Snow Shoe Grind

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There’s trails that you race up, and then trails that you spend as long as you can on, because you’re with friends: discovery trails.The latter isn’t one I’ve had much experience with but my one outdoorsy friend has come back for the term-at the same time one is leaving-and with both I have never had a trip together. Back then, before we diverged on our separate paths in university, I had never stepped outside my home and she had grown up hiking and camping with family. I never knew that they afforded a trip through europe by camping instead of living in hotels. I never knew that they got to bond as a family over hiking rituals. To see that, and experience it anew with friends, is amazing. I would take it over powder (If, I cannot take them to the powder). To be human, is not after all at the pinnacle of hedonism but togetherness.

Being with a well known group means you have no fear of being left behind and are free to do the things that others might have judged you for. I knew that on a proper hike I’d have to buy overpriced microspikes, but with friends we weren’t frowned upon for only having hiking shoes for the snow, and I was able to go tobogganing half of the hike on a plastic bag. I can only imagine what other hikers might say of that. When we passed a snowshoe’ed man harping “Snowshoes! snowshoes!” my friend’s dad deadpanned, “I know why he said that.” [I thought maybe he was harping over our lack of snowshoes: my thought.] “He was a merchant trying to sell his snowshoes. He was upset we didn’t want them.”

Most of the time we were saturated with the beauty of the place. None of us had been there before, and none of us had guessed such a beautiful side to the commercial resort. It was nearly wild, the latter parts of the trail being tracked only as wide as one person can pass. It was a bluebird day, and all the trees were bigger and the sunlight brighter than we could imagine. We were simply dwarfed, and the arches of trees and sky above us only reminded us more that this place was a gateway to an unforeseen playground.

We shared few words while trekking the steeper parts, and when we did it was either a pun or random fact. Words become economical, we spoke with our bodies, just as we led with our bodies. Tomorrow we’d come to regret sliding down routes of ice and rock and snow on our butts, but for now, we relished in the alleviation in the need for intellect, for connotation.

Sometimes, but rarely, I remember when I was before I worked to have a bigger life. When I am around my high school friends-who all knew me to be introverted, inexperienced and having small aspirations-I am once again someone who is aware of the fragility of the endeavours I make. I’m not grateful anymore, I see how it could all fall apart, if I don’t educate myself enough and get into danger, or lack the proper gear, or it getting in the way of my relationship with my family. And then I relish in the relative safety of everything, and feel again that I am only as small as I feel. Because I have done bigger things, and no doubt those who did bigger things than I were not 100% sure of their ventures. No one is. If you can’t be sure that you can butter a piece of toast perfectly before it gets cold, how can you expect to be able to feel 100% comfortable in situations you haven’t yet faced?

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As we came down, my phone stopped working in the cold weather and anyhow the best parts were spent in motion, so no pictures were taken: sliding down the trails on butts or plastic bags (a great adrenaline rush, gotta try luge one day), sharing food at the top, and pulling out the map and arguing over where we were-classic hiking stuff that I had never done with longtime friends before.

It is extremely fun to slide down the trail on a plastic bag. Alternately, the first 1/4 of the Snowshoe Grind would have made a fantastic ski run. Why isn’t it, Grouse? One day I just might have to be those unlawful people who go out of bounds and sneak in powder.

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Very blue and white and green. Almost new year. Everything looks fresh and new.

Snow Journal #1

IMAG5361Sometimes, ideally all the time, I come home after snowboarding and relax by writing it all down. I don’t really pay attention to which parts were boring and which parts were exciting; I just want to capture the minutiae that made the day the day that it was. For me, this is also a good way to figure out how to tell the story before I blab about it out loud to other people in a way that makes no sense.

You should know that this season is severely lacking snow, not as bad as California, but pretty bad. It’s mostly just myself my musing and I out there and whomever I’m carpooling and thus spending the day with. It’s a good way to meet awesome, like minded people. At the same time, the people who like the mountains are a diverse crowd.

If I leave feeling calm or excited though, it was a good day. And I’ve never regretted a day on the mountain!

This was one of the rare days where there was fresh snow.

I wouldn’t take a picture of that drop.

Taking a picture sort of forecloses and discloses that you won’t visit that exact moment again. It might even be a pre-giving up, a towel thrown in before the job is even started.

