Sunday, March 28, 2010

Skiing the Back Country in Telluride with Scott Kennett

Back Country Tracks with Scotty Kennett.

I had the day off today, it was bluebird in Telluride after a 22-25" dump, and I wanted to go skiing. I've been doing wedge Christies on green runs for six days, and while that's going to be very helpful in getting my trainer passport signed off, its not the most fun I've ever had skiing.

I put on my first ever pair of free ski clothes (purple pants! I own purple ski pants!), and my backpack and headed up to mountain village with my fat skis. I walked up to the line up hoping to catch some runs with some of the awesome ski instructors I've made friends with over the last few days.

Fred, the director, was busy and not in boots, and I couldn't find the other group of folks I've been hanging out with. I figured I'd just wait till line up was done and then tag along with whatever posse went out, and then someone waved at me. I remembered talking to him about Aspen Extreme... Scotty Kennett. Wait, he had done some of the stunt skiing in Aspen Extreme! I walked over to hang out and chat with them while I was waiting for line up to end, and he asked what I was up to.

"Well, do you guys want to go free skiing if you get cut?" I asked.

"Are you wearing a transceiver?" he asked.

"Of course." I answered.

Scotty smiled huge and unzipped his ski school coat, he was also wearing a transceiver. "Lets go see Frank" he said.

We walked over to his supervisor, and he got the morning off. Five minutes later he was in a 10th Mountain Division coat and riding a pair of huge fat Wagner Custom skis, also 10th Mountain Division tribute, and we were on the lift eating a hot chocolate muffin. I had no idea where we were going or what we were going to ski, and I didn't really care. I just knew this guy knows the mountain, and I want to go play!

I couldn't believe my luck. We hit it off on the lift, talking about our families, his wife is an accupressurist, about skiing, and about PSIA and freeskiing (future blog posts currently brewing, please stay tuned...) We ripped down to chair 14, up and out of Revelation Bowl and into Little Nellie's Mine area, and the Bear Creek back country.

A short hike later, Scotty was cinching up his backpack and heading out onto a moderate slope in snow that I hoped wasn't sun baked. I had to wait for his holler, and I wondered what the slope was like after the six turns I could see. I decided just to spoon his tracks and not worry too much about it. We had left the ski area, and there were about three sets of tracks out here, and nothing else.

Scott Kennett surveys our tracks in the late March Powder. Backcountry, Telluride.

Turns out it was beautiful knee deep powder, and I was a bit frustrated with myself for having some reticence in my skiing, I wasn't sure what was below, and while I've been skiing off the Cat on Aspen Mountain quite a bit at the end of the season, and really feeling strong and confident in the powder, I was acutely aware that we were outside the gate and that we didn't want to fall here. Scott's tracks went into a little pinch, and I skied happily right into it, and then I noticed that there were three big rocks in the middle of the pinch, and I was eighting his tracks, so I couldn't take his line.

I didn't really want to keep him waiting, and I saw a possibility for a long turn around them, took it, snagged the rock with my uphill ski and went down. Not a bad fall, lost the ski, a little sough slide, dug in, heart pounding, set up, clicked back in, wished I'd just ollied the rocks and not worried about it, let it go, and skied out. Scott was grinning on top of the safe zone.

"Um, sorry, I didn't expect the rock." I said, lamely.

"Thats alright. People realize when they are skiing with me that they might not always want to go where I'm going because sometimes it gets tight in there." he said.

Of course, right then, all I could think was RIGHT ON! I will now follow and just be prepared for the fact that I need to not just think about turning but look for the technical fun aspect. There could be a rock or a quick turn. Right. I guess I've gotten used to lower consequence skiing since I left Bridger. Suddenly, we were in terrain that reminded me a lot of Bridger, but now, I'm a much better skier. Suddenly, I was really excited to see how I could ski this stuff! Who was this guy?

This is just about as happy as I get. The only thing better would be to be skiing it with my kids one day!!

Turns out he's been in a ton of movies, and has won a gajillion free ride and extreme comps. Turns out he can ski. Turns out hes also really easy to hang out with. Mellow, low key, happy to be out skiing, as we toured around he showed me the Wedding Peaks, and all the lines he'd love to ski, route-finding all over the Bear Creek Valley. We had at least five good long shots of deep powder snow, some technical couloir skiing, some bumps, a little tree to huck off of... a creek to cross (whoops...).

It was by far my favorite day on skis to date. I skied better than I knew I could in all kinds of snow conditions, and I learned so much. We practiced the Scot Schmidt jump turn where you jump off your uphill leg using your downhill leg as a cantilever, at one point, Scotty skied me into a tight little coulie that was only as wide as my skis.

"Okay, Tight Couloir Skiing 101." and he dropped down into it, did about 8 perfect hop turns without bashing tips or tails into the walls and skied out. I slid in. Wow. I hope my skis come around! The coulie was full of powder, deep enough that I wasn't sure I could bring my skis 180 degrees around without something solid to push off of.

Local Skier Sam Eidleman (I may have got his last name wrong, sorry Sam!) straights it down some tight inbounds chutes. While we were traversing out, we saw another extreme situation, a snowboarder getting ready to huck a 50 foot waterfall. All in a day's play here in Telluride.

Well, Kate, what do you need to do to make this happen? You need to intend, very seriously, that your skis come around and you make this turn. All intention goes to making this turn correctly. None goes to what usually happens or what might happen.

Light as a feather, they whipped around and edge set without sliding, I was in the middle of my ski and ready to go again. Pleasantly surprised that it worked, I did it five or six more times and happily skied out. Scotty whipped around the corner and rolled off a big rock right under the chairlift (we were back in bounds now and skiing with a wonderful woman, Sue, game for anything...)

Full of excitement and the thrill of the soft landing beneath, I hopped off without even worrying, no pause. I'd watched him jump while I'd approached, I could see the landing, I didn't even want to stop. It wasn't much more than 8 or 10 feet, and off I went, landed fine, little sit down (better air position next time when I'm not thinking, oh, wow, did I just ski off that without even thinking of stopping first?) and rolled up to Scotty laughing.

