Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Endless Streams and Mountains

In Sunday's post, I tried to reset my goals for writing-- refocus my intentions for this blog. Part of the strategy is to use a framework to write around when I have trouble feeling positive about what I'm writing. Recently, when sitting down to write, I felt like passion was getting lost between "ideas" and "output" -- probably because I could never quite decide what I wanted to write about. Inspiration never seemed to be my problem... commitment to a firm topic was. I thought it might help if my writing and a thematic and consistent germ I could lean on for those days when my creativity was nebulous. So the framework I chose was to use the words of Gary Snyder and other writers I admire as the germ for my content.

With yesterday being Snyder's 88th birthday, it felt especially poignant to start this project using his work. So I'm starting with the first poem in Mountains and Rivers Without End titled "Endless Streams and Mountains." This may seem a bit academic at first, like some sort of "poetry appreciation" assignment, but think of it as my way of keeping the literary tradition alive in a world of emoji's and hacked tweets.

A major chunk of "Endless Streams and Mountains" is a scenic description. A footpath along the water, mountains and fauna described in detail, it's all rolled out in a linear treatment as the narrators eye's scan the horizon. These flat pieces of nature are where the life is... in fact, the few humans in the scene are the ones that seem flat, as in this excerpt:

a trail of climbing stairsteps forks upstream.
Big ranges lurk behind these rugged little outcrops--
these spits of low ground rocky uplifts
     layered pinnacle aslant,
flurries of brushy cliffs receding,
far back and high above, vague peaks.
A man hunched over, sitting on a log
     another stands above him, lifts a staff,
a third, with a roll of mats or a lute, looks on;
a bit offshore two people in a boat.

At first reading, without any context, it could be a description of so many places that contain mountains and rivers: the Pacific Northwest, the Sierras, the Sawtooth. I assumed that it was probably some locale Snyder himself experienced, but as I near the end of the poem, the narrative changes. And now, the first line, "Clearing the mind and sliding in / to that created space." seems to stand out more.

The landscape is artwork, "created space", a 13th century (or 12th, it's kind of unknown) scroll which also contains comments, made through the years, by various owners. That's explained in the second half of the poem.

"Endless Streams and Mountains" isn't about experiencing a place, it's about viewing someone else's illustration of a place. In fact, the poem ends with the narrator walking out of a museum in Cleveland, looking at Lake Erie and saying, "Streams and mountains never stay the same."

We all see streams and mountains differently, through filters created by our own experiences. Lately, at times of anxiety, I've been using some images inspired by the Mountains and Rivers Sutra by Zen Master Dogen to help calm me. One of those images is imagining a large rock in a river. I think particularly of a spot on the Big Wood River north of Sun Valley where I've camped numerous times and just stared at the running water. There are some rocks all across the river, and they are not moving, even in the high flows of the spring. The upstream and downstream, the past and future, are of no concern to the rock-- yet as the rock is in the middle of constant change, it itself is constantly changing.

Poems, blogs, words, art, even photos are our opportunity to share our experiences with others. Just like Snyder says at the start of the poem, "slipping into that created space". At the end, he punctuates it with:

The Fashioner of Things 
    has no original intentions 
Mountains and Rivers 
    are spirit, condensed.

We choose to make our impressions in all sorts of ways, usually based on something we experience. I'm not writing this blog because I wanted to write a blog, but because something made me want to write a blog. There are no original intentions, for us or in nature... that's probably what makes nature so amazing; everything in it is the result of something else.

It's the impressions of mountains and rivers that give them life, likely give me life. And that's where immortality comes from.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Where did the ski season go?

The sunscreen in the beard adds a nice "aged" effect for this
introspective shot of an aging skier in an existential crisis.
Did we really every have one?

Over the past few years, I've maintained that this infrequently updated blog-- located on a domain I pay to reserve-- is my creative outlet. The title, "Skierssummit", infers it's devoted to SKIING, the activity that in many ways has steered my life, but I always intended for my blog to be more than just the typical self promotional "stoke-tool". This blog was my opportunity to exercise my literary muscles on topics I choose and I enjoy. Now that I'm in the technical writing field, writing for myself seems even more important to my life. But here it is, May 5th and the season passed with nothing written on this last ski season. In this post, I have a few brief theories I'll share as to why I never really got this blog "up and running" for the 2017-18 season.

