Tag Archives: snow

*Letting Them Run

Appropriately enough, my last ski blog for OutdoorsNW this season was posted on the first day of spring. *Here is an excerpt. If you like it, I hope you’ll head over the the OutdoorsNW blog to read the whole essay and to see pictures from Mt. Bachelor in Oregon State, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever skied.

Letting them Run

“’Your skis want to run,’ said Michael as I sat in the snow digging my ski free so I could stand up again. “’You’re holding them back.’

Our group had crossed a difficult ridgeline on the backside of the summit on Mt. Bachelor. Storms had scoured the surface, leaving sharp spikes of hoar frost in their wake. Like a receding high tide leaves ridges in the sand of a beach, the winds had left lines of rock-hard ice sticking up in thin strips across the face of the mountain. They looked fragile and beautiful in the sunlight, but they were unbreakable and caught our edges and tripped us up as we crossed.”

Click here to read the whole essay.

Now onto the spring ski season and ideas for new essays that may not (or may) have anything to do with nature or skiing or mountains. Oh who am I kidding? Never say never and all that.


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Three Excerpts

I’ve been a little behind with posting excerpts from my ski blog over at OutdoorsNW Magazine. Here are some tidbits from my last three essays, click on the links for the complete texts. Enjoy!

From The Poles You Save May Be Your Own:

“’Hey, wait a second and I can help you,’ I said.

But, she took a step – whoosh – and was gone, rocketing down the slope upside-down and on her back. She eventually came to a stop, halfway down, a ski and two poles marking her crooked descent. The other ski was almost out of sight. The girl sat up as I made my way down, gathering her gear along the way.

By the time we got to the bottom, the instructor had made it over to meet us.

‘Thank you so much! Whoever you are!’ he said, smiling.

I’ll admit it. There was a split second there, the slightest moment, when I felt a little like a superhero – the mysterious stranger appearing in the nick of time to rescue the innocent bystander from imminent peril.”

From Vittels

“I could have made a New Year’s resolution that we’d become the family that packs cut-up fruit, artisanal sandwiches on home-baked bread and tubs brimming with quinoa salad for lunch on the weekend, but the truth of our ski food lies in two realms: the easy and the practical.

What will get us out the door in the shortest time possible? What is transportable? And, most importantly, what will we actually eat on a day in the mountains? (Historical note: not fruit and not salads.)”

From What Kind of Parents Let Their Kids…?

“Years ago I stood on a slope in utter disbelief as my 4-year-old, so tiny she had to be picked up and put on the seat by a lifty, sat alone on the lift chair, legs straight, skis just barely clearing the edge of the seat. Right above my head she went, a tiny fluff of down perched high above the snow. I’d been spying on her class from behind a rise, and she had no idea that my heart was pounding in my throat as I realized she could fall off that thing.

What was I doing, allowing this to happen? What if she was terrified all alone up there? What if the worst happened? What kind of parent lets her little kid ride up a lift by herself?”


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Dorothy and Oz*

This is an excerpt from my essay for OutdoorsNW Magazine for this week.  If you enjoy it, I hope you’ll click over to the website to read the whole essay.


On a February morning in 2010 I was lying on my back in the snow feeling like Dorothy as I looked up at the faces of those gathered around me. They smiled encouragingly as it dawned on me…maybe my “agony of defeat” moment had been more than a typical wipeout. They were all there: the ski patrollers, my daughter and my husband, two neighbors, another friend, the kind man who had stopped and helped.

But the excruciating pain was gone, as was the shock of the fall, and I sat up.

“Oh, I don’t think I need that,” I said, looking at the patrollers’ sled. “I can make my way down.”

“Let’s just get you standing up,” one of them said. “Then we’ll see.”

They helped me to my feet and let go, but my leg just collapsed beneath me.

A friend gave me a knowing look.

“Don’t say it!” I said.

He didn’t have to.

The look said it all: blown knee, surgery, months of rehab.


