Ski invite (humor)

Hey all! Elaine and I are going to do a little ski on Gasherbrum VI this Saturday, and you are all invited. This is a fun descent, but you'd better be able to ski or board Blue Trails well, because this is a SOLID Intermediate run. We're going to meet at the Sundance Cafe in Nederland at 9 am for a nice pancacke breakfast, and then it's into the Subaru and off to ski at Gasherbrum VI. They've got a new lift that's a high speed quad. Be sure to pack a lunch because food in the Karakoram Range in Pakistan is expensive and…well…groooosssss! Afterwards we'll all go over to Jessie's house and make cookies and have a Harry Potter marathon! Be there to ski Gasherbrum VI!

Gasherbrum

This run is one of the most popular "blue" runs at Gasherbrum VI called "Snowflake."

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Gasherbrum VI is fun for all types of skiers and borders.

Theft, priorities

We caught a shoplifter yesterday at Neptune Mountaineering. A repeat offender. I'm glad we caught him, for a couple reasons. First, he stole from us, and a lot of employees at our store take that personally, myself included. We work hard, everyday, to make this a great place and it feels like a violation when it happens. We're quite small in comparison to REI and such and theft hits us hard. Not that people should steal from REI either, but Neptune is almost more like a family, and when you attack a family they tend to rally.

Second, I hope the guy who got caught gets the motivation and help he needs to get better. It's not a "caught the bad guy" thing for me where I/we are "better" than he is. I've lived enough to know that line is awfully thin, and it doesn't take a lot to make a person drop below it. He's a guy who is making bad choices…whatever the reason…and maybe getting caught will help him make better choices. There is certainly some truth that going to jail is an unpleasant enough experience that it will encourage you to stay on the straight and narrow to simply avoid it in the future. Unfortunately, jail is filled with repeat offenders, so I sort of believe the above theory only works to a certain extent. So on that note, I hope the man gets the help he needs to improve his life, and more importantly that he has the internal fortitude to, in essence, lift himself up to that better place.

***

Yesterday was my 14th day on skis this season. Today will be the 15th. I think that's pretty good, and I'm proud of it. I think the reasons for this pride are more intrinsic. I cringe a little when I hear people telling stories of their epic adventures, or blogging about this and that, because I think there is a fine line between capturing the story and bragging. I remember when Off Camber was going full swing, it almost got competitive at times. There was this other blog, Singletrack Dream, that was run by a friend of mine, and at times it seemed like…well, a battle. I'll take full responsibility for that, and it's a regret, because it soured relationships. Truth of the matter is a lot of us are competitive people by nature (as much as we try to deny it), and I think at times we traded that competitiveness on the race track to something in cyberspace – be it a better write-up or a better photo or what not. I was younger then, hadn't really experienced much in life of a humbling nature, so it was easy to get sucked into the game.

I think now when I blog, and say something about how much I've skied or what hills I've biked up, it's more of a personal gauge as to quality of life. Truthfully, it would be easier to NOT do these things. I could quite comfortably stay in bed until just before work, drive down and repeat in the evening. And it's certainly a balance for me, because priority #1 in my life is my family. When I'm with them, I want to be fully with them…not in some distant daydreaming place that defined me for a long, long time (learn from mistakes, lest you repeat them). That said, I know I need my woods time…it's a sanity thing. I need the balance. The great thing about this is that they don't need to be separate, and they are not. Elaine can ski just about everything I can, she can hike up the same mountains I can at the same pace. Truth of the matter is I'm going to have to stay on my game to maintain this truth…it's a simple reality of our age difference. It's a huge motivation to live healthier now than I ever have…I plan to enjoy my time with her for 60 years plus…not 25.

Getting ready for a ski starts with math. There are slips of paper all over the caboose, envelopes, etc., that have weird time information listed on them. For example:

9:15, 8:50, 8:35, 7:05, 6:50, 6:35

It's just working backwards. I have to leave for work at 9:15 am. That means I need to get home by 8:50 am to get everything sorted for the day. 8:35 am is when I will be leaving the ski destination. 7:05 is when I start the ski. 6:50 am is when I need to leave home, and 6:35 is when I need to get up. Calculations to make the morning good.