By the end of the day, my face hurt from smiling so much. I'd sat down a total of three times, skied all my favorite kind of terrain (although I'd love to be in the air more more more, and have more practice on steep steep steep...) only thrown a shoe once, and I felt bliss in my heart clean through to my toes.

We just kept skiing. Lapping chair 14, we skied down steeps, into little couloirs and shots, off rocks, in bumps, through trees, in sunbaked slush and thigh deep powder, through velvety crud and on billy goated over rocks to get down into some stuff. Adventure skiing, happy, playful, in deep soft snow under a bluebird Telluride sky.

My thighs are completely shot. I kid you not, I can barely walk. I'm not bone weary exhausted, but my legs are used and abused and I love it.

Telluride is a truly unique place, the back country access is epic, beautiful and LONG! I'm so grateful to the ski school for having me as their guest, and to all the pros that have been so welcoming and helpful, and to Scotty for taking me out free skiing all day long. Absolutely my best day ever on skis.

And the best part... I'm thinking of doing a mental performance camp next year called Pucker Factor, all about skiing in conditions that feel extreme to you. Guess who offered to be a teacher? You got it. Scotty Kennett.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Telluride Telluride Telluride!

I'm guest teaching in Telluride this week! I was a little nervous because I'm wearing my Aspen ski school uniform, and I was worried that people would be mean or standoffish, or confused about why I was there.

I have to say that I'm amazed at how incredibly welcoming people have been! First of all, the town is incredible. It has this amazingly authentic feel, its kept its character, and while its expensive, the people that work in Telluride seem to be able to live in Telluride, which is impressive.

The free gondola (which runs from 7am to midnight every night, and till 2 am when there are special events) connects the historic town to the mid mountain village and even more housing. The village is beautifully designed, full of all the things you want in a resort, mountain shops and restaurants, hotels, an ice skating rink, great coffee, a couple of pubs, and so on. From there, the gondola continues on to another location I haven't even been to yet, and there's another free transportation system called the Chondola, so you can get from the bottom of Chair 10 back up to the village for free as well.

They used 10 million dollars in highway funds to build it, with a total cost of 12 million dollars, and right now, there is a greening initiative. Telluride seems to be on top of the greening thing, as Chair 4 in cooperation with Cliff Bar and Telluride Mtn Resort is now offset by wind power. Impressive and creative.

When I first got here, I was in the coffee shop at mid mountain early in the morning, feeling strange and conspicuous in my Aspen Mountain uniform, and a guy came up to me, and said, "You are Kate, right? They told me you were coming, welcome to Telluride! How is it going? Do you have any questions?" This was CT, an instructor here.

I was shocked, and psyched. How nice to feel welcomed. I was so worried that people would feel like I was taking work from them or stepping on their toes.

The reason that I'm here is because my clients are twin 5 year old boys, one of whom has a varied and severe food alergy. Its a complex allergy and he's had several very close calls. The parents don't feel comfortable putting him in ski school, and do trust me to be very careful about his food. And consequently, since they like to ski in more than one location, I travel with them so that I can teach the kids and the parents can relax and not stress out about the diet.

Of course, I would be allowed to travel as an instructor to several resorts, Aspen has reciprocal teaching privileges with lots of places, but I guess I just feel that its "valid" in this instance? For the other pros, I guess.

In any event, no one seems to care or need a reason for me to be here, the first time I ran into another pro up top, Christy, she asked me if I was going to go into the Enchanted Forest with the kids (this is a HUGE network of tree trails that are just insanely fun). I told her I was, and she gave me the lowdown on the easiest way through and how to find the markers so we didn't end up stuck in the tough stuff in the middle of these trees.

Every time I've run into her since, she's asked me how I'm doing, and introduced me to other pros, and taken time out to see if I'm finding my way around the mountain.

Another pro, Raymo, came up to me in the lift line and introduced himeself, and asked if I am finding my way around okay. He gave me a quick run down on how to get around the huge network of green runs so the kids could feel like they were having an adventure and not just lapping the same run over and over again. We ended up in the Ute terrain park, which is all snow features, and I have to say, I've never ridden anything as fun. Huge banked turns, rollers, kickers, it went on and on and on. I can't wait to go back up there and roll through it with some speed!

The teaching terrain here is unbelievable. Today, we skied a "double green" (Advanced Beginner) that was over four miles long. It started at 11,815 ft, where the kids could see the beautiful hiking terrain and really feel the top of the mountain experience, and wound its way all the way to the very bottom. Talk about mileage. These kids have skied the mountain top to bottom so many times that I've lost count. And because there is so much green terrain, they feel like they are skiing the whole mountain. If Aspen had a gondola from Highlands to Buttermilk to Aspen Mountain, it would be the same. Incredible. In fact, if Aspen had a free gondola that ran all night from Durant St at Aspen Mtn all the way up and over to the Highlands village, I bet the Highlands Village would be a pretty rockin' place!!

Anyhow, Telluride is really wonderful. I went and had a beer tonight with Willie, an instructor whom I met at Powder 8s, and Fred Rumsford, the ski school director, and it was awesome to feel plugged right in to the network, and really welcomed here.

All I have to say is, I'm impressed. I hope that we are able to really nurture this teaching exchange and keep it up, I think all it can do is drive up business for everyone. While I love my clients to ski in Aspen, and I know they will continue to do so because its their favorite place, when they've decided to go somewhere else for one of their three yearly ski vacations, I will certainly send them to Telluride.

Monday, March 22, 2010

From Andrew McLean: Wrangell-Saint Elias Steep Camp ~ April 19-25

From Andrew McLean's Blog:

This sounds too good to be true – a week long steep skiing camp in the greatest mountains on earth, the Wrangell-Saint Elias range. This is being put together by Eli Potter of Alaska Wild Alpine and will be based out of the Ultima Thule Lodge where we will be flying with Paul Claus in his Turbine Otter. In conjunction with Eli and the Ultima Thule crew, I’ll (Andrew McLean) be guiding for the entire outing and space is limited to a small group.

For the full post from Andrew's Blog, click HERE.

Couch Surfing makes for instant friends and good late nights.