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The Sounds of Silence*

My first snowshoe experience was on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington State. It was a tame excursion, but I had never been so immersed in a deep winter environment. Afterward, my husband and I tried to hold in fits of laughter while watching a narrated film about winter in the park. “Winter melts into spring,” the narrator intoned as footage flashed on the screen. Every other word, it seemed, was a play on “silence.” It actually would have been better as a silent film.

We made up our own lines all day: The silent snow falls silently upon the silent trees silently waiting out the long, silent winter.

My favorite places take some effort to reach and, during the winter, special equipment. I like to stop in the middle of a steep run or on a Nordic trail lined by trees or next to an icy stream off a snowshoe trail. The effort is worth it. Once you arrive in places like these, what you see and hear pulls you right out of your comfortable little niche in the world.

I don’t listen to music on the trails like many people do because without it I can hear the “silence” of the world around me: My skis managing different kinds of snow – scraping across icy hardpack in the morning shade, muffled swipes through the softening snow in the afternoon sun. I can listen to what’s going on in the forest. The squirrel scolding me from the side of the trail as I pass. Rockfall echoing across a valley. Boulders crashing to the valley floor. Creaking branches of an evergreen swaying in the breeze, creating a moment of doubt. Is it going to fall?

It’s as if my sight sharpens, too, in these quiet moments, and I notice what I’d otherwise miss. The play of light on the mountainsides. The sparkling rainbows of snowflakes floating in the brightening morning. Different layers of snow colored by the angle of the sun. Blue ice peeking through a scraped-off mogul. The lone raven seeming to hang motionless, yet moving on its silent way from one side of the ski area to another.

Years ago, on an early morning Nordic ski in the Methow Valley, a gurgling creek kept me company as I skied toward the middle of the long, wide valley. The schussing of my skis hypnotized me a little, but I was called to attention by the unmistakable call of a bald eagle overhead. The eagle was making its lazy way in the same direction I was going. We paced each other for several kilometers before I turned back toward town and the eagle continued on its way.

It was a long time ago, but I remember the experience so clearly, as if it were a momentous event instead of a quick ski before packing the car to return to Seattle.

I still chuckle when I remember the melodramatic narration of the film, but I’m humbled by the silence it clumsily referenced, too. There’s a fine line between purple prose and the desire to share your astonishment at what you see around you. Maybe we should all just remain silent and watch and listen and keep it to ourselves.

Or maybe not.

*This essay was originally posted on the OutdoorsNW website in Winter 2013. http://outdoorsnw.com/2013/tales-from-the-lift-lines-ix-the-sounds-of-silence/


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One of the snowboarders sitting on the run yelled to me, “Dude! Are you okay?”  Tales_021413_hipsters

“Yes, thanks!” I called back. I was on my back, sliding down the slope in a slow-motion rotation, wondering when my edges could catch enough to bring me to a stop. It was a gentle gravitational journey with enough time to think a bit.

“Did that kid really call me ‘Dude’? How nice of him.”

Sakeaus Bankson, editor of The Ski Journal, opened the Winter 2012-2013  issue with a description I can relate to: “I am a Grammarian. I am a bookworm. I am a word nerd.” He then laments his inevitable linguistic decline into ski-speak, which “is not the language of an educated, sane person—this [is] bro-cab, a dialect I had spent high school despising.” It’s a force that Bankson admits he’s powerless to forestall when the winter arrives, but he still tries to resist. I understand why.

I was talking with other skiers one day recently and realized how deep I am in ski jargon myself. “Bluebird day,” “catching an edge,” “taking a line,” “lifties,” “going uptop,” “catching air,” “chop,” “taking a core shot,” “avi debris” – these have naturally entered my conversation over the years because that’s just what happens. A specialized vocabulary is always part of joining a community with shared interests. There was a time when I’d hear conversations sprinkled with these terms and not follow everything being said. Now I join in that sprinkling without giving it much thought.

What I continue to successfully resist, however, is the bro-cab. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m in my mid-40s, so “shredding the gnar” or “taking a sick run” or being “stoked” about the “epic pow” just sounds weird coming from me. It reminds me of my mom kidding around with us, adopting Valley Girl speak at the most embarrassing moments.

