Skiing in the Shower

Confessions of a Mountain Girl

Its also the most wonderful way to make a new friend and see their home. Walking around together on your feet in the snow, you have the opportunity to chat, to listen, and to learn.  Marilyn is incredibly adventurous, not to mention stunningly beautiful, and full of laughter, love and adventure. Her heart is huge, and I knew we were going to be friends the moment she tried to steal my wineglass about five minutes after I met her. 

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I warned her ahead of time that I'm not the fastest person out there on AT gear. (And it turns out, she might be the fastest person out there, wow this lady is FIT.) She had no problem with that, and we made plans to go for a nice tour on the coldest day of the year in a snowstorm. Because, well, that's the day we had, and hey, I'm always up for a little adventure.


We had a chance to chat about the fact that secretly, neither of us really wanted to go out in this weather. I thought it was hilarious that we both showed up, geared up, ready to go, but we had both been thinking, man, the weather is going to suck! I thought hmm, my feet might freeze, I might not be fit enough, my boots might be too heavy... But I had given my word, because if I had the chance to tour in Whistler, and make a new friend who liked to tour, I was not going to pass it up.

Marilyn showed up for the same reason. She had made a commitment because she knew it would make her show up.  That way she knew she would have an adventure when she would otherwise stay inside. Turns out that the skin up was cold with super low visibility, but as soon as we were out the gate and rolling down the slope, it was warm, with good light and light fluffy snow. It's always worth it, somehow.

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But I'm getting ahead of myself. We met up in the morning at the Wizard Grill at the Blackcomb base, where I borrowed a pair of big fat Solomon skis with Fritsche bindings to put my Alpine boots in, which at this point weigh about 15 pounds each. I was glad to get a chance to test out the new Strafe Outerwear, as its made primarily for touring.


Speaking of Strafe, it's by far the best touring gear I've ever been in, huge vents, lots of great pockets in smart places, totally water tight, cut well for good layering, lots of options, the pants are bibs, you can snap the coat to the waist, the powder skirt zips out... it performed well in rain, sleet, powder, touring and skiing off the cat. Yup, I'm sold.  

It was so cold we ended up going in for a coffee and visiting before heading out into the wild blue yonder, which was very civilized and not at all what I'm used to. (Thinking back to 4am starts and trying to dial my system so that I'm not slow changing over, or eating, or skinning...)

We headed up the chair and went out the avalanche gate at Symphony onto the Flute side, after a short 40 minute skin or so, we found what Marilyn was looking for ("My kid told me to look for the dead tree, the snow is supposed to be great".)

We traversed across and found a nice long shot with just one track in it, and away we went. These were the first turns I'd made on these skis, and the powder was mid thigh deep. I was wondering what my turns would be like, I haven't done much touring in the winter, most of my touring is done in the spring and summer, so the snow is usually variable, wind slab, sun cupped, corn,  refrozen avy debris; in short weird snow that changes every two turns. You know, all that good stuff.

It was unreal to get out there and see this long, fairly steep shot just full of joy waiting for me. Marilyn pinted the way and said, "Go for it."

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I hopped in and landed on a trampoline, my skis sprang back up and I realized that all the time on the cat last year had paid off, I could finally ski powder with confidence and (dare I say it...) wild abandon. We spent the rest of the day hunting for shots like this, chasing bliss.

As usual, I learned a lot: a new way to apply the G3 skins, a great way to pull them off in the wind, and a recipe for the best pick me up on a cold day I've ever had. (Ginger tea, brewed with lemon, add a shot of Contreau, drink on the summit. Yum!) 


Marilyn asked me if I wanted another 20 minute skin back into bounds, or a 45 minute downhill adventure in an icy bobsled luge run. That sounded a lot like every other end of the day where you have to ski back out on the hiking trail, so I opted for the luge run.

Now, I had heard stories about Singing Pass from Brian Campbell, the master bootfitter at TopShelf Bootfitting in Whistler. Over a glass of scotch or three, he had told me some great stories about coming back in from Cowboy Ridge.

"Make sure you go with someone who knows it well, because there are two or three hairpin turns, and if you aren't ready for them, wow. Away you go, eh?" Right. But, you know, people often exaggerate stuff like that. How bad could it be?

Answer: probably one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. Wow was I glad for the tiny bit of canting we had done on my boots the day before, I needed every single little bit of help I could get not to lose my edge and end up shooting off this 900 foot cliff into the huge trees below.

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For 45 minutes, we skied, terrified, laughing, and constantly turning left down an off camber hiking trail, with no way to stop or slow down.

It was a great opportunity to practice mental performance, as the consequences of a mistake were huge.  Giving into fear would only cause the mistake to happen, trying to slow down on ice would only over edge the ski and make it slide out from under me.

It reminded me of slipping the World Cup Course. Don't try to shed speed, just let the skis go and try to stay with them. No big deal when you are sliding down the fall line going straight. Kind of a big deal when you are turning left on something that's falling away from you, with nothing to help you deflect the ski back on to the tiny little track. It was an exercise in staying focused, present, and confident that I could do this, was doing it right, and that the consequences for not doing it right were so severe that there wasn't another option.

I had expected the "luge run" to be sort of cupped, as most hiking trails are, but this was just a slant for most of the way, mountain to your left, sloping trail, cliff with treetops to your right. 

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Staying in that mental place for a half hour straight was interesting, there is a boredom in the terror that develops, which has no place at all in a high stakes game. I found myself constantly waking myself up to the situation, and then having to manage the huge thrill of fear that immediately followed the moment of cogniscence.

"How are you doing this and not messing up? Oh! Shit! If I mess up, I'm going off the cliff! I wish I could stop or slow down, I'm afraid that the next turn will be where I make the mistake!"

And there in lies the problem, now I'm thinking about what might happen, how bad it CAN be if I do mess it up on the next turn. How can I be aware of the stakes and making the decision to do something RIGHT without letting that understanding make me defensive? I tried to be diagnostic. "How do you ski ice? (That's only two feet wide, sloping toward a cliff, and constantly turning left...)" Answer: Pro actively and without trying to stop. You will function with conviction and hope you guess right.

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We experienced moments of relief and happiness when the bridge crossings were not iced over, we were able to stop, hike across or ski across, and look at each other. I love Marilyn's natural willingness to play, we were committed, and so we skied it. It went beyond making the best of it, and granted, she has skied it many times before... (I'd say it's in the top 3 of the shape it's been in! This is great!) But something that was truly wonderful was that at no time did she waste energy wishing that the trail was other than it was. 


In that place, I found a kindred spirit. She was so present, willing to be right where she was and willing to work hard to do what needed to be done in this moment, and then in the next, that we spent what could have been a scary and dangerous afternoon full of fear, playing and smiling and talking while we managed the risks at hand.


Visiting BC was so wonderful this way. Almost everyone that I met was incredibly welcoming, authentic, and happy to share their world with me. Once again, I felt every moment, so lucky to be connecting and seeing the world in another new way. 

by Kate Howe

Sunday, January 29, 2012

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