I rolled into Telluride last night at about 8pm, driving a rental car with a radio! Its been so long since I drove a car with windows, I could talk on my phone and actually hear the other person, I could roll up the windows and turn up the tunes, the tires aren't bald... the transmission works, it doesn't scream like a banshee when you turn left because it needs power steering fluid... and it only took a half a tank of gas to drive all the way from Aspen to Telluride. Yes, indeedy do.

The town here is cooler than I ever expected, I envisioned it as some sort of Jackson Hole, with boardwalks and western theme redoux, but its not. It reminds me of the Venice Beach canals crossed with that section of San Francisco thats all full of Victorians, but full of tele skiing hippies.

I haven't had a chance to explore the town much yet, as I was lucky enough to find a couch to crash on at my friend Annie's house, and we stayed in drinking tea and talking all night. Annie is an incredible woman, I met her in Crested Butte at Alison Gannet's Rippin Chix camp last year (where I learned to huck my meat modestly), and she has three kids, 14, 8, and 6 and is a single mom, ski instructor and massage therapist. Yes. There's lots of us.

They also have a room mate, just like I do, and his name is Paulie. He's an actor and a ballet dancer, and the son of seasoned mountaineers.

After we did some emergency surgery on Paulie's boot banged toe (hot paperclip through the toenail and press the puss out) we all got to talking about this life we've chosen in the mountains.

Paulie lost his mom and stepdad when he was very young, she died summiting Everest. Annie's teenaged daughter lost her dad in a similar fashion at a young age, and we started to chat about what its like to be a parent, like Weems and Nancy, who lost their son Wallace last year, or what its like to be a child of a parent who dies, like Doug and Emily Coomb's son, who is the same age as my son Bodhi.

I lost my dad when I was 13, and while he was doing something that he loved, it wasn't living outside in the mountains and pursuing his bliss, it was escaping a life that couldn't make him happy. My dad drank himself to death.

I think about these things a lot, because people have asked me if I should be skiing in the back country, if I should be skiing in the trees, if I should aspire, as I do, to ski mountaineering, if I should be learning to jump off rocks on my skis.

I don't have answers, but I do know that Paulie's mom inspired him, and continues to inspire him every day. I know that while the lack of Wallace brings a hollowness that I can't begin to fathom to Weems, the gift that he was burns bright in people who have never even met him, and I watch Weems hold that and be filled with pride and inspiration about it.

I know that I remember my own dad as an incredible figure, he was huge, 6'3", an opera singer, a cuddler, with a rumbly bear like voice and a sense of humor that made people laugh and feel at ease instantly. I miss him every day, but I'm not angry at him for living so briefly in my world.

I think that what I walk away from after talks like this is that the important thing is that you make a bold choice that makes you feel you are honoring your life path. I think every person has to measure what makes sense for them as far as risk in their life goes.

Shane McConkey died and left a three year old daughter and a wife. I didn't know him personally, but my guess is that he valued and loved both of them deeply, with a passion that a person who makes a bold choice in their life is capable of. I'm sure that after the 700+ jumps he'd made, he felt that his risk was acceptable. I don't think that this is something that can be measured by anyone else. I think that its risk that should be measured, and thought on, but I think that ultimately, to live in your world vibrantly, and presently, you have to make peace with yourself and only yourself on that measure. And that measure is different for all of us.

I agree that you can get hit crossing the street. I have been more injured driving my truck to school than I ever have been skiing. (Although I've lost count of the bones I've broken in the last four years, but that's not the point.)

I don't know what's right, I don't know that there IS a right. I believe that to be the best mom I can be, I need to love my children fiercely, let them feel that they are my heart, let them know that they help my skis turn and my feet plod up the mountain, let them know that they are the blue sky to me, and make choices in my life that make me feel alive, connected, and like I'm giving back.

I choose not to stay inside my nest, lest I get rear ended in my truck or something avalanches, or I wouldn't have a heart to give to them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heli Skiing in Cordova, Alaska

Chris Anthony is up in Alaska enjoying some amazingly clear weather and check out THIS ridiculous landing zone! Um, YES PLEASE!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

And then all promptly fell apart.

Here's another thing I love about sport. Once you touch it, it disappears. You have to chase down this elusive feeling that you visited briefly, trying to get your body to do whatever it was doing when you were skiing behind someone whose skiing makes sense to you to get it back.

I had a chairlift ride with Vance the other day, another incredible Aspen Mountain Pro, and I was chatting with him. He asked me how things were going with my trainer passport, and I told him that I wasn't sure about this one type of turn. I'd been able to do it skiing behind Kurt, and then I'd had it strongly for the rest of the morning, and on and off after lunch, and then just a little the next morning, and by lunch of the second day, it was gone.

I said to him, "I don't know, I guess I just need to get out there and chase Kurt down Copper again and feel it all come together."

Vance looked at me. "No you don't." He said. "You had it for two days, right?"

"Yeah, on and off..."

"Then its in there. You've felt it enough. You know what you are not doing, you know what it felt like to do it right. Go figure it out yourself."

I thought about this for a second. He's absolutely right of course.

"Thank you. I guess I just needed someone to tell me that I know how to do it."

"Whatever," he said, "I don't know if you know how to do it or not, or even what it is. But if you did "it" for two days, you know how to do whatever it is. The answer is inside of you already. Just quit whining and get out there and ski it till you figure it out."

Awesome. So I did, I went skiing, thinking about what I'd done before, and what the ski was or was not feeling like now, and suddenly, it was back. Only this time, it wasn't Kurt's turn, it was my version of Kurts turn. It was my understanding of the turn that I want to execute. And while I know it has a long way to go, it felt good to find the cues and ask myself to put them together, trusting that the turn would work even without a safety in front of me proving it all the way down the hill.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Today, it all clicked

Today was one of those days where you realize that while its hard to make the right decision, and sometimes you question it over and over, and it hurts and its scary, when you get through to the other side, there is peace.

I woke up this morning and felt whole again. I got on my skis early, and took a rippin' run down Copper Gulch, chasing Kurt. I've been trying to make this turn that Kurt can make since I met him three years ago. He has this turn... in my mind I call it a Condor turn, where both skis are active, engaged, bending, but hes not over pressuring them. Its an amazingly round, finished turn, but it moves down the hill, there is an economy of motion of the body that is beautiful.