More likely, though, it’s because I’m a word nerd, too. I can’t even write a text message without making it into a proper sentence. No shortcuts for me.

Bro-cab is full of shortcuts. It’s a code that I haven’t fully cracked. It’s a code with highly personalized meaning. What is a “sick” run? Depends upon who’s saying it. What is “epic pow” as opposed to regular powder? Who knows? It’s all a matter of taste.

And that’s where my natural interest in words severs me forever from being a Dude. Once you start studying the etymology of bro-cab you’re hopeless. You won’t even come close to getting a membership card to that community.

But that’s okay. I’m, like, totally over it.

*This essay was originally posted on the OutdoorsNW website in Winter 2013. http://outdoorsnw.com/2013/tales-from-the-lift-line-vi-dude/


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Writing About Snow

I spend most winter weekends in the mountains skiing with my family. It’s so easy to jump into the car and drive the 90 or so minutes from sea level, with its mist and gray skies, to high elevations where we often emerge above the clouds into sunlight and blue skies. It is such a dramatic experience riding up a chairlife through the fog and then up and out into sudden clarity. I don’t think I’ll ever fail to be amazed by it.

I never thought I would do a lot of writing about snow or skiing until last year when a local magazine called OutdoorsNW asked me to blog about the “skiing lifestyle”. Not about extreme skiing or 20-something ski bums, but about doing what I do with my family: packing up, skiing all day, unpacking, over and over again all winter long. Of course, I jumped at the chance. And what came out of it was a series of short essays about skiing; essays that I hope readers can enjoy whether or not they ever put on a pair of ski boots.

I’ve been invited to blog about skiiing again this year and as a run up to my first new post in January, OutdoorsNW is pulling some of my essays from last year from the archives and posting them again. I thought I’d give a quick summary/link to them here every so often, too.

I hope you enjoy them!


The first essay is called The Beginning.

“….I learned to ski at the ripe old age of 17 in the relatively flat state of Ohio. My best friend, Dave, who had cut his teeth in Michigan and Colorado, was determined that I would learn to ski under his expert tutelage. He schemed and planned, and then called out of the blue to announce he was coming over to my house to pick me up. Dave had something to show me; he’d found me some skis at a garage sale.”


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Faith and the Fall Line*

“You’re ready for Chair Two,” He says, eyes behind the impenetrable black of his sunglasses.

I look around the parking lot, a rare sunny day at Alpental. The girls are eating grilled-cheese sandwiches cooked up on the camp stove, chattering away with their ski friends between lessons. Sixty miles from rainy Seattle, it’s a blue-bird day up in the mountains. I think about the people down at sea level waiting out the drizzle we’d left early in the morning. Did they have an inkling of what they were missing?

“You’ve said all season this is your year to do it. Snow’s great up there. Sun’s shining. You’re ready.”

I stall, rooting around for another potato chip, taking a swig of beer. “I don’t know…how’s the entrance?”  I’ve heard tales of the entrance to International, a double-black diamond ski run.

This is the traditional question experienced Chair Two skiers ask one another on the lift:  “How’s the entrance?”  On a late winter day, after several months of snow, the answer is most often a mellow, “Good.”  The rest of the time the answer varies: “icy,” “terrible,” “hardcore,” “zero visibility,” “I’m sure it will get better if it warms up some.”

Michael hasn’t been down International yet today, but he’s had a fun ski on a single-black diamond run on the upper mountain. He’s sure that with the great conditions, International is the place to go. He’s convinced I’m ready for it. After all, I’ve skied all the black diamonds on the lower mountain. Eight-year-old Megan is convinced, too, “Do it, Mommy! I’ve been on it with my class two times this year!” She’s feeling the pride.


Comfort Zone n. …2. the level at which  one functions with ease and familiarity.

Line of demarcation n: a boundary marking something off from something else


I feel like a fraud when I see the sign at the base of Chair Two: “EXPERT SKIERS ONLY! There is no easy way down.” Looking back, stomach churning, I glance over the heads of the “dudes” laughing and joking comfortably behind me as they wait in a rag tag line. These are the expert skiers.