The "Share" Culture is Much Different Now

Even though MySpace is still out there, good luck finding my original blog on that platform. Over 10 years ago, MySpace was where I did my most routine, public writing. MySpace was this new, personal web page designed for sharing and it made AOL look like, well, MySpace does now. Flash forward a few years, and with the advent of WordPress and Blogger, personalizing your blog became so much easier. MySpace was on it's way out, but blogs still survived. But somewhere in the last five years, we went from blogs, which were primarily "written", to Tweets and Instagrams, which are more impulsive reflexes.

If blogging was designed for "navel gazers" like myself to publish erudite prose on our passions, then Twitter and Instagram were designed for the primal screams we make when we watch professional wrestling or Chipendales dancers -- intellect is not necessary -- just be brief and let us know what you're feeling.

Look, I have accounts on both Twitter and Instagram. And I value brevity in any form of communication (Hemingway would have killed at Tweeting), but when so many out there are using these channels at a break-neck pace -- posting once or twice a day -- it makes the act of blogging seem like studying Latin.

That's one reason blogging has become more difficult for me -- the idea of blogging seems antiquated. The next reason is more personal.

No One is Asking for Another Angle On Bitterness

There was another reason for my lack of interest in blogging during the 2017-18 ski season. Even though I tend to relish suffering from "Early Onset Grumpiness", (I would like to try and make this next point without sounding like a Trump voter -- but it will probably be easier to just take a deep breath and go all MAGA): skiing in the Wasatch is changing in a way that I really don't like.

I spent 2 hours to drive up here... I'm
enjoying my cofeee.
Alta isn't the resort I remember. I distinctly remember, less than 20 years ago, reading something on their site (I feel like it was part of a customer survey they sent me) about how they felt fixed chairs were an important part of keeping runs from getting crowded.  Quite a middle finger to those looking for a Vail experience. Now in 2018, they've essentially sold the locals like me down the river in exchange for the vacation skier who wants to tell all their friends back in Jersey how they skied Main Chute. [Note to self, next blog is about me skiing Main Chute.]

On top of that, the backcountry is getting more and more crowded. If you aren't at Spruces by 9 on a weekend, you may not find a parking spot.

But the most soul-crushing part of almost every journey I made up the Cottonwoods this winter was the depressing prospect of battling traffic and tourists, even on subpar days. Thanks Ski Utah, you have turned my favorite recreation into a trip to Ikea on a Saturday afternoon.

Look, Alta can run their business how they want. And guess what, I'll probably ski there again next season.

And for all the traffic at the trailhead, Wasatch backcountry is still pretty sublime. Plus, I keep hoping the growing legion of "turn-earners" will serve as a bullwark against resort expansion.

And as for the East Coasters that now encroach on my turf... well, at one time, I was a tourist visiting the Wasatch. 

But despite all those rational responses to my grumpy reactions, every time I sat down to write this season, I felt like I was always typing with anger instead of passion. Coming at the page with a negative point-of-view seemed like a stylistic choice 10 years ago, now, it's just cliche. Adding a little curmudgeon to the recipe may add some humor to my words, but in a world where everyone tends to use social media to promote their idea of how the world should operate, adding my brand of bitterness to the mix seemed pretty banal.

I'm not a positive person by nature, so for me to come to this realization was no light matter. Nearly every blog draft I wrote this season seemed like I was wearing a red "Make the Wasatch Great Again" hat, and I just couldn't feel good about that. It would be different if I had some positive posts to go along with it, but I struggled to find inspiration for a positive post.

So What Will I Write About?

I turned 42 nearly a month ago. I'm firmly "in my 40s" and it's hard not to wonder where my life went. A week before my birthday, on one of the first weekends all ski season where I wasn't driving up the canyon or traveling somewhere, Lex and I went out for brunch downtown and visited Ken Sander's Books. I knew this treasure chest of a bookstore had some hard to find and signed editions by Gary Snyder, whose poetry and essays are always in my mind when I'm in the wild. Sure enough, they had signed copies of "The Real Work", (a collection of interviews and essays), and "Rivers and Mountains Without End", (a collection of poetry published in the 90s that was the result of 40 years of his work). 

