaver Creek, someone who I’d never met. I had the incredible fortune of coming away from that day with yet another amazing person who enriched my life by just meeting them. The other two mornings I rallied early to meet up with friends for a skin up one of our local resorts, then we’d ski down, just the two of us, before the mad rush of tourists enveloped the mountain. The backcountry is definitely our preferred place to climb and ski, but this time of year with the snow conditions less than optimal, we earn our turns on the corduroy the resorts are kind enough to lay down for us.

I’ve told other people about these early morning dawn patrol outings and oftentimes it seems pretty silly to most. Getting out of bed at absurd hours, going out in near zero temperatures in almost complete darkness to grind our way up some steep slope for a couple of hours seems like torture to them. Sometimes it seems silly to me. But the second I clip my bindings to my boots and start climbing in amazingly beautiful places with a friend, it all makes perfect sense. I get to be alone with someone close to me, no distractions, no expectations, no pressure. The beauty of being in the mountains when we’re on dawn patrol as the sun breaks over the Continental Divide is special — sharing those special places with someone you care about and who feels the same way is magical. These are the gifts we give each other instead of getting caught up in the material goofiness of the season…the gift of our friendship. Okay, there are cookies involved sometimes, but you get my point.

Regardless of your beliefs, I hope everyone is as fortunate as me to be able to share this season with the people you care most about…if even only via mail, text, email, phone or Skype. From Japan to New York to Washington to Australia (in their quarantined Airstream!) to Montana to Idaho to New Mexico to Mexico, right here in Colorado and all places around the world…Happy Holidays and thank you. Much love.

No Friends on Powder Days?

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If you’ve ever put on a pair of skis, you’ve probably heard the saying “no friends on powder days”. If you haven’t, it refers to those epic days where lots of the light fluffy snow falls and social ski outings take a back seat so individuals can go find the goods on their own without worrying about what anyone else is doing. Rip hard, rip long, rip your own line. Antisocial and selfish, perhaps to the uninformed and naïve, but for those of us who live to ski in deep powder, it’s just an accepted part of the overall ski community’s close knit relationship.  

This past weekend was one of the first quasi-powder day(s) we’ve had this season and the building anxiousness among my core group of friends was palpable. Emails and texts were being fired off like a Gatlin gun with chatter of predicted snowfall amounts, areas rumoured to be opening and of course the usual exchange of ski porn videos to make sure everyone’s stoke was raised to, and maintained at, the proper level.

When the day came, seven of us met in Vail Village and laid out our loose plans for the day. Basically we’d ski together for a couple of hours then everyone would split up and do their own thing — some of us heading off to other engagements, some going to drop in on their secret stashes and others going exploring around Vail Resort’s massif to pile up impressive late season-esque vertical feet totals. There were no hurt feelings when it came time to split up and go our separate ways because it’s an accepted part of the deal. It’s not that we all didn’t want to ski together, quite the contrary, we just have the understanding that we’re all out to feed our own soul on a powder day and it’s oftentimes more efficient to eat off our own plate rather than share a trough with others.

So I was telling someone in my office about this practice, someone who is generally physically inactive. Not surprisingly, they didn’t understand. They responded with, and I quote, “I love shopping with my friends and hate going by myself”. They went on to tell me that when they are forced to go shopping by themselves, they’ll call their friends or text them the whole time so that they’ll “have company”. When I heard this, my skin actually began to crawl right off my skeleton.

While it is certainly easy to see the glaringly obvious similarities between ripping telemark turns in the backcountry and trying on a fleet of insensible shoes at Nordstrom’s Rack, I felt that perhaps I might bring up something I’ve observed over time.

I asked this person if they liked going to parties, to which they said, “Of course, who doesn’t?” Then I asked them if they’d ever been to a party where there was a person or two who just seemed to ooze “interesting” and how other party goers seemed naturally drawn to them. Once again, my coworker agreed that that’s always the case. Then I posed the question as to why they thought certain people were like that. I braced myself for the response that it might be because those people always wear the nicest shoes, but fortunately they said, “I don’t know, I guess some people are just interesting that way“.

Instead of getting into some fruitless, philosophical discussion as to why certain people possess an intoxicating energy, I bit my tongue and just nodded in agreeent. What I wanted to say was that people like that are interesting because they likely make a regular habit of doing the things that truly make them happy and carry a confident aura about them, even if it meant going alone from time to time. They are the people who “have no friends on powder days” and aren’t afraid to strike out to explore the off-the-beaten path and freely drink the elixir of life. It’s a way of living and it shows. They don’t need insensible shoes to “feel” confident and be interesting, they ARE confident and interesting.

No friends on powder days? Well, that’s not always true. It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other — it’s actually the reason we do love each other as deeply as we do. Sometimes we just gotta do what we gotta do to feed our souls. I can say with all honesty that my closest and most soulful friends are the people who practice those “friendless” powder days on a regular basis.

Do what really makes you happy, even if it means going alone from time to time. It’ll actually make other people happy. It’ll make me happy! No hurt feelings. We’ll always be here, cold beer waiting for you, ready to see your smiling face and hear the stories.

Ski fast. Pedal hard. Climb high. Wear sensible shoes.