I've never been able to ski Spar or Copper top to bottom without gaining speed. I've never been able to ski it in a high end performance turn without fighting the external pressures constantly, getting hucked back against my boots and fighting to get forward, tails breaking free, I've never been able to guide the ski to the fall line with patience, but with good penetration of the snow surface, and trust that its going to come back.

I've been working with Jonathan Ballou for a few days, building blocks on top of what Weems gave me, on top of what Cindy gave me, on top of what Kurt gave me... and this week it all synthesized.

Ballou once again had me doing whitepass turns on the groom, and railroad tracks, and I love the fact that these are drills I was using to get my skills up when I was going for my level 2. There is always more work to do, there is always more specificity that can be had.

The reward is that after working so hard for three weeks to change my movement pattern, (Well, I've been working all season on understanding and unlocking it) today, it all clicked.

Today, I was able to come across onto a strong outside leg that didn't collapse and drive the ski in an arc away from my body, finishing strong, and releasing again to lengthen the other ski.

I was against the front of the boot comfortably all the way down, there was no divergence, there was no a frame, there was no compensatory movement, I felt like I was a water skier in a three dimensional box, carving through the surface and playing with it.

I think that spending time in the powder turned my touch up pretty high, and playing with turn shape out there gave me permission to trust more on the groom.

One run down copper behind Kurt did it. The rest of the day I played with it. It started to fade by the end of the day, I'm going to have to chase him down again and make sure that I own it, but something significant changed about the way I understand how the ski operates in the snow, and with that understanding came freedom to play in a way that I never have.

I had a similar break through in the bumps... but I'm sooo tired I have to go to sleep now! More on the bump break through tomorrow.

And cross your fingers, tomorrow morning I enter into the second phase of interviews to become a Diamond Pro!

Cat Skiing with Julia and Katie

I have the tremendous good fortune to have a really nice job. This past week, I got to go cat skiing with each dump we got. Julia and Katie and I went out into the Aspen back country with Aspen Powder Tours on some huge fat skis, and skied fresh powder all day long.

Its an incredible experience, and the terrain is perfect for someone who is a high intermediate level skier. Its mellow in pitch, with enough turns that you don't get exhausted, but you get into a rhythm. We had about 6" of snow each day, just enough for a beginning powder skier to learn to bounce. When there is a bottom like that, you have something you can push on just in case. And if you can butter your skis just right, you never have to hit the bottom.

Its an incredible ego booster for the skiers, to realize that they can ski conditions like this, and the great thing is that they can take their instructor on the cat for free. So you get all day practicing powder with an instructor there to help you out.

We met a ton of cool people on the cat, rocked the iPod all day on the way back up to the top, ate an amazing lunch at the little cabin in the woods, and bounced our way to bliss all day long.

For more information, visit Aspen Powder Tours

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I can read my mind, but not yours, and i'm okay with that.

I've been working for the last three years or so on becoming more grounded. On trusting my choices, and why I make them. I've been focusing specifically on my own boundaries and understanding the impetus behind the choices I make.

This past summer, I hired a therapist with the explicit goal of learning to trust that the decisions I made came from healthy roots and not from some sort of learned coping or knee jerk behavior. It was a tough summer, in order to make a change like that, I had to look hard at my belief systems about relationships, about what attracts us to each other, in friendships or in love relationships, and be willing to ask why, what was this connection fulfilling?

As I've traveled down this path, I have found my feet sinking further into the ground, my heart feels easy and true with many things. The easiest thing to feel connected to and sure of the choices I was making was with my kids. Are they getting what they need? Is there balance there? Are they with me enough, apart from me enough, challenged enough, happy and fulfilled without being enabled and smothered?

These questions made it easy for me to find my path with them, I feel like I walk down it easily. I can read the signs, I understand why I make the decisions that I make, and the "self coaching" cues make for simple corrections along the way.

When I look at my career path, while its constantly full of things that I don't expect, I feel like I'm able to navigate those waters well. Does this ring true and clean, does it propel me down my path, am I giving back?

When I look at my personal relationships, I get a little lost. I have a hard time making my boundaries as strong as they need to be, and as a result, I reach for what I need whether its there or not. Tonight, my mom was out at the symphony, and the kids and I watched our first Warren Miller movie, Storm.

They went to bed talking about wanting to skin up a mountain, and I fell apart on the couch until Alisa came home. It came over me suddenly, this wave of emotion, and I just waded around in it, wondering what it meant.

There's four weeks left in the season, the days are getting longer, and I'm booked till the end of the season. Which is lovely. And when I'm on my skis, or with my kids, my world makes sense. Moving through the snow, connecting to my student, snuggling my boys, reading, walking, adventuring with them, this is all open, no noise, sensible.

I feel sure, I feel grounded, I feel accurate, I feel flexible and present. And when I am with my friends, I feel the same way, but to a lesser degree, my understanding of where and who I am is not always on point. When I look at my heart, I sometimes feel clear as day, and often feel lost.

I wonder if that's because I believe in honesty, truth, no game playing, and I try really hard to understand where the other person is coming from so that the message going both ways is as clear as it can be, but I can't read someone else's mind. So while I strive to know if my actions are clean in impetus, I can't know if someone elses are. I can't look inside and see if the honesty they feel they are expressing is honesty or bitterness, I can't tell if the truth they are telling me is convenient truth for them which gets them what they want... As careful as I want to be, to make good choices, and come from a place that's true, I can only do what I can do.

And I suppose, once again, that this is a lesson in letting go. When I coach people, I talk to them about what they can control and what they can't. When we are talking about skiing, I ask them; can you control the weather? Can you control the snow conditions? Can you control who you are skiing against?

No. But can you control what you put in your mouth and how much sleep you've gotten. Making the conscious decision to work hard in the areas where you have the ability to make and impact and letting go of the areas where you don't, allowing them to be organic and developing, that is the trait of a person who moves through their world in a grounded way.