I bought them both as birthday presents to myself. Admittedly, I already have too many books, but there is something to savor about owning "analog" literature. It's grounded in ink, the words are printed, they are permanent.

Where am I going with this? Back to my ideas for this blog.

Gary Snyder. To call him a member of the "beats"
is to vastly underestimate his contribution to
naturalist literature.
Adding to my Gary Snyder library led me to checking out his timeline and, at age 44, his Pulitzer Prize winning "Turtle Island" was published -- I'm just 42! I'm not saying, "I can win a Pulitzer" (I don't have the time or enthusiasm to chase that goal), but I am saying, "There is no age limit on sharing your message with people."

So that's what will motivate me on this blog. I'll write, with the help of Gary Snyder's and other authors work, a celebration of nature, the outdoors, the wild. Yes, I still may have an axe to grind on occasion, but when I read Snyder's essays, he somehow figured out a way to be an activist, a critic, an optimist and a poet all in one. If I can strike that balance, then I may be able to find more enthusiasm to write. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Flask Counts as First Aid, Right?

Jared gets video of AirMed landing in the backcountry
I want to talk this week about Leo DiCaprio's "Possibles Bag". [Stop snickering!] Well, more specifically, Hugh Glass's "Possibles Bag". For me, "The Revenant" was more than a voyeuristic 3 hours of backcountry trauma with a grizzly bear snuff film thrown in; I also saw in this story of man surviving against the odds of nature, a lesson for backcountry skiing.

It wasn't as apparent in the movie, but when I read Michael Punke's book, I learned the magnitude of the moment when Tom Hardy's character takes not only Leo's gun, but the small leather bag around his neck. That "Possibles Bag" (everything a trapper could "possibly" need) was essentially the difference between life and death for a trapper-- a small bag containing a little food, a way to start fire, a knife and ammo-- the essence of ultralight.

Still a few bridges out on the High T and
climb to Greely (skier Jeff Monroe)
In many ways, this was the first weekend that really felt like a typical ski weekend. Skied both days. A pretty good backcountry day Saturday on the relatively safe, low angle slopes of Powder Park. Then spent a short day at Alta on Sunday where I was finally able to ski the High T. I didn't take all the way, and we had to side step over enough geological specimens on the way to Thirds that I felt like I was mining, but the turns in Greely and Backside almost felt like I remembered to this powder starved skier. Every chair loaded on Supreme and I was able to ski Catherines without my Prophets taking any shots. (Yes, I'm still on my rock skis, but I think we're getting close!) Catherines being covered is a good and bad thing since it also means that the furlined jacketed tourists bootpacking all the way out can get another season out of their east coast planks. But even though it seemed like a typical ski weekend, events on Saturday carried a little more weight and made me question what possibly do I need to carry with me?

I've always struggled balancing weight savings with having everything I might possibly need; my 32 liter backpack fills up quick, even for a day ski tour in the Wasatch. When scrutinizing my supplies, I think "Mountain men got by with far less, you don't need it" but it never fails that I'm reminded later of something else I should have squeezed in.

At first, this could have been a blog about how ill-prepared I am for "nature's call". When I saw a skier wandering around the trails of Mill D with a roll of TP, looking for a place to squat, tt occurred to me, "I don't have toilet paper!"  That should demonstrate how ingrained my need to be prepared is. In my whole 13 years of backcountry skiing, I have had to drop trow in the backcountry a whopping total of two times-- that's it. Hey, it probably means I'm due. Being without some Charmin might just be my personal version of a grizzly attack.
Playing it safe in Powder Park (photo Jared Hargrave)

But I don't think it was any coincidence that earlier that morning as I looked at other skiers in the Spruces parking and questioned how much gear they were toting, that my need to have a Kate Moss pack collided with the need to be prepared. Because for the second time in my life (hey, same as the number of times I've number two'ed, coincident?!), I was involved in a true backcountry emergency requiring an air lift.

