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.


Anonymous said...

Kate~ Great story of a day of skiing in Telluride, capturing the thrill and grandness of the sport. It has the personal touch too with Scott, which is nice. He's a master in Bear Creek and it shows in your story and photos. Fun powder hounding with you! Let's do it again~ Sue

Unknown said...

Sue, it was great to ski with you! Thanks for going so hard and having such a great attitude! I'm looking forward to skiing with you again!
Feel free to email me at katehowe (at) mac (dot) com and please stay in touch!

Bryan Miller said...

Scott Kennett--skiing royalty.