Much of the preparation happens the night before. Skins of course need to be dried, but usually I'll load the skis and the skins in the car the night before, already mounted, to simplify things. Clothes are all laid out in order, pack loaded with the gear for the session. It has to be done, because at 6:35, when that alarm goes off and it's 42° in the caboose and the bed is warm and it's still dark out and cozy there are PLENTY of reasons not to get up. But, for the most part, I do. It hurts for a few minutes – the body is groggy and you are shivering – but not as much as it hurts the soul not to do it.

Evenings are family time. As are days off. I look forward to these. No that's not strong enough. I live for these days. Today for example, Elaine and I are going to go for a ski…maybe B.C., maybe a combo alpine/nordic day at Eldora, maybe Brainard. It doesn't matter. What matters is we are together in our adventures. For a long time I did all this stuff alone. That didn't work in the bigger perspective of life, and I don't want it now.

For me, the 14 days on skis thing is just a testament to living life with a certain quality and discipline that carries over into other elements. Take care of that compartment, and it doesn't spill over into others. And of course, it's a hell of a lot of fun to ski every morning!

***

I'm stoked. The owner of the place I work at is going to teach me how to make wooden skis, by hand. I feel like this is a good first step, given my limited financial resources right now, as well as space to start a full blown ski company. I want to make them and I want to ski them.

I'm going to try to model my first pair after the original skis made. Very long, wide, early rise tip. I want to put some horse hair on the bottom for travel up and downhills. And I want to take them out this year to my favorite backcountry spot and see how they work.

Time to get the day going. Fire is crackling, brew up some tea for my girl and plan out some adventure on this windy Rocky Mountain Tuesday.

Voice Crying in the Wilderness

A fox cries as I skin upward – Vox Clamantis in Deserto – it's haunting call echoing across the valley, richochetting off mountain sides. The only sound in the morning, other than the slish-slish of my skis working their way up the mountain, my own breathing, my heartbeat in the chest. My dog, practically a wolf, slithers beside me, smelling the ground, following trails, senses attunded to the world around her, a link between the modern world and the ancient, primordial one of fire and hunger. The big mountains loom, the very backbone of the North American Continent, shaped by glaciers, inviting, yet forboding at the same time. Overhead, a bird circles thermals in the mild winter morning air. A hawk perhaps, or an altitude loving raven. And upward I go, always upward, in a rhythm, twelve days into the ski season now, on the mountain.

The daily pattern. This is not a vacation. This is the mundane, life before work. I've come to the realization that all along I have chosen the path less travelled, and it is good.

Skin

An early morning skin up my old haunt gets the blood flowing, the muscles moving, the soul awakening. It's windy today, adding an element of nature to the foray. Mellow at first, then around the bend and the slope steepens. Click up one on the heel lifts and get after it. Quick left-right motion bringing me up the ancient road bed, higher and higher, till I reach the old mine. Near the top, a snow white camouflaged bird, watching me and my dog. Next time, maybe I'll bring a bird feeder and give it breakfast on a regular basis. It's scoured to rock here, and a glance over the shoulder reveals the divide to the west, raging, white, invisible. Up still, past the turn off to one of my favorite local descents, and then a fork in the road. I choose the route less traveled, the "path" to the very top of the mountain. Steeper still, click the lifts into the highest position. A final push around dead pines and baby aspens, over the ridge to the summit. James Peak looks anihalated in white, below the ant-like cars head up the hill for a day of sliding – and I do mean sliding because the wind will have scoured the resort. You feel above it all up here, and you are. Rip skins, latch boots, and then it's down. Tricky manuevering at first, around trees and wind crusted snow, and then onto a narrow jeep road, past the scoured section. And then, a nuking desent, Altai Mountain skiers style, with Stella in a dead sprint to keep up. A few rocks near the bottom to launch, a sharp right turn, and then the glide back to civilization. Health of mind, health of body summed up on one simple one hour mountain ski.

Eleven things I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving

– My wonderful wife. You light up my day, you give me energy to be my best, you were one of the first people to be there for me when I was at my lowest…you have inspired me to be my best now and forever. I love you more than words, will be there for you when you inevitably shine, and will also be there when things are a little rougher.  In sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer babe.

– Mom and dad. Your love and support for me (and Elaine) has never wavered. You have defended me, and you have also provided perspective and sanity when things were chaotic. But beyond the events of the past year, you have simply been amazing parents. You have helped me believe in myself, you have shown me the world. I'm a bit of a late bloomer, but I will make you proud. I love you guys.