A young woman broke her leg while skiing in the Powder Park area of the Mill D drainage. Jared and I, with the assistance of a local guide educated in outdoor emergency care and another skier assisted her boyfriend in stabilizing her for rescue. While I watched the guide pull a SAM splint and "Eskimo Rescue Sled" from his pack, I realized how meager my first aid kit was. Tape, bandaids and moleskin wasn't going to do shit for her, or me for that matter if I ever got into trouble.

Now, the best equipment you can have in those situations is probably your brain. Knowing what to do goes a lot further than just having all the gear. Somewhere I have my thick Outdoor Emergency Care manual that I used when training for ski patrol over 10 years ago. I should crack it open and review a few things, provided I avoid that picture of the fishook in the eye. (Let me tell you, if that happened to Leo, it would have been over for me-- walking out of the movie.)

When I was 12 years old, I remember going to Boy Scout summer camp and for some odd reason (probably because I was an odd kid), feeling the need to bring my first aid kit to breakfast. Strapping that tin box to my belt like some kind of khaki batman was probably more about expressing character than any expectation that I would need to perform frontier medicine in the Bear Paw mess hall, but it was a microcosm of a tug of war I still have now: questioning what really is appropriate to carry for First Aid? Short of staying at home and drinking a beer instead of skiing, I don't think you can ever know what all you'll need in your First Aid kit.

So I'll probably make a few edits to my pack. Squeeze in that SAM splint, a few extra Voile straps, maybe even my CPR mask. But I'm also taking a somewhat spiritual approach to this, and that is in my concept of Backcountry Karma. That's the bank in which we, as members of the alpine touring community (the Backcountry Sangha as I call it), need to make deposit whenever possible. What happened to that skier on Saturday could have happened to any one of us who skis, and thankfully for her, some of us willing to help; but that has to just be an extension of the golden rule. We would want someone to help us. I know that won't always be enough when the grizzly rolls on top of you, but it has to count for something, it's definitely not a situation where you can ski on by.

Unless you get a fishhook in the eye, then sorry, you're on your own.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Couple Things This Week as Winter Returns

A Note About Drinking or, "Mason's Running Inner Monologue Rotation"

The calendar is against me. First of all, calendars are, as I've pointed out in previous blogs, just a construct to make us feel like we have control... and for that I thank them. But my control freak-ness aside, the concept of a 5 day work week within a 7 day shell is frustrating me as I try to cut back on alcohol. The math balance the scales of dry and wet days just doesn't add up. Hear me out.
A completely normal way of consuming
beer when you aren't sure what to drink.

First of all, this is NOT a New Years Resolution thing; it's a getting old thing. I'm coming to grips with the fact that at 41, I just can't maintain a svelte figure the way I used to. As my doctor told me, "Everything gets harder when you get old." (Although, that axiom can't be entirely true or Viagra is just a really well done con.) So I've looked for ways to trim back calories, which has always been more easily accomplished when I reduce the beer intake. So, a few days without drinking can really make a difference when it comes to building up some nice calorie deficits.

Now, before you start the, "Mason, why not just spread your beers out over the week? A little every day wouldn't hurt." So here's one way the math doesn't work out. "School nights" (as I call them) are often the easiest candidates to be dry. Think about it, 8+ of your waking hours are spent in an environment where drinking is frowned upon. Seems like a waste to blow that head start in the race for restraint.

And secondly, I have never finished a long weekend tour in the backcountry or endured a 4 hour bike ride and said, "That one, 4% beer is really going to make all this worth it."

No way! When you do a soggy, grueling tour up White Pine, you are sipping Zirbenz (or my new fave, Snow Angel) on the summit, drinking whiskey while you post your gear at home, quaffing a brew while you're in the shower, and pairing a nice "light" Melvin 2x4 with the whole burrito you get at Lonestar. That, my friends, is how weekend drinking trends for me.

If I tried to meter out my beer evenly throughout the week, let's just say that my ski partners would endure the wrath of my grumpiness. By staying dry on work days, only my co-workers have to deal with my unpleasantness... and they already think I'm a prick.

