A week ago today I was scrunching my way up a mountainside in a snowstorm, hoping I wouldn’t need the avalanche beacon strapped to my chest.
I spent the week near Ouray, in southwestern Colorado, with Chicks Climbing & Skiing. Guide Angela Hawse led our group of six women, all except me from Colorado, on an adventure that featured avalanche training, backcountry skiing and sleeping in off-the-grid mountain cabins.
The first thing I realized? When you live at 500 feet above sea level, you gasp like a guppy when you spend four and a half hours skinning up a mountain to a hut perched at 11,700 feet. Add a backpack full of gear (shovel, probe, snacks and clothes) to the equation, and you can expect some happy suffering.
I also realized that given enough time, and a group of encouraging (and much more skilled) skiers, I can do things I never thought I could do.So it didn’t matter that when we reached the OPUS Hut, a solar-powered, compost toilet-equipped, chef-staffed slice of heaven in the San Juan Mountains, all I could do was slurp up a bowl of hot soup and collapse in a heap in a cushioned reading nook, while the rest of the group headed out to enjoy the waist-deep powder.
Skinning, for uninitiated flatlanders like me, involves strapping a sticky strip of fabric to the bottom of a ski, so you can hike uphill. When you get to where you’re going, you peel off the skins, clamp
down the bindings so your heel is locked in place, and ski down.
In backcountry ski parlance, you “earn your turns.” Translated, that means you spend hours hiking up to ridgetops for short but spectacular payoffs. If the snow gods cooperate like they did last week, you’ll dive into fields of untouched snow for a fluffy, powder-shredding trip down the mountain.
I got that experience, along with a good jolt of motivation, the next morning. You can read about my trip in the Austin American-Statesman next fall, when ski season gears up again.
In the meantime, I’m going to do more stuff that pushes me out of my comfort zone. I think we all should.