So for me, I think all I can do is hope to continue becoming a more whole person, practice loving as selflessly as I can, and stay true to that. Whatever comes back at me will tell its own story, and I need to listen, without wishing, imposing or wanting. I need to hear the other person and decide if what they are giving me bumps a boundary, or rests comfortably within.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lovin' my Icebreaker

So I'm lucky enough to be sponsored by Icebreaker Pure Merino Wool! Earlier this season, just as my last Patagonia wool long underwear dissolved into Swiss cheese, I got a box in the mail of the most exquisite base layers I've ever had the pleasure to wear.

My favorite piece? Aside from the 260 weight capri long underwear (perfect for skiing) and the socks (cleverly marked R and L, and knit to fit your big toe, fill up your ski boots where they should and leave room where you could use some), and the sweaters and the neck gaiter and the delicious Olympia top...

My favorite has to be the boy-short underwear. Like a warm cloud on your tush, it has an amazingly flattering cut, and is warm on those icy chairlifts. I never feel sweaty or uncomfortable in them, and I could live in them forever!

To shop for YOUR favorite piece, visit!

Ski in Valbruna, Italy!

I'm lucky enough to get to teach in Italy next year! I'll be teaching for a private client with Chris Anthony, who does a "Wine and Dine with a Skiing Problem" every year. We'll be doing a similar trip to that one, which you can take a look at here:

If this looks like fun to you, and YOU'D like to ski with Chris, go to Chris's website and check out all his other fun ski adventures as well! Portillo Chile, Alaska, Italy, and on and on.


I just had an INCREDIBLE donation to my training. A few days ago, I was the lucky recipient of a brand new 27" iMac and a color printer! A COMPUTER THAT WORKS! It was from a friend who would like to be able to see photos on my blog.

This computer is not only faster than you'd ever believe, but it handles and compresses images so easily, suddenly, I'm a blogging foooool!

Thank you SO VERY MUCH for this incredibly generous gift, I'm grateful beyond measure, and excited to get to writing!

Exploring the Corridor of Possibility

I was in Deep Temerity with a client a few days ago. We'll call him John. We got committed, or as an instructor friend of mine would say, "hung".

John froze. He looked down at the terrain-- a steep bumpy funnel that emptied out into some trees for about ten turns-- that he now had to ski, wishing that wasn't the case.

I watched his energy leave his body, I watched him float right up into his head and get swamped by all the terrible "what if's".

This moment in skiing is probably more what my job is about than anything else. Teaching someone how to effectively use the ski in the snow is helpful, but you can't expect to do anything like that if you've left your body and are telling yourself stories about why it's unlikely that you will succeed.

"John, I know you wish that you didn't have to turn here. But wishing you didn't have to make this turn does not change the fact that you have to make this turn. Eventually, you are going to have to ask your body to do what you need to do-- to head down the hill and turn your skis under you," I told him. It was time for some tough love.

He nodded, quietly. He wasn't back in his boots yet, he was still staring, wide-eyed and spaced out, behind his goggles at all the trees he could hit if he messed this up.

Now, this is terrain that is appropriate for John, we've been in short pitches with similar conditions and obstacles. Today, it was time to explore a larger canvas and see how he handled himself.

Right now, he was hanging himself out to dry.

I thought about this place and what it felt like for me to be in steep, high-consequence terrain for the first time. Just beginning to realize that it was appropriate for me to ski something marked double black diamond. I remember standing at the top of Hidden in Bridger Bowl, a steep chute with rocky walls, and thinking about all the possible consequences. I could see myself getting into the backseat and rocketing out into the rock wall, gaining speed and missing the hairpin turn, loosing a ski and tumbling into the rocks, sliding to the bottom and landing on my face... The possibilities for failure were endless.

But none of that changed the fact that if I was going to ski down that thing, I had to concentrate only on the center of the chute, the Corridor of Possibility. The things that could go wrong had to fade into the sidelines, like people standing on the sidewalk as you drive by. The only thing to see, to think was the white space where my skis would turn.

The next most important thing was to make sure that I was asking my body to actively and happily make the movements that I had to make to ask the skis to come around. If I held back, if I skied worried, or defensive, or unsure, something would go wrong, and just like self-fulfilling destiny, into the rocks I'd go.

"John, what do you have to do to make just this turn?" He looked at me.

"Move forward."

"Okay. Do that. Just this turn. Just one turn. Let's get moving. The longer you stare at it, the steeper it gets. Stem if you need to, but ask your body to move down the hill. You gotta WANNA! Show me that you want to make this turn."

He looked at me. He moved his body down the hill, his skis came around. "Wanna" he said under his breath.

Over the course of the run, John got a bit freer, realized that he was able, he was moving. He stopped every ten bumps or so to recollect, and over the course of the run, we talked about intention, about what it was like in that moment of absolute fear to find the thing that you enjoyed about being here. Was it pride of accomplishment? Was it the sensation of your feet turning under you? Was it the one-out-of-every-ten bumps that you skied well that made you feel so excited? Was it suddenly realizing that you could actually ski somewhere you never contemplated you could go, let alone ski well?

He made it. We scooted out of there and onto the cat track, and headed down to the chair. On the way up, it occurred to me as John began to breathe again, as he lifted his goggles up and grinned a slightly teary grin at me, that the Corridor of Possibility is where I'd like to live every day.

John was looking off into the trees, telling me that he hoped he'd never loose this lesson, that he alone has the power to destroy himself or clear the path through to the end.

I feel that I'd like to live in the Corridor of Possibility not just in the snow, but in my life. To acknowledge the things that can pull me off my path, destroy me, challenge me. To see them and to let go of them. In acknowledging their presence I take my power back; they become objects along the way, not menaces poised to take me down. And suddenly, there is a Corridor, a Way Through, and I begin to flow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

National Powder 8 Championships

Jill Dorken and kate howe prepare for the seeding run at the National Powder 8 Championships in Aspen, CO.

I had my first opportunity to ski in a competition! The US National Powder 8 Championships was at Aspen again this year, and I entered with my friend Jill Dorken from Canada.

To be quite honest, I was terrified until about a week before the competition. Okay, until about two days before the competition when I finally got in the bowl.

Powder skiing has not historically been my strong suit, and I was worried about being able to make round, rhythmic, predictable turns in the steepest part of the bowl in powder.

Lucky me, the bowl was all skied out and was full of rather rowdy, minimally bumped up chalk! This is the snow condition that I've trained on the most, perhaps, especially when I was going for the Level 3.