But here's another way the calendar works against me. Three days in a row without drinking is tough, but I can do it. Some nights are easier than others. (Sometimes, around 8:30pm, when I see the finish line in sight but I'm feeling weak, I think, "Maybe if I brush my teeth and go to bed now, I can make it?") But three days is the limit. Not because I'm an alcoholic, but because of the stupid, awesome weekends and the power of beer.

Yes, I could do Monday through Thursday, there's 4 days, but it's in a row. There is no way. I'm sorry, it is like saying, "To get to Empire Strikes Back, you have to watch Episodes 1-3..."

"Ok, I think I ca..."

"...and the JarJar Binks Christmas Special."

"Padme, NOOOOOO."

Sorry, there's just a limit.

The other alternative is to give myself and "islands of pleasure" during the week, so it's never more than 3 in a row. But that means at least one of Friday, Saturday or Sunday will have to be dry. That just seems wrong. I've done a dry Friday here and there, but it feels like doing your homework on Friday, weekend homework was not meant to be done right away, it's supposed to be done Sunday night in the dark of your friends family conversion van while you drive back from skiing in Upper Michigan.

"This means something. This is important"

"Wait, don't tell me, it's Sam? No,
Steve. No. Ohhhh, snow, that's right. I knew
it was an S"
So that's what's going on in my life, but let's get to the skiing this week, or more accurately, last week.

There was something strange falling from the skies Saturday afternoon. I was up at Alta partaking this sport I love. It's kind of new to Utah, maybe you're heard of it, it's called "lawn and gravel skidding". When mother nature offered the most unusual supplement to this activity, a somewhat soft, flaky and friction-less surface that made my skis travel much more efficiently. Then more came this week. I'm really hoping we get more. I like it! Although, if enough falls, I'll have to find something else to spend my money on since I won't have to spend $70 monthly to mend my bases.

I think I mentioned last week how, unlike some snooty, spoiled skiers who have avoided Alta due to the poor conditions, I try to find ways of entertaining myself during these low-tide days. For instance, 2 weekends ago, I found a sneak around from Catherine's that I wasn't aware of. It's at the bottom and totally avoids hitting that garbage above the road near the cabins. It goes to show, when East Coast Tourists complain about the lack of terrain that's open or wish the resort would expand, there is always a way to find a new route in familiar terrain. 

Anyway, n case you are looking for ways to distract you from the absence of powder (trust me, we have a long way to go), try these little games:
  • See if you can position your skis in the UTA rack just perfectly so that they don't slam against the door on the slightest curve.
  • Try not to get your arm pinched when some tourist slams the bar down on the chairlift.
  • With same tourist, watch them look surprised when you ask them where they're visiting from, even though they haven't spoken a word to you. 
  • See how many people get faked out by the opposing swings of the doors leading into Watson. One pushes in, the other swings out... it gets me at least once a week.
  • Instead of dreading the runout through Corkscrew, pretend your James Bond in the beginning of A View to a Kill (which I totally did when I was 13).
  • Reminisce about last season when you could actually get to Eddies without damaging your skis. This season, your edges get gouged even considering skiing a run like Challenger. That's right, just the intent of skiing certain runs now results in a core shot. It's like a Catholic thing where even the though of sinning is a sin.
  • Enjoy the smug satisfaction that any damage to your skis sustained in Catherine's at least came with the aerobic rewards of herring-boning your way up to the traverse... bootpackers, eat my gravel!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Dirty Turns

Jared does some "low-tide" skiing at Alta
The end and the beginning-- isn't that what all of us were contemplating this last weekend-- the end of 2017 and the start of 2018? For skiers in the Wasatch contemplating the 2017-18 ski season, it's difficult to see any beginning in sight. While I have logged 6 days so far, I still find myself wondering, "When is the season actually going to start?"

Maybe some creative perspective is needed... some marketing spin. Through my rose-colored goggles, I've always thought of the calendar year as just one big ski season with an approximately 6 month intermission. So let's do some creative re-defining of what a ski season is and just call these "low tide" days a coda to last ski season. Let's see if that lifts our spirits any... not likely.

