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Monday, April 12, 2010

Back-Country Skiing: The Story of a Wimp

Just to let you know I'm a real live human being writing this, know that I'm telling this story while wearing a pink Snuggie and sitting on the corner of my bed, Indian style. Now, we are intimate. Let me share my embarrassment further.

Feeling all cocky at the end of the ski season, I decide I'm gonna kick things up a notch. The mountain right by my house, Snow King, that I've talked about before, being extremely steep and one of the first things I challenged myself to climb regularly, is taunting me once again. When the mountains have officially closed to skiing, stopping the lifts, people will continue to climb up them on foot and ski down. Yes, this crazy steep mountain, that I have almost thrown up while just trying to walk up the switch backs that aren't covered in snow, is a mountain that some people climb in ski boots, straight up. This town is fricken' cra-cra crazy. It appears some people are doing this on their lunch break! Don't they know that a good latte can take 4 minutes to make and fully savoring a panini takes 9 minutes. There isn't enough time on a lunch break to climb a mountain with skis strapped to your back. Some people don't understand time management. But, after two years of watching these idiots, I finally decided, if you can't beat them, which I def couldn't because there bodies are made of steel, join 'em. Plus, it's the off-season and I'm really, really bored. My other current project is at home laser hair removal. At this point, I'm up for anything.

Super motivation kicks in and I prance my booty down to one of the local badass stores, Skinny Skis, that I've really only bought fleeces and yoga pants in so far. Staring at the back-packs and glancing around the store, I'm hoping someone will say, can I help you, and I'll be able to casually ask questions, flippantly pretending I don't need that much guidance. I know the employees here are amazing cause I've seen them discuss gear with other people. This time of year, though, the town is practically empty and the store is switching over from winter to summer. All the employees are busily shelving. AKA: Ain't nobody gonna throw me a bone on this one.

I approach a woman. She's engrossed in organizing head-lamps. Interrupting her focus, "Excuse me. Could you help me find a back-pack that I can strap some skis to. I have absolutely no idea what I'm looking for. I really know NOTHING about it."

God bless this woman. She wasn't daunted. She laughed gently, sprung up, and said, "Ok. Let's find you a back-pack."

She then took 15 minutes to show me the type that would work for me, how to put skis on, all the advanced features I could grow into, and the best fit for my back. She even took the time to tell me about the skiing conditions on Snow King and the optimum time to go. Normally, I hate when sales people talk to me too much, like some little bump-it wearing boutique girl telling me that belts make all the difference. I KNOW ABOUT BELTS!!!! But this woman seemed like the Messiah to me. Thank you for taking the time to help me, glowing and beautiful Skinny Skis employee.

Next stop, scoping out the mountain. I'm standing at the base of Snow King, noticing there isn't a set path to walk up. I've heard about boot packs, which are like stairs in the snow that other people have formed by climbing up. This snow seems to be too thin to necessitate a boot pack. Not wanting to be the loser who is walking up and ruining the mountain, I decide I better ask somebody. Luckily, a middle-age man is just taking off his skis at the bottom. This guy looks like he will sympathize, since he has a belly big enough for me to curl up in and doesn't really seem to fit in with the super-athletes either. I once again, throw myself into the alter of self-deprecation.

ME: "Excuse me. I was just wondering if there is a spot that most people walk up this thing. I'd like to hike up and ski down but I've never done it, or anything like this, before. Any tips?"

HIM: "Oh, umm. Nope. You just get up there anyway you can. Getting up is the really hard part. You can just head straight up, or squiggle around"

Ahh, yes. I think I will squiggle. This guy is awesome.

ME: "And, where should I ski down? How's the snow?"

HIM: "I've been sticking to that path there. Pretty good."

ME: "Great! Thanks. Just gotta go get my snow pants on. Awesome. Sweet."

HIM: "Good luck." And with a smile and a couple of heaves. He seems to still be catching his breath. I love this man. This man is part of my team, even though he doesn't know it.

That part about just needing my snow pants is a lie. I've been planning all day to do this with my boyfriend, because the one thing I've learned about trying all this active stuff, is that I don't know crap, and it really helps to have someone there with me, even if they don't really know anything either. Another body out there helps. The real truth is though, that when it comes to physical activities and the outdoors pretty much everyone in this town knows more than me. Everything is a learning experience when you're really dumb. I'm blessed with a lot of teachers.

So, I'm waiting for a man to help me. I was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas and I just default to this setting. On my way to pick up said man, I get a call.