It was interesting, too, to talk to Megan and Cindy and Jill, all of whom told me individually that they were really nervous about the bowl to downright terrified of it. It was surprising to hear, and it made me feel like perhaps I'd just go and do the best that I could, and if I made funky, sharp, heavy on the bottom turns, well, that would be what I would do.

Jill was phenomenal during the proceeding weeks at getting me to believe that I'd be fine and she'd ski whatever turn I made right behind me. Finally I stopped worrying about her ability to cover me and just worked on my skiing.

Two days before the comp, I got to take a client up into the bowl, and we skied down the North Woods trees, g3, which were steep and wonderful. I felt that demonstrating in the trees was actually pretty good, and that perhaps I'd ski slower than I wanted to in the bowl, but that I was capable of making the turn I needed to make.

The day of the comp, we all signed in and got our National Powder 8 loot, which was wonderful, and headed up there chair at about 8:15. We had a few free runs before the seeding round, and Jill and I were clicking well. We were enjoying ourselves, rocking out to music together, and being generally silly.

My nerves were gone, and I felt happy to be competing, present, and tuned in to Jill, who was slowly amping out of her boots. We worked on it together, and it felt good.

Our first run wasn't our best, but in our second, we clicked, and we ended up coming in third place! This would be third out of five women's teams, and one spot above Cindy and Megan. I was blown away. I could have quit then and been quite happy. But even better than that, my mom and my friend Virginia had uploaded in their tennies to watch, and were sitting at the bottom of the run with the judges.

I can't tell you what it did to my heart to have my mom and my great friend sitting there, watching me do this ridiculous thing that meant so much to me. They jumped up and down and cheered and hugged me, they watched a total of about fifteen minutes of skiing, and downloaded again because of course, they can't watch the bowl run without hiking up it.

We took a quick food break and then headed up to the bowl. The hike was spectacular again, blue sky, sunny, warm, friends all around, and we gathered at the top and heard the results of the seeding round. I knew we were in trouble as soon as I saw Megan and Cindy's face. They are fierce competitors, and both are incredible skiers. They were going to step it up, and so I would also have to.

There was no more room for what if I can't ski this well, what if I can't make the right kind of turn, this was time for gold or explode, this was time for make the turn or eject trying to.

We headed out into G8, which was steep and rowdy and chalky, and I pulled out my iPod and cranked up some Led Zeppelin. As I was standing there, one ear bud in my ear, and one in Andy Docken's, I looked around at my fellow competitors. I knew most of them from the Demo Team, from Tryouts, from Academy... I've skied with them for three years, and have always been chasing the group. Welcome, and okay with being waaay out of their league, but chasing.

I looked around and I realized, standing in the sun there, that we'd come in third. That Megan and Cindy were going to line up next to us, we'd choose the lane because we were one up on them. I looked around at this strong field of skiers and realized that I belonged in this group. I have finally become a strong enough skier that I'm not chasing them down and hoping that I don't explode, but that I can actually ski with them.

I felt proud and calm in that moment, like I was sinking through my boots and into the snow. I was proud of myself for feeling good in that group before my feet could really reliably keep me there, and proud of myself for continuously working on my skiing until one day, I was in the ballpark. I have a ton of work to do on my skiing, and a long way to go. But things still change every day, every run I gain some understanding, and now, I'm moving from a different place.

I think a lot of this impetus came from Cindy being willing to tell me that I needed to stop apologizing for my history, my skiing, the length of time I've been in the sport, that I need to own that this is what I do and move on from there.

Suddenly, it was our turn, and we chose the skiers left lane, across from Megan and Cindy. I was in front, with Megan, and Jill was in back, across from Cindy. I remember looking across at Megan and thinking to myself, this is happening. I am lined up across from Megan and I am going to ski against her in the bowl. She can light it up and ski me into the ground, but somehow the parameters of the Powder 8s made it possible that we could contend for a top spot against my mentor and friends.

Racers ready, GO! We took off and immediately, the first two turns I'm tossed into the back seat, rolling up the windows, its much rowdier in here than I thought, and the next thought that came into my mind as Megan came arcing back toward me was, I'm on sync with Megan. She hasn't taken it down the hill more than me. This speed is okay, and I can ski this speed, and I can ski it better than I am.

I'm not looking at the snow in front of me, I'm just trying to absorb everything and let the skis turn. I pulled it together and made probably my best turns ever in the bowl. Unfortunately, I hit the same knuckle that had tossed everyone else, and had quite a bobble in there, and Jill was slowly left up hill of me. Megan and I stayed on sync to the end, crossing the finish line at the same time, and it was over, I'd done it, and Jill and I had fulfilled our motto, "TEAM UPRIGHT!"

The whole field was invited onto the Cat the next day, and we skied down to await the results. We were sooo sad to hear that we had placed terribly, and weren't really sure why that had happened, but we weren't too concerned about it, happy personally with our performance in the bowl, and excited to go cat skiing.

The next day dawned extremely serious, I was up till two in the morning having some super serious conversations and contemplating all manner of things that made it difficult to concentrate on the fact that I was entering the second day of the national championships.

We got up there early and loaded the cats, heading out to the little Annie's hill, on three inches of breakable crust over bottomless rotten sugar. I've never skied snow like this before, and I wasn't quite sure how to handle it. everyone got extremely nervous as we hiked up a little hill to test out the snow. I was alarmed to discover that i couldn't turn at all in it. I wasn't sure how I was going to handle that, but I figured, well, if worst comes to worst, I'll just stem Christie my way down it.

Jill and I were to go first, the fourth place team against the new third place team, and we lined up while they set the start. Finally, I'd decided on my tactics and was pretty psyched to get going, and they decided to bring the men in first to do their first run and break up the snow, so that it would be easier for us to ski.

We watched the men ski down and it looked relatively easy. We got a snow report back that they hadn't punched through till the bottom, and we lined up again, Jill and I overlapping the lane that Schanzy and Docken had just taken. We took off, me covering Jill, and our first four turns were dead on. We were clicking, skiing well, and it felt good.