The drop came at the exact right moment. I was questioning why I was possibly out of bounds, in a safe but unfamiliar environment, never a fully danger-free place for a beginner, and even if none of that mattered (and, compared to the even “wilder” backcountry, why should it) why I was spending it alone. It was as if Christmas had came and everyone had gotten presents except me.

I was there because the abyss wanted to see me.

Since I was alone, and since I had never gone out of bounds before (whether it was even out of bounds, I was not sure) I was nervous, and only hesitantly staked my way into the trees. Two guys had gone before me and although I could hear with jealousy their twin elated whoops, I reigned my own excitement in-I had just missed real powder in a resort by a day, and this was the closet thing to it. Since strapping out and walking around didn’t prove to be helpful, I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to decide whether the path through the trees would take me downhill back onto the run or somewhere weird before concluding, based on semi-confident spatial imagining, that it would. So off I went. If there was one thing I learned from that one ski trip, I could read a lot from the trails left by people before me.

But following other’s trails means you don’t get any powder yourself. It’s already been blazed. Do I stray? There were only a handful of trails at most. Any unblazed trail didn’t necessarily mean that it was dangerous; it just meant that no one had thought to make right turn there, not that there was a tree waiting for me at the bottom. Silly thinking? Probably, but alone on a resort is a very different feeling from being guided on a safe-looking backcountry hill. But, I could not snowboard in the backcountry-and the few turns that I did get in, confident I wouldn’t ride into some territory I couldn’t hike out of-reminded me why snowboarding is not and will never be quite the same as skiing. I quickly got to another flatter area where I could either rejoin the main run or remain within ten metres in the trees away from it, and reassessed my position. As far as I knew, the groomed trail turned left after this, and I wanted to remain within a reasonable distance of the run, or else I would end up down who knows where unable to hike back up. So I joined the main run again and on my next time up looked at the shape of the run and saw that it was very safe. No wonder why people spoke of “tree runs”. It looked even safer than the icy, winding hill.

Doing the falling leaf on semi-soft snow is actually fun work, when you are avoiding branches and trees. I thought I had left that behind on the bunny hill. Actually, I was elated to find that going down ungroomed runs required more finesse from these kinds of rudimentary techniques than I would have ever imagined. There gets a certain point where falling leaf is good for the steeps; I like to think that like on the bunny hill going on to the green runs, this technique pushes you to always progress and find things more and more steep. Keep in mind, none of this was anywhere near as important or dangerous as I thought it was at the time–but again, I pondered why I was alone, and would rather be safe than sorry. (Missed friends were busy, leaving, not wanting to pay up, or unable to be contacted due to my weather-tempermental phone. My plan to contact frequent goers to this particular tree run for pointers was fried when my phone fritzed) Strangely enough, I had spent nearly all of last season alone and not felt like I had missed out much; but now I saw snow sports in a new light, as a community, and as an endless chance to always, forever, make new friends.

So I am carving half moons into the snow, and pleased to see that piles of snow form from my efforts-attesting to the fact that there was at least 2 cm of snow-going very slowly, methodically, not enjoying speed or ease but simplicity-and I think, Wow, this is so simple yet so hard to do. I am thinking too hard. Skiing wasn’t hard, and I didn’t even really know how to ski. But maybe I put more weight into snowboarding, since I should know how to ride better-and I see myself riding more in the future-probably more than I ski-so I am feeling disappointed. I can neither share the fear and joy of going into the unknown with anyone, nor get that rush of sliding fast on powder. Unmajestically I launch myself down a short incline but then immediately pull up and fall over so I can stop myself before I go over the next blind spot. I don’t get to enjoy that short downhill jaunt into powder. But this is good because the third time I do this and reach a third flat spot I see that the way down is not actually just a series of inclines between trees. The last one is actually a drop. It’s an abyss.

I wrack my brain for what others might do. My first reaction is disappointment, because I don’t see any telltale tracks leading from the start of the jump to the bottom. It just drops-maybe ten metres. Actually, I see there is a possible doable chute-but it’s clearly icy and I see the short landing, and hints of jutting plantation just beneath the ice. Doable…but…no one has done it before me. And with with my expertise alone, I did not trust myself to do it if I already could not control myself on that landing area when taking the groomed trail. Drat! I was severely disappointed because it looked very beautiful, no-turning chute of ten metres between two rows of trees. Did I mention it was very steep?