Michael urges me ahead, “Remember. These guys don’t like to wait and they’ll be pissed if there’s an empty chair. It seems slow, but you’ve got to be ready when the chair comes up.”A rickety double chair appears suddenly from behind the bearded lift operator. He grabs it to slow it just long enough for us to wedge ourselves in the tiny seats.

“And you’re off!” he says and gives us a slight push, already turning towards the next chair.

We are away immediately, traveling up a cable that sags ominously between each lift tower. My heart pounds more rapidly with every bob of the chair on the line. The angle of now bowing line would be steeper if the cable were taut. This lift was built in 1967, the year I was born. A thought flashes across my mind. What is the life span of a chair lift? We cross over the heads of hotshots zipping down the deep moguls under us; we are low enough to whack their helmets with the tips of our skis if they catch air.

Up and up. Michael points out the beauty of the cliff faces, the cornices across the other side of the bowl, the skiers whipping down the narrow chutes, jumping over rocks. Between bobs of the cable, trying not to move my head too much so I don’t fall off the little chair, I pretend to look at what he points out. I am becoming more nervous with each lift tower that passes, with each foot of altitude gained, with each dip towards the earth as we move along the cable. I am on the easiest ride on the upper mountain. I am nauseous.


Life span n. 1: the average length of life of a kind of organism or of a material object esp. in a particular environment or under specified circumstances. 2: the duration of existence of an individual.


Michael falls silent, relaxing as I take deep breaths, trying to get myself out of this increasing anxiety. My fingers tingle as the chair delivers us closer to the lift shack at the top, 1,000 feet from where we started the ride. Spread beneath it is a large sign listing the names of the expert runs: Upper International, Widow Maker, Adrenalin, Snake Dance, Shot Six…. I see black diamonds, exclamation points all over it. The easiest way down, the sign declares, is Edelweiss Bowl, a single black diamond run. Michael points to the opposite side of the shack. Upper International is that way. There are two black diamonds next to its name.

With a final lift, the chair swings into line with the shack. In front of me is the steepest and shortest off-ramp I’ve ever seen. It ends abruptly in a wall of snow, but there are skiers congregated in front of it, making it even shorter. I imagine careening into them, knocking them over like bowling pins in a cartoon, poles strewn everywhere, skis akimbo, everyone yelling at me. “What the hell are you doing up here, you fucking idiot? Experts only!”


Imposter Syndrome: Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are morecompetent than they believe themselves to be. (Wikipedia)


Michael pushes off down the ramp, takes a sharp right at the bottom, and stops to look over the boundary rope about 10 feet away from the crowd. I notice that the thin orange ribbon “rope” is the only thing between me and a terrifying cliff edge. We have reached 5,450 feet, and Michael only notices the horizon. His voice full of awe, he names the mountains we can see on this glorious day: Chair Peak, Snoqualmie Mountain, Guye Peak, The Tooth. We can even see Mt. Baker nearly 100 miles away, its great white head rising from the hazy foothills surrounding it.

I just “uh, huh” politely. Even with my life at stake, the old lessons in manners are still automatic. I don’t care at all about the mountains’ majesty. I’m resentful that Michael is mellow enough to enjoy the view, that he doesn’t seem to notice I am so scared. I’m resentful that somehow I’m going to have to go down a run that’s at the bottom of this cliff, and he’s responsible for making me do it.

“Okay, let’s go. Just follow me.” He smiles encouragingly. “We’ll take the lower entrance, it’s easier.”

“I’m really nervous, Michael.” I finally just say it. “I’m not sure I can do this.”

“You have to. How else are you going to get down?”  Logical. Calm.



Logical adj …2: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion.


The lower entrance is easier? Moguls bar the way between the view point and the lower entrance. The dudes whip past, easily dipping and dancing their way around me. I feel conspicuous lumbering my way carefully in and out, feeling light-headed as I look for Michael and the drop-in. It occurs to me that my flamboyantly designed ski pants, raspberry jacket, and bronze ski helmet with pink goggles are not optimal wardrobe choices for blending into a crowd.