I moved across and in, edged my skis on this cardboard box we were skiing in, and my outside ski fell in a hole that they boys had made when they'd punched through much higher than I'd expected. Suddenly, i was on the ground. Instantly. It hadn't occur ed to me that I might fall, after not falling in the bowl, i thought I might ski poorly, but the thought of a fall was foreign.

I was on the ground instantly, whipping my neck pretty good and sitting there, stunned and watching Jill ski away from me. I got up and packed out the huge hole I'd made in the snow, still high enough up to have conversations with people at the start. I skied down, burning with disappointment, I wanted to know where we'd have placed had we continued skiing like that.

Everyone was very kind at the bottom, and I sat and watched the rest of the competition. As I watched, it occurred to me that I would have fallen on turn three or six or eleven anyway, because this was phenomenally challenging snow, and I didn't know how to ski it.

After the comp was over, and Cindy and Megan had taken first place (YEAH!), we ate lunch and had the opportunity to be towed to the top again on the snowmobiles. I cornered Jonathan Ballou and Kevin Jordan and had them explain to me what their thoughts were on skiing it.

Finally, I had Kevin show me with his hands, while describing the things he was feeling while going through the turn. Eight laps later, I had it. Breakable crust, Buttery retraction turn.

The day was a complete and total success and win, my skiing changed dramatically, and by the last lap, i was skiing with the speed and confidence and technique that I would have needed to actually contend in the first lap where I crashed.

Huge congratulations to all the competitors for skiing SO well in such challenging snow, and to Megan and Cindy for crushing it in the Bowl and on the backside! Thanks to Schanzy for putting this amazing event together, it changed my skiing and helped prepare me for tryouts! I can't wait to get after it again next year!

Learning as you go.

How do you know when the decisions you make are right in your life? How can you be sure that you are doing things that make sense in the long run, and not just protecting yourself in the short run?

Living this far away from Michael has been brutal. My job is strange, strange to me as well as to him. Its wonderful, but strange. While we worked hard to make sure that our places in each others hearts were honored well, protected and held sacred, somehow, it just wasn't enough.

I have been invited by clients on amazing adventures, to go to Paris for the weekend, to Huston for a concert for the evening, to Italy to teach, to Mexico to surf over the summer. I go to dinner with my clients occasionally, and I develop personal relationships with them. I believe that all of these offers for trips come from an honorable place, several of my clients are women, most of my clients are married, and it feels to me like we have a wonderful time together skiing, and that something shifts for them, there is an opening or a facilitation of their energy, they discover playing and their own athleticism, and I've done my job.

And because we connect on a personal level, the idea of spending more time together is appealing. Its for that reason that I'm fortunate enough to have been booked through the rest of the season, with most of my clients from the begining of the season coming back two or three or even four times. They've booked for next year in some cases.

Michael was amazingly supportive of my goal. He loved me going for the demo team. Understanding how we were going to mesh our family of five kids and get everyone in the same town was hard. We were pretty sure it would just work itself out, and we were willing to wait. We might have pulled it off, too.

But the nature of my job coupled with the distance between us and the complexity of our situations made it seem unnavigable.

Michael is entering a huge adventure in his life, his career and path are opening and unfolding and propelling him forward as we step apart, and that is at once gratifying, I'm so very proud of him and happy for him, and at the same time so sad, as I had hoped to stand next to him, to cheer from right there and watched him become.

And so we are apart, looking across a gulf, and I wonder, again, at what price? Would we have made it if I hadn't needed to be here, in Aspen? Would we each have had all that we gave to each other if we hadn't had goals like we both do? Were we meant to be in each others lives so we could learn to love big and free and unafraid, to learn to trust, in each other and in ourselves? Did it have to end for us to learn that lesson?

I'm at a loss for answers, but I do know that I learned to stand on my feet and believe in myself to the sound of Michael's guitar and the sound of all our kids laughing together. And letting go of that because it just doesn't seem to exist in the present, not longing for what was but looking at what is seems to be the lesson I'm to learn today.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

And that's why I love my job.

Pardon the wonky photo, my computer struggles with images currently and it was a bear to get this one up here. But I wanted to share this with you!

Yesterday, I had the honor of taking a client to the top of the Highlands Bowl for the first time.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's how it started. My client, lets call him Cy, came to me and told me, "I'm a quit after lunch kind of guy. I like to ski blue groomers, just cruise, and maybe MAYBE some black bumps. We'll see."

We had two days together. The first day, not only did we not quit after lunch, we skied until the mountain closed. Cy has an incredibly open spirit and a willingness that you hope to find in all your clients, and he made some enormous changes to his skiing in that first day.

He went from zig zaggy heel pusher to front seat round turn skier in about two runs. He was game to get in the bumps, and willing to find the coaching cue that worked for him.

I challenged him to ask himself if he could be disciplined enough to focus on making a change for three runs, and then go out and go wild. He was willing. The change came, it stuck, and we had set ourselves up for success the next day.

The next morning, we were at Highlands with big dreams of hopping in Canopy Cruiser, a never ending bump run in the trees right on the edge of the Highlands bowl. These are double black bumps, so I needed to be sure that the changes we had thought we'd made had actually stuck.

We started out with two groomed runs, hopped into Scarlets, a blue bump run, and had to talk again about patience, how patience in your turn should also equate to patience with yourself. Give it more than five bumps to see if all you learned yesterday is going to stick. How about three runs in the bumps with patience and intent?

It worked. Suddenly things were synthesized, smooth, and we were ready. Unfortunately, we were late, so instead of Canopy Cruiser, we skied Deception, Moment of Truth, Waterfall, Stien and Lower Stein, all double black pitches with huge bumps, all the way to the bottom. Flow, rhythm, willingness to go down the hill, it was all there. I was watching him ski this and I thought to myself, he needs to be in the bowl.

And not only does he need to be in the bowl, he needs to ride this wave and be there today. I knew he could ski it. It wasn't even about the skiing. I just wanted to let him experience the incredible sensation of standing on the top of a mountain you've climbed yourself because you have the skill set to ski down it.

This is not something I get to share with every client, the conditions have to be just right, with the client and with the weather, for it to really click.