Next, I looked for another opening, saw a similar chute (but one littered with branches and other unknown obstructions) and figured that it would have been jumped by a good snowboarder. But I didn’t see any marks in the snow that signified someone had jumped, and furthermore, the landing spot was right at the elbow of a turn, so you would have to have superior stopping in order to not fly off of the groomed run and into who knows what. Darn again.

It was this process of wanting but not immediately giving up, of dreaming but also being realistic, that made it different from what I had just done coming down. You had to be technical and careful going between trees. You had to decide if you should turn or point down, and where to suddenly slash the snow in order to pull up to a stop. And you didn’t feel heroic or adrenalized. You weren’t really feeling much; it was like doing math homework or piano practice instead of the real exam. It wasn’t hard, and it wasn’t tiring, and it didn’t matter if you did it or not. The only thing that mattered was what you thought of it, whether you wanted to prove something to yourself or you wanted to see or do something new. But you didn’t want to risk anything for it.

The drop was different in that it made you dream. Maybe right away you knew you couldn’t do it right now. But that doesn’t stop you from dreaming. You apply angles to it, apply what you just learned coming down, imagine how it would feel or what techniques you would have to bring in…your mind is set free. After half an hour of boring, fruitless practice, you finally get a small reward, and you remember why you were practicing in the first place. For this.

Maybe a ten metre drop. Not the 70 degree angle you wouldn’t attempt but saw earlier coming off of the trees back onto the groomed run, but pretty close. You might even just float-launch off a little stump and be free of even its angle. How do you angle off an angle? Crystalline white, so you later understood the steepness meant snow had fallen down it and left it icy and bare, so it was likely dangerous because of the mountain underneath. But it was so beautiful. To be rushing into the air, winged on both sides by furry emerald trees-this you knew, is the meaning of your life. It is not only beautiful, but impertinent, that you one day rush through the air on verdant wings on a board (for, rushing through the air facing front, as on skis, sounds like death)…that is what the abyss wanted to tell you.

The saying goes something like, “Stare long enough and the abyss stares back at you.” That is what happened to me. You are lucky to have the leisure and time to stare at an abyss, but you’ve got plenty of that if you’re resort skiing/riding, haha (trust me, I’m full of it–that backcountry was the best thing in my life ever, but realistically, based on my geological location and the short winter days, I had better prepare myself for resort skiing until I get a car, or else I will never be able to attend 5 am meet ups in the big city centre required for that kind of pursuit) To put it more crudely, riding an abyss is great because abyss is a lot of somethingness (at the same time as nothingness), and we were built to enjoy the feeling of lots of somethingness between our legs. Riding is powerful because wobbling on our legs makes us feel drowsy, and white snow makes us even drowsier, and at the end of the day if you don’t feel purer for the riding that you’ve done, you haven’t truly ridden. The best riding is the kind that one does for oneself (or, to save others: I imagine being volunteer ski patrol would be quite the reward)

As for pictures, taking a picture of the abyss wouldn’t have mattered much anyhow. My phone, on cold weather strike, oddly reversed its picture taking capabilities. When I took my phone home later and loaded the photos, I noticed that the times my phone died mid-picture were times photos were actually captured, whereas when I received real-time confirmation that pictures were being taken, their existence on my phone’s memory were completely nonexistent. Weirddd. I didn’t get a picture of my board being propped up in semi-powder (because, really, when have I ever seen that before) but I did get a picture of the trees and the inversion:

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The abyss called me, and I will find a sizeable (powder) drop and drop it this year, although it’s slightly unlikely since powder+drop=tele skis+shit control and snowboard=crap resort snow+fucked if I dropped wrong.

Extra mention

These are generally the touristy-angled pics that I find online to advertise the mountain. Having not really been on the highest chair before I agreeably found out that the angles were basically just the most inactive ones. Ie in order to take these angle pictures, you had to be touristy-in a long line up, on a chairlift, or at the start of the runs-basically all of the above, since I had the leisure.

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State of the mountain in late December.

Powder in my Dreams

This documents my experience skiing in an easy meadow in the backcountry! Ie no lifts and quiet wilderness and trees and lots of untouched powder! I’m not a skiier and the last time I tried skiing was ten years ago. But it was really fun and as you can tell from the lack of photos it was much too tiring! And I would do it all again.