Ullr doesn't appear to be in any rush to toss out the confetti to welcome 2018, so all I'm trying to do is make the best of the little snow Alta has. Doing so requires squeezing as much life out of my nearly 10 year old Line Prophets as I can, just so I can avoid exposing my Superchargers to the peppery traverses and bony runs that are frankly, the norm at Alta right now. It truly feels like the mountain is craving ski bottoms and P-tex like it's heroine. While I'm sure it's not a first, I don't ever remember seeing legitimate bootpacks up Jitterbug or East Greely just to get at some decent snow on Stonecrusher or Eddies.

"Oh that will buff right out"
After my rock skis took a particularly nasty gash that created a keel-like snag of HDPE that acted like a rudder, I decided to actually spend money on tuning my sacrificial skis rather than try to tune them myself.  I was hoping the guys at Alta Ski Shop could resuscitate what little life was left in my boards, especially because it looked like I might be skiing them for at least another month. Their prognosis was grim. Years of base grinding had left the prophets close to the limit on what could be done-- any future welds might not hold in the now dangerously shallow bases. I had them work their magic anyway. It pained me knowing that these skis, these trusty, non-rockered Prophets, which have served me so well, were giving everything they had just to buy my precious, less than a year old, Volie Superchargers a little extra time. The Prophets are certainly earning a Jedi farewell for their transcendental effort.

But, let's not forget the upside, the "end-of-life" for a pair of skis always brings with it a happy beginning: the spousal justification for another pair of skis!
If I'm in the trees, I'm having fun

So I guess it was fitting that I spent the last day of 2017 trying to scrape as much ski-Nutella from the bottom of the Alta-jar as possible by skiing 25k on my rejuvenated Line Prophets. I didn't take it easy on them. A trip into Catherines, multiple laps across the Ballroom traverse that was starting to get a little "chocolate-chippy" and one rather sublime excursion into the Outer Limits under Devil's Castle. It was there, looking up through the trees at the geological medieval structure in the dimming afternoon light I recalled some absolutely ugly runs I used to make through the trees in my boyhood days at Porcupine Mountain, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After most of those runs, my jacket would be covered in tree sap, my shins and arms were battered by saplings, and of course, my edges were dulled by both vegetable and mineral. Yet I loved it... I was skiing. Those were the things I did to entertain myself on those characterless, cloned slopes of midwest ski resorts. 

Skis, sadly, are a disposable item. When I checked the Prophets at the end of the day, they hadn't taken any major damage and looked like they would live to fight another day. Skis were made to ski, not stay protected on the groomers. Like a Jedi would say, "Ski or ski not, there is no try [to save your bases].

While I wrote this, I unintentionally had two bi-polar songs playing, "It's Not Dark Yet" by Bob Dylan, in which he sings, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there," and "All Things Must Pass" by George Harrison. Let's hope the latter turns out to be the anthem for this season.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ain't Wastin' Time No More

How could anyone view
this as a waste of time?
"Skiing is the best way in the world to waste time." That quote is true if Glen Plake, the mohawked skier who set my young mouth agape in ski movies like the Maltese Flamingo, is to be believed, skiing is the best way in the world to waste time. I couldn't directly attribute that quote to him anywhere, but it sounds like something he would say. I read it on Instagram, a fun way to quickly share the things that make us thankful to be alive, all at the cost of increasing the average time spent on the toilet by 20%. (Seriously, if you are waiting for a stall in my office building, I bet jamming the 4G signal would be the best way to get one to open up faster.) The quote was posted by one of the many agents working for the winter rec hype machine, and even though I often question the journalism creds of those in social media, I feel like it should be linked to Plake, someone who I think of as the Hemingway Code Skier: wearing dayglow 90s threads, acting irreverent, sporting a hairdo occasionally under the performance enhancement of Elmer's wood glue and ripping nasty French couloirs on 210cm skis.

One Man's Wasted Time Is Another's Opportunity to Ridicule

The quote itself is pretty universal; it works for anything that gives you pleasure. We all end up as worm food, so aren't our lives really just one continuous search for the best way to "waste" time? For some, scrapbooking is how they burn the remaining minutes they have for themselves, others brew beer during the precious grains of hourglass sand that they call their own, a select and fortunate few of us get to play in the incredible landscape of Utah when we aren't telling people to, "clear their cache and try it again", and amazingly, an unfortunate group of people seem to while their time destroying that precious Utah landscape (for reasons I'll speculate on in future blogs). In all those cases, the common thread is that, for each person partaking in said activity, 10 more are wondering, "Why the hell would you want to do that?!"

