Summer or winter, skiing is always on the mind!

by Jaymi Newington

Since I started skiing at the age of four, I always knew that you would never see me between the covers of a skiing magazine, but it is a sport that I loved to enjoy in the winter and always looked forward to the next season! As I grew older, I found the ski culture fascinating. However, the ‘culture’ that I am referring to consisted of getting a group together once, if you were lucky, twice a year to rent a condo at a different ski hill, stay up all hours of the night, consuming all sorts of intoxicating beverages and then trying not to vomit on the ski hill the next day. If the snow was good… well, that was just an added bonus but not necessarily what made the experience so memorable!

I have enjoyed various other adventure sports but never really thought of skiing as one of them. Most of the adventure sports that I am referring to involved water. As far as I could tell, the only water involved in skiing was the hot tub that you enjoyed after a day on the slopes, and the iced form that appears in a variety of tasty cocktails. However, in the recent years the group that I normally have enjoyed skiing with began to grow an interest in the back country world of skiing.

backcountry skiingLate spring backcountry skiing.

Our interest grew slowly and with careful planning. Each year we would set out a different challenge. A challenge chosen to improve our confidence and skiing abilities. Each challenge, one accomplished only confirmed how much we were growing to absolutely fall in love with this sport. However, despite being able to keep up with my ‘group’ during these challenges, I always remained cautiously pessimistic of my skiing abilities.

To prove my point, one year our skiing posse decided to go heli-skiing. This was going to be the first true ‘back-country’ experience that we had done. The night before, we had to meet with the guide to fill and sign waivers (Basically you are signing a piece of paper that confirms that, indeed, you are willing to die to do this activity and no matter what, no one else is responsible for your own stupidity). Regardless, as the guide is asking for our skiing level, I barely have my mouth open to answer with a modest, yet humble, ‘Intermediate’ when another member of our group answers ‘Expert!’. I still ask myself why I didn’t take this person out at the knees with my ski pole, but regardless… I made it through the day and felt amazing after-wards!

Wind carved mountainWind carved mountain

This past year, our group decided that it was time to go on a real, multi-day back country, no showers, no hot tubs, type ski trip. In August I got a shiny new set of ski boots. In November we booked our trip for March and come December my husband and I started ‘practicing’. Our ‘practicing’ included increasing our regular physical activity, we got out our new gear a few times and talked to everyone we could to get an idea of what we were getting ourselves into. By the time the trip rolled around, I was more worried about how I was going to wash my hair in the snow than I was about the skiing. I had ended the previous year on a good note, why would this be any different?

Top of a mountainSummit

Day one of the trip I had never been more tired in my life! I was one member of a group of twelve and the least experienced by a number of years. Instantly the ‘practicing’ that we had done and felt so diligent about made it seem as though we had done nothing. I was tired, I was frustrated and to make matters worse I had developed the worst blisters I have ever experienced. But that was not going to get me down! Day two, I made the fist ascent and I thought I felt the blisters bleeding, by the second it felt as though I was stepping into pools of blood. I was using accessory muscles so much to try and avoid rubbing the blisters, every part of my body hurt.

Skiing down was becoming more and more difficult and less and less enjoyable. I have always been a firm believer that there is no crying in sports (it ruins the ‘I can do anything you can do’ image that everyone develops once you are involved in a sport) but I can say with all honesty I have never been so close to tears in my life, and I would be lying if I said that some tears didn’t start flowing from my eyes. I still say that they were sweating, but who am I really kidding? I was in pain! It was approximately 1500 feet uphill that I needed to climb to get back to our hut. If you calculate one step per foot, that is 1500 steps (give or take) that felt as if nails were being driven into my heels. In my opinion this will be as close as I get to willingly partaking in Chinese water torture! By the time I got back to the hut I had myself convinced that I could not do this!

One of many backcountry cabinsOne of many backcountry cabins

Day three, I decided to stay back. Two friends stayed with me. One friend had hurt his shoulder and one wanted a day to just enjoy the stunning location that we were at. Perfect, I did not have to explain how incredibly bad I was feeling about myself and my abilities. I was feeling foolish to think that this was something I had ever thought I could do. As well, I obviously though that my ability to heal was going to miraculously speed up being in a back country ski hut at approximately 6300 feet. I thought one day off was going to heal the nasty blisters that had taken residence on my feet and be gone and let me carry on with my trip. Not so much luck and Day Four only confirmed this.

We had a minimum six hour traverse ahead of us to get to the next cabin, no options of turning around. I was nervous at the start of the day. As soon as I put my ski boots on I knew it was going to be a tough day. But, with the theory of ‘slow and steady wins the race’ I set off. This tour we were doing involved three up hill climbs and two long descents. After the first climb I was feeling pretty good. I was slow but steady, the pain was there but I was tolerating it. I had developed a method of trying to walk on the outer edges of my feet (not an easy task in hard, plastic ski boots) but it seemed to work. We got to the top (after covering some incredibly technical, very impressive terrain I may add) When we needed to start making the descent down hill. I was skiing down and thinking, ‘something doesn’t feel quite right’. I told myself, ‘this would probably be easier if you bent your knees a bit more….’ But it still didn’t feel right, after a few ‘turns’ I finally looked down to see two of the straightest legs ever you have ever seen on a pair of skies immediately following by a crash! I got myself up, brushed myself off, and started to ski again. Again something didn’t feel right. I told myself to bend my knees, I looked down and saw, again, the mystery straight legs and then the now familiar feeling of being on my back sliding backwards towards a tree that has no intentions of getting out of my way (Alpine trees are like that and when you have a pack on you have a funny way of resembling a turtle on its back caught in sand)! Instantly I started to feel nervous! I did not know how on earth I was going to make it down the hill; I had forgotten how to ski!

Once powder, now shreddedOnce powder, now shredded

I made it through the traverse but not without its frustrations and fears! The next day proved to be no better. I stood at the top of the steepest slope I have ever been on top of. I was watching everyone else in my group go down with an easy ‘swoosh, swoosh, swoosh’ as they made each turn. I was next and I have never been so scared in my life. I knew that there was a time that I could do it but I wasn’t sure now with my recently lost ski legs. I took off… I badly wanted to hear that same ‘swoosh, swoosh, and swoosh’ that I had heard from everyone else. Unfortunately all I heard was a hard ‘thud’! Followed by the sound of scrapping skies as they slide haphazardly across the snow! Again, I kept telling myself that there was an easier way to do this! However, each time that I looked down at my legs, they were straight and uncooperative!

Heading HomeHeading Home

I made it down the hill that day but spent the rest of day in the cabin while the rest of the party enjoyed the amazing snow and slopes that this terrain had to offer. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be out there; it was that I knew that if I stayed out much longer I was going to seriously hurt myself or someone else in the party! Only Goofy in old time cartoons can get away with skiing like that and live to see the next episode!

Lost: A nice pair of athletic, cautiously confident, female ski legs with matching knees. Last seen somewhere on a ski slope in British Columbia. If found, please return to owner! Reward being offered!

  • Summer or winter, skiing is always on the mind!
  • by Jaymi Newington
  • Published on May 24th, 2009
By David Gluzman @ Wells Gray National Park

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