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In another life, I’d have vocalized my joy as I did what I had only dreamed of for years-skiing through powder and weaving through trees. As it was, it was a miracle that I felt anything. I had laughed nervously with the rest of them as we all admitted we had slept for 3 hours and “this was stupid” but the other moment when “I started seeing the snow and realized it was all worth it” never happened for me. At least, not in a way that felt real. All I could do was whisper “fuck, this is beautiful. Fuck, I am a lucky bitch” as I wondered if I could go temporarily blind from the white around me.

Red heather, the name of the meadow, was amazing, despite that I was behind the entire time and made everyone wait for me periodically. I enjoyed the solitude rather than being afraid of being left behind. Which, by the way, happened once-I spent 10 or 15 minutes (who can tell time when you’re afraid?) after cresting a ridge that I thought was our agreed upon meeting spot and didn’t see anyone. Rationale would have later told me that with only 3 fresh tracks in the snow-1 a dead end-the wrong one that I followed would definitely mean that the 3rd one was the right path. Instead, afraid of my capability, already unrecognizably tired, I imagined they vanished into thin air in a trick to revenge my slowness. Or that they forged two fake paths to mock me because they were both steeper than I was comfortable with. My first thought was duh, no problem, I’m only probably 400 meters from the hut, with cellphone reception, but then I phoned without reply my ski mates and looked out into the unreadable landscape. And i was tired. Luckily, I woke to my senses and followed the 3rd path.

Red heather also awoke the best in people. They were honestly the nicest people that I had interacted with in a long time. Unjudgemental, intelligent, fun loving. The men made me remember that I was not asexual, the women reminded me to be a better person. Some of the sentiments they expressed for the trip included “getting away from school; you can’t just stay there 24/7”;  “to get away from urbanization”; “I’m in biology”-sentiments that I felt, sentiments that I felt at times but were afraid to express. And I liked it because I can only judge when I’m within urbanization, and would do anything to be free of those shackles. And by association, I was that kind of person too-if I could only see it for myself rather than have self hate for being the very bad poser of the exact kind of persona I hated in order to survive in an economically driven world.

Luckily, the more sentiments that were shared, the more my faith in living with self awareness was possible was restored. “I’d be that kind of person who snowboards AND skis. I’d be the only person who skis then boards and then GOES BACK.” “I’ve been snowboarding…I can see why people like powder [on skis].” Spoken in true snowboarder drawl. Only a few whoops and extra words other than that were exchanged. Skinning up took energy, so although people were clearly enjoying themselves-who wouldn’t-no one was very vocal about it. At the same time, destroying the hard found silence seemed like shattering a good moment, so you only communicated when those essential moments asked you to.

Logistics wise, we spent probably 2.5 hours driving, 2.5 hours skinning up, 2.5 hours skiing, and sometime skiing down/driving back. Don’t quote me on it. Time doesn’t matter that much when you’re given the privilege of abolishing time for a day.Or when you’re trying to ignore how incompetent you are at the task at hand. The hardest was skinning up any sort of semi-real incline. I enjoyed a moment of true learning/trust as my ski mates yelled at me to “trust the skis-you won’t fall back-put your weight at the back” instead of leaning forward and attempting to “climb” the hill with my hands. When you are already dubious of your ability to ski or hike, the ability of skis to walk “Up” seems like a miracle. How can two sticks do so much amazing things when you can’t even walk up them? But they can. And so could I. Although if given the choice to stay within my comfort zone, I would have quit after an hour-but the whole day just got better and better.

Be grateful for bringing any extra snacks and if you have learned to ski before. The two boxes of apple juice I brought were the best thirst quencher and mood lifter I had ever had. The 4 lessons in gr 6, although terminating before I ever got to go beyond a “pizza” on a bunny hill, made me unafraid to go down. Although I certainly was no skiier, the flatter powder terrain served to give me a thrill while enforcing arising memories of competence. By the bottom, I really did feel as if I was riding a bike, and felt quite confident on a low grade to not pizza. One day, I imagined keeping my skis parallel down a steep slope. As for now, I could keep my skis parallel on a small grade, but for me, unlike others, I had no endurance and usually had to quit skiing right after a short while although I wanted to continue skiing and enjoying the powder.

It snowed the entire time, and there was always untouched powder. It was yours if you only dared to stray a little bit from the tracks ahead of you.