With the last out of the World Series last Wednesday, I wrapped up another 6 months of my life "wasted" watching baseball. And before the end of the this month, I will start another 6 month interval of time "wasted" skiing. This blog is really the byproduct of that winter activity; a way for me to channel some of the passion stirred up by skiing into a creative outlet. But I'm talking about more than just face shots, first tracks and filtered photos. In a larger context, I'm talking about skiing as a means to access the wild, both internally and externally. As writer and environmentalist Jack Turner said:
...what has contributed most to our love of wild places, animals, plants -- and even, perhaps, to our love of wild nature, our sense of citizenship-- is the art, literature, myth and lore of nature.
--Jack Turner, from The Abstract Wild

Mountain Stoke is Not a New Thing

It was worth the extra 8 grams
in my pack for this picture.
I believe that quote was from Turner's book The Abstract Wild; although the quote first appeared to me in a another book, a translation and commentary of an ancient Zen sutra, written by monk and author, John Daido Loori. Earlier in this blog, I made a somewhat sneering comment about the "winter rec hype machine". As a perpetual skeptic, I tend to have a bit of distaste for anyone who is way too interested in getting me excited about something. Yes, my Instagram feed is dominated by skiing... and hot women... and hot women skiing, but I do get sick of reading how "stoked" I should be, that this winter will be "epic" and that I'll never grow old as a "child of winter." Cliche's aside, creating poetic and passionate art around skiing is not a new development that burst from the loins of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It existed back when I watched those ski movies by Warren Miller and Greg Stumpf. Stoke, for me, started with Miller's Steep and Deep. And, as I realized when reading Loori's The Way of Mountains and Rivers, it existed in the 13th century teachings of Zen Master Eihei Dogen.

Dogen used mountains, not as a metaphor for enlightenment, but part of enlightenment; actual actors in the process of our existence. And teaching that connection to nature, he raises some truly spiritual themes:
Although it is generally said that mountains belong to the countryside, actually, they belong to those who love them. When the mountains love their master, the wise and virtuous inevitably enter the mountains. When sages and wise ones live in the mountains, the mountains belong to them, trees and rocks flourish and abound, birds and beasts take on a mystical excellence. This is because the sages and wise ones have touched them with their virtue. We should realize that the mountains actually delight in the presence of wise ones and sages.
--Dogen, Rivers and Mountains Sutra
I sincerely hope I fall into the category of the "wise ones and sages".

Does Anyone Want to Read What I Have to Say?

Here's my pretentious writer shot.
Looking towards another season "wasted" skiing, I'm rebooting another waste of my time-- writing about skiing. Writing essays on anything in this age of 120 character aphorisms seems like pursuing a degree in Latin, but I'm going to proceed with my prose anyway. My last blog post was in March, and it was one of only a few that I wrote all of last season. Over the last 9 months, I've collected quite a few notes and photos from both adventurous and mundane experiences alike. Some of those experiences were documented on Instagram, but I want to do more with them. I want to tell a story, convey a spirit, relate a value and maybe (get ready to digest some hubris) make a difference. The irony here is that "wasting time" is something my wife will tell you is akin to my kryptonite. I calculate, plan, allocate and organize even the most impulsive and euphoric events. And finding time to "waste" can be hard when there is a lot on which I want to waste time. But I do truly believe the mountains, and all the wonders of nature belong to those of us who love them, and I want to continue writing about them.