BOYFRIEND: "Hey, Babe. Chase wants to do some back-country today."

ME FULL OF DISAPPOINTMENT: "Oh, ok. Well, have fun. I'll catch up with you later."

BOYFRIEND: "No. No. C'mon. You've been saying you want to try this. You in?"

ME FULL OF FEAR: "Um, I don't think so. I don't have any of the avalanche gear. I'm not mentally prepared. I... You go. Have fun. I'm already turning my car around."

BOYFRIEND: "No, c'mon. I'm doing something with you. Just come over and we will either do Snow King or the back-country. Just get your butt over here."


I get there. I discuss this all with the BF and his epic skier of a roomie. They down-grade the back-country plans to something very light. Sugar Ridge or something. Some place with extremely low level danger and a simple hike in. Oh, yeah. I should explain. Back-country skiing is skiing in the national forest or where ever, but not at a ski resort. There are no lifts, you hike in, and there is no ski patrol whose job it is to save you. You need to have a beacon, shovel, and probe in case there is an avalanche and you need to be dug out. This is more probable because ski resorts bomb areas to prevent avalanches and in the back-country the only person looking out for you is your partner. Ain't no one gonna make it safe for you. People do it because the snow is amazing and you can continue to ski when ski season is officially over and the mountains are closed. This has definitely been a part of my fantasy. I want to be a back country skier. I've wanted to try this, but I don't know if I'm ready. The problem is, you can never know if you're ready for anything. You just have to try. Which is what I tell myself when my boyfriend pulls the ace on me as I waiver back and forth on going.

"C'mon. Aren't you a badass?"

This has been coming up a lot since I started this blog. I don't want to take a shot of tequilla and I someone says, "C'mon, badass." I don't want to ski and it's, "I thought you were a badass?" I get my feelings hurt and cry and it's, "You're a badass. Don't cry. There is no crying in badassery." Well, folks. Here's the news. I'm not a badass. I'm a wimp. I cry a couple of times a week. I feel lost a lot. I fall down frequently and randomly. I am a light-weight drinker and most of the time I would prefer to be home eating cake. I'm a wimp! Ok. I am. But, for some reason, I WANT to be a badass. I want it really bad. I want to be strong, physically and mentally. I want to take this life, and make it into something great. I want six-pack abs in my forties and a life I can tell my children about that will fill them with excitement and inspiration. That is the push-pull. What I am now, and what I believe I can be if I keep trying. So, I say yes to the back-country skiing.

I get a crash course in the avalanche gear that is strapped onto me and am shown how to strap my skis onto a back pack. This is all great stuff to learn.

But the skiing kicks my ass so very hard. The hike up kicks my ass cause I haven't been doing much cardio this winter. The skiing kicks my ass cause the snow is different than I'm used to having been baked in the sun. Also, and by far the worst, my fear kicks my ass. I'm out of my element, everything is new and I can't get my head to focus on skiing. Thoughts of my inability to do this new thing won't leave me alone, so, I see a tree and get scared I'm going to crash and fall over. I fall and fall and fall. My knees get fucked from it all and I'm feeling pain. Not can't-keep-going pain, but why-am-I-doing-something-that-would-inflict-this-much-hurt pain. I make it out, thanks to my boyfriend and his amazing friend helping me so, so much. Can't lie, though. I'm pissed. It was too soon for me and the snow conditions were crap. I shouldn't have been out there. More research and strength were needed for the trip to go well. I wouldn't have known that, though, if I didn't do it.

I've taken a few days off from physical activity. Icing my knees, stretching, and strengthening. This is the most pain I've felt in a long time, and the effects are different than I thought they would be. I thought I was pissed and not going to want to challenge myself like that again. I thought, good, an excuse to sit around and eat a lovely bag of cookies. Cookies are necessary but that isn't the final word. Now, all I want it to be better prepared and stronger. Then, I want to do it all again. I still dream about being a back-country skier and I just might be with a little help from my friends, sales people, and total strangers.

PS. It is unbelievably beautiful out there in the back-country.


  1. Way to go Jess. You're a badass in my book, whether you want to believe it or not is your choice. It's a choice Jess. Believe in it and believe in you. You continue to be my inspiration. XXOO.

  2. This post could have been taken directly out of my blog, well, that is, if I had a blog. See, not only do I want to be/do all those things you discussed above but I also wish I could (would, or have time to) blog about them. Even (no, especially) the part about necessary cookies. Love this post, hits so close to home! So now that it's 2012 how is the back country skiing going?
    Kari Anderson