– Sister. If you told me last July that all the events of the past 15 months would happen, but that I would also restablish a relationship with you, I would have taken it, no questions asked. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I got it back. You were the first person I told about Elaine and I, and your support of our non-traditional relationship has given us courage when times are tough. Thank you, and I love you.

– Elaine's health. Medications almost nill. Hallucinations and voices GONE. Three years ago you were on the verge of your first visit to a hospital. Today you are healthier than you have been…well, ever. It's not all gravy and I realize there may be bumps in the road, but your good health is a wonderful, unexpected gift.

– Neptune Mountaineering. Out with the old, in with the new. It's a new clan of people I work with, but more importantly, a great group of people. Thanks for providing me with some amazing opportunities, thanks for giving my wife and I insurance, thanks for giving me the stoke I need to dream it all up again. Nep-tude is bullshit…there isn't a group of more genuine people alive.

– The young people. Not shockingly, the young people I knew and invested in while coaching and teaching – Sam C, Sam A, Mariah, Chelsea, Bekah, Wes, Barbora, Dyani, Brit, Keegan, Keira…I know I'm leaving some folks out and I'm sorry – who have supported our relationship have been awesome. You say I inspire you…truth of the matter is I get motivation from your energy and ideals more than you can imagine.

– A few old friends. Dave, Shenna, Erik, K.B., maybe a few others. Thanks for at least hearing me out and realizing that only two people know exactly what goes on in a relationship, there are two sides to every story, and life isn't always simple. Thanks for keeping me honest. Also the random unexpected supporters from out of the woodwork – Sheila, Carol V, random parents – Nuff said.

– Stella. You're a dog and you can't read. But you have meant a ton. I lost my old pack, and while I still miss them a great deal, you have filled that void. More adventures coming up wonder-dog.

– Mountains, skiing. We were skinning up a ridge line the other day, Continental Divide raging overhead, sky turning orange, about to drop in for some turns, when Elaine turned to me and said, "Hey, thanks for helping me find my soul again." Nah babe, that would be the mountains. They've done it for me over and over again, and they will for you too. We are mountain people.

– The past. You have taught me to think, to be loyal, to be more honest, to consider before you leap. You have shaped me and set me up well for the future.

– The present and future. The now is wonderful. Making every "now" moment exceptional will ensure a bright and loving future with shine.

Happy thanksgiving ya'll. In our neck of the woods it was a two-hour cross country ski on the Sourdough Trail in the woods with my girl (out of the cold), a wonderful Turkey dinner courtesy of the Red Lion Inn and the Harry Potter movie. Hope it was great for everybody – and I truly do mean everybody – as well. Good grace and happiness to all from the land of the windy caboose.

Turn less

On my morning skin and ski today, I had a breakthrough. Well, really, the inspiration came last night, watching a ski movie clip about the early skiers in the Altai Mountains in China, and how they invented the sport and how even today they use gigantic wooden skis with a single pole to slow themselves down. It looked like a winter wonderland and it's no surprise that these people were the true inventors of our sport.

I thought about their style, and how we, in modern skiing, place so much darned emphasis on the turn. When we go skiing we say, "we made some turns today." I come from a racing background and when I think about it, all the video analysis, the coaching, etc., focused on the turn. And then I look at the guys in the Altai mountains. They don't really turn. They just manuever to avoid things.

Granted, there are some places where turning is necessary. Steep couloirs for example. If you go straight down these, in the spring time, you'll likely die. But the amount of emphasis we place on it seems very European, very Germanic if you will…societies that desire control. It seems to me skiing morphed into this sport where we control gravity by turning.

I wondered the other day why the sport of sledding brings so much joy? Get on a tobaggon and go straight down a mellow slope and you can't help but smile. You feel a thrill, and I think part of that thrill is from the lack of control. Yet the same slope on a pair of skis…probably boring. I've been skiing since I was three, and my most memorable run of my life was when I was three – before I knew how to turn. It was on the beginner slope at Sugarbush in Vermont…somehow I got out of my parents grasp and was nuking down the trail, basically out of control. My dad yelled, "Daniel, snowplow," but I didn't know how to do this, let alone turn. I think I crashed at the bottom, but it didn't matter. That run was pure freedom, pure joy, and that joy came from the lack of control.

On my ski down the hill today I decided to emulate the Altai Mountain skiers. Weight far back. Wide stance. React, don't turn. The slope was mellow but it was thrilling, and had me grinning from ear to ear. Less turning, more fun.