I asked a good friend of mine, a talented and published author the very question posed in the header above this section. His answer was pretty prophetic, "You just can't care about that." So I'm going to not care and write. If you choose to follow me, I'll arc from the ephemeral to the concrete-- part sutra, part trail beta, part social activism. Yet, it's all done with the humility that I can't do justice to the real thing.
Clever talk--how can it compare
to the sounds of the river valley,
the form of the mountain?
--Loori, from The Way of Mountains and Rivers

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

An Inheritance that Can't be Taxed

I barely remember the hill. I think it was called Sunburst and it may have been out of business the next season. What I do remember though is, by the end of that awkward and probably frustrating first day, thanks to my dad, I became passionate about skiing. Through the years, I found that same ardor in almost everyone I met who also skied. Most skiers are "disciples", not fair weather fans. Religious parallels aside, one of those devotees I had the pleasure of meeting was an affable coworker that was the first friend I made upon moving to Idaho in 1999.  Rod was an Idaho native who worked at the TV station with me. While his skills weren't typical of my usual ski partners, his passion was, and I always enjoyed skiing with him.
Rod and I at Brighton in 2002

Rod left us too soon-- a year ago this month. But in addition putting a smile on the face of all those those lucky enough to call him a friend, he also passed on his passion for skiing to his daughter Maci. Lexi and I had the privilege of skiing with Maci last weekend at Bogus Basin and her love of skiing was no different than any other skier I've met.

Rod got into skiing relatively late in life, and by today's standards, so has Maci, but like most 13 year-olds, enthusiasm is a great tonic for inexperience. The night before we planned to ski, I texted her and said we would pick her up at 8:30. When she suggested that we might want an earlier start due to traffic, I realized her desire to get up to the mountain early was about more than beating the red snake like it is for me in the Wasatch, she was genuinely excited. While winding our way up Bogus Basin road, she shared a story about the last day on the mountain with her dad. Rod forgot to put in his contacts and when he realized he didn't have them, they had to turn around halfway up the road, delaying their day of skiing by a few hours. When Maci told me that, I could tell she wanted to make the most of our day skiing together. I had to smile after hearing the story too. I could just picture the look of "doh" on Rod's face when he had to turn his Blazer around. Probably in his haste to get up to them mountain, something as simple as putting in his contacts was easy to forget.

Maci's energy persisted as we walked through the parking lot. Her days skiing were low, and I woud have excused her for lagging behind as she walked in ski boots while carrying her skis, but she was outpacing Lexi. And before I could even get into my bindings, she was ready to go, asking to do a warmup lap on the bunny hill.
You can't teach fun.
 Unsure of her ability, I tried tempering her bravado, but from the moment we got off the Deer Point quad, she knew exactly where she wanted to go. In low visibility, I had to make sure I kept her in sight as she zipped down the long cat track that led to the backside of the mountain. Skiing didn't seem uncomfortable to her. Throughout the day, I tried to provide some instruction and guidance, but I have to admit, it felt a little unnatural doing so. I've never really felt comfortable instructing people on the finer points of skiing anyway. Plus, she was having fun. Why try to teach "fun"?

As the skies cleared in the afternoon, Maci started eyeing more advanced terrain from the lift. I would relate. At her age, I wanted to challenge myself too. I might see an awesome looking glade from above and feel like I had to ski it. Never mind the sharp, off camber fall line leading into the glade, or the narrow gully at the bottom of it. For Michelle, Maci's mother's sake, I suggest alternatives, but we did make one rather challenging run off the top of the Pine Creek chair. In order to get to the long, ridge top track, we traversed across a slope where Maci learned the value of side slipping. Lexi and I talked her through it, and she did great. Then, when the remaining part of the run was more at her skill, she asked if she could ski straight for the rest of it. I think was most fun, seeing her work hard to get herself through a difficult part of the slop and then, when she realized that the worst was behind her, open it back up and get back into her comfort zone.

A great day to be above Boise
It was a long day with all sorts of snow conditions, visibility and challenges. When she started turning with her upper body more and more, I got the idea she was getting tired and I  knew we needed to call it a day soon. That was pretty tough, but I think she would have skied until they turned on the lights for night skiing if I let her. Unlike the original trip through the parking lot, now those ski boots seemed like they weighed 50 lbs on her feet. Maybe because she was tired, maybe because leaving the mountain is always tough.

I thought back to my days skiing at age 13. So many things I remember. Some clear, some unclear. But while many of us may struggle with the hazy memories of those early days on the slopes, one memory is crystal clear in both my mind, and I'm assuming Maci's mind, and that is, how grateful we were that our fathers' introduced us to skiing.