We went in and had lunch at the Cloud 9 restaurants, and then we headed out. It was about 40 degrees, sunny, bluebird, no wind. We filled our pockets with Toblerone and water, and headed up the Loge Peak lift, under the huge banner that says "experts only!" and skied up to the waiting spot for the Cat that takes you part way up the bowl.

Cy had told me that he has a fear of heights, and he was concerned about how narrow the hike would get as it went up the ridge. He was concerned about his fitness, that he wasn't strong enough to climb the 780 vertical feet, and that if he couldn't make it, he couldn't come back down.

I knew that he could do it. I had no question. He is stronger than he thinks he is. He is a much better skier than he thinks he is. He has a quiet and open heart, and I knew that he could find his way up this trail. So we waited for the Cat, and I could feel his mounting concern, although he wasn't expressing it. Fear of the unknown, how steep was it? Could he make it? How dangerous was this hike? What if he fell off? What if he couldn't ski it? Why was he torturing himself like this???

The cat pulled up and in we climbed, there was no hesitation, no last ditch effort. We were going to hike up the bowl no matter what. The cat churned along, and I was grateful that he'd chosen to stretch himself, I knew he'd be surprised at how much he had inside.

We hopped out at the top and arranged our gear, and headed off up the bootpack. We had to talk about how to walk, how to use your knee as a hinge, and kick it into the step, and push your body up using your glutes and hamstrings, how to focus on the footsteps. We talked about pace and rhythm, how the trick is to find a pace that you can move at that allows you to keep moving, rather than going too fast and stopping all the way up.

The hike feels sooo much longer than it really is when you don't know how far you are going. And even though it was a beautiful day, and we could see the top, when you aren't used to moving through the mountains, its really hard sometimes to judge how hard it will be to get somewhere or how long it will take.

Cy focused on my feet as they swung and kicked, and we talked about what it felt like to be out there on the ribbon of the top of this mountain, how it was appropriate to feel fear, and that accepting that you feel it and allowing it to be present takes some of its power away.

We did the five sences meditation as we walked, and we found our bliss in the sunshine. Cy was of course much stronger than he thought, and he powered up the bowl with excellent pacing and willingness. The closer we got to the top, the more I could feel him opening. I believe that we are vessels, and my job is to facilitate you filling yourself up. Cy was filling up with every step he took.

We stepped out onto the tiny plateau at the top, and Cy looked around at the 14,000 foot peaks that he was sharing space with, the blue sky, the prayer flags, the camaraderie of the other climbers at the top, and I watched him change right in front of me. I looked at him filling to overflowing with that feeling of oneness with the mountains, of that feeling of utter insignificance when faced with beauty on that scale, of the feeling of solitude, of what it means to be one of the few people who are standing on the top of a mountain peak that day, and I felt gratitude. This is exactly why I love my job. Ordinary person.

One day, he walked up to the top of a mountain because he could. Same ordinary person, now feels extraordinary. Because he is.

We skied down through G3, a very steep and chalky pitch, and the skiing was fun and steep and exciting. But the hike was better. The hike was Cy finding space to become Cy, without limit or apology, without societal rules, or restraints. He used his feet to walk to the top and they became mountain climbing feet. I got to help him do that.

I love my job!

Monday, March 1, 2010

considering hiding under the bed...

Well, here we go again. Aspen is the most amazing place. Today, I got invited to teach in Italy for a client. What! Really?? Yes. Really.

This after working two days for an different incredible corporate event where I got to ski with and teach with Kristina Koznick and Chris Anthony.

Of course, me being me (remember when I asked Rob Sogard, coach of the PSIA Demo Team, if he was trying out for the team this year? Yeah...) I had no idea who these guys were. I'm getting used to it, "And these are our celebrity skiers who you'll be working with..."

Its always excellent, every person I've worked, whether a racer or a film star or a demo team member has been incredibly real, personable and fun to work with.

Aspen has this funny effect of making what might seem to be overwhelming just another day at the office, and I'm working so much that I often just show up and do my job and connect with the folks I'm skiing with and then process what happened about three days later, most of the time the feeling there is just relief that I did a good job facilitating their teaching, hoping that I can figure that out really well for the future. I think sometimes I realize belatedly that I was teaching in front of someone who really knows what they are doing, and I get a little worried or shocked. Its probably good training for tryouts where I will have to teach in front of all the other candidates and selectors, anyway.

Maybe that's what it is, that it feels after the fact like I imagine it might feel at selection. So I'm glad I'm not really aware that its happening in the moment, because I'm so busy just doing my job, having fun and keeping it rolling, that when it hits me later that I might want to pay attention to those, um, little details, I go back through the teaching segments to see how I was actually teaching in front of these very accomplished veterans.

So far, there is no way that I could ever have predicted the amazing journey that my life has taken in the last four years.

I feel that it is evening out, that the tough times are easier to navigate as the drama in my personal life has dramatically decreased. I feel like I've learned over the last two years how to really listen to my choices, and to make sure that chances for sabotage are identified and gently removed.

But I still have nights like this sometimes, where I feel so sure about where I'm going and why I want to get there, and so excited about possibilities for the future, and so plugged in to my path during the day, and then a bit overwhelmed by what I did during the day when I'm alone with myself.

Today, I had a great time doing my job, which I love. I connected to my clients and got fired up myself. I got to watch them play in some double black diamond bumps after they made some significant change.

I got invited to teach in Italy and called up a new friend to see if we could make it happen in a really excellent high-end fashion, and it looks like that will work out easily.

I drove home excited and feeling the bumps under my feet that I'd just skied. I came in the door and got tackled by my kids, who are both feeling better, and jumped in the shower, where I got hit by a wall of TIRED. All I wanted to do, starting at about 6:45 when the kids got in the bath, was sleep.

I'm feeling all of the good things about my opportunities and the path thats unfolding in front of me, and I'm feeling shocked at how fast and early it is unfolding, and I'm hoping that I can keep opening with it, taking good care of the people that have helped me get here, taking good care of my family, and continuing to step forward into my future.

I'm grateful that my skiing is coming up, and concerned about just how far I have to go. I need to ski hard all summer. Figuring out how to make that happen is one of the things that is pressing on me.

Welcome to my train of thought. Perhaps, its bed time.