Glancing up, I see what I don’t expect. A line of people. The dudes have come to a halt. Michael, having stopped to wait for me, waves me over.

“Okay, it’s a little challenging. There’s some ice through here and the path is narrow. Just watch me and follow what I do.”

I look over the edge of the drop-in at a path snaking its way along the rock face under the cliff we had just left behind. A ski patroller is mid-path, skis off, muscling broken chunks of rock back into the rock face. Skiers who had blasted past me seconds before are now gingerly sidestepping down a path more narrow than their skis, exposed rock and patches of ice causing them to hesitate. They move almost daintily as they negotiate the entrance, then disappear with a “whoop!” when they hit the bowl and drop out of sight over the edge.

I don’t want to think about that edge.

Michael makes his way down; it doesn’t take him as long as I think it should. He waves at me, points down a fall line that I can’t see, yells something I can’t hear.

The pressure of the line building up behind me forces me to move. I am shaking, concentrating on each step. I feel the scrape of ice and rock under my skis. I hear the punch of my pole tip as I push it into the snow on my left, practically horizontal to my hip. My right pole slides through the powder into air. There is no purchase. I am freaking out, my nerves feel like they are shattering, but there is one thing I know. I refuse to make an ass of myself here.


Ass n. sometimes vulgar : a stupid…person <made an ~ of himself> — often compounded with a preceding adjective <don’t be a [dumb-]ass>


Somehow I make it into the run. Unable to drum up the courage to make a sharp turn straight downhill, I keep edging my way across the face of the slope. The dudes are rushing past me, taking the steep moguls smoothly, gracefully negotiating the paths cut deep around the bumps. Their routes are a series of beautifully linked moves: bend at the knees, slide through the curve, bounce up, bend and curve, slide, bend and curve, slide, the sound of their skis a smooth “shussing.” I just know that if I turn down this slope I’m going to simply fall off of the mountain all together.

Michael has been tracking me from below, keeping parallel. I stop to catch my breath as he yells up, “Turn now! You don’t want to go further towards the rocks over there!”

Nothing looks safe for a turn. It doesn’t seem possible. “Turn now!” Michael calls again. “Just turn.”

“Hi, MC!” Twelve-year-old Eric, whom I’ve known since his birth, has come to an elaborate stop just below me. He’s smiling with joy. His face red with cold, eyes gleaming. “Are you a little stuck?”

“Yes, Eric, I am,” I pant. I hope my smile looks natural, but it’s completely fake. “Just a little.”

“Turn now!” Eric says helpfully. “You can do it! Just turn now.” And he’s off, dancing his own path down International. He and Michael wave to each other, and then Eric’s gone, taking a jump and disappearing over the other side.


Encourage vt… 1a: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope : HEARTEN… b: to attempt to persuade : URGE… 2: to spur on…


Michael’s looking at the horizon again. Patiently waiting as other skiers go by. I turn downhill.

And fall. Get up, find the pole. Turn. Fall. Get up. Breathe. And turn and fall, losing a ski. Sit, breathe, brace myself, get the ski on. Turn. Fall. Turn. Fall. Turn. Fall. Gradually, though I never stop sweating, panting, laboring, my falls are less frequent. I can make two or three linked turns in a row, then four, until I finally reach the relative ease of Lower International.

It takes me almost an hour to get down Upper International. At every frustrating moment, once I recover my breath and look for the next turn, I can look below and see Michael, steadfast. Always just a bump or two below, leading me with invisible bread crumbs, tossing back the occasional, “Look how far you’ve come!” or “You’re doing great.” But mostly he’s silent, letting me battle my way down. He knows I can do it; he’s not worried.

We go through it together, yet alone. The quiet force of gravity—and of something else–holding me to the fall line as I work my way down.


Faith n. …complete trust 3: something that is believed esp. with strong conviction…without question.

(*This essay first appeared in the January 2012 issue of the online magazine This Great Society. Thanks to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed and Wikipedia for life-informing definitions.)


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