There’s a saying that goes something like, “If you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life”. I like it. However, I’d be willing to bet if you took a survey of the average person they’d probably not fall into the “never worked a day in their life” category. I myself actually like my job for the most part, but if things were a little different I don’t think it’d surprise anyone if I didn’t show up every day just for the fun of it.
This makes sense when you consider why billions and billions of dollars are spent every year on vacations where people can be pampered, coddled, catered to and served so they can feel as far away from work as possible. There are resorts here in Colorado with valets who will dry and warm your boots after a day of skiing, then have them waiting slopeside the next morning so you don’t have to lug around your equipment. You can ride a heated gondola equipped with WiFi so you can check in on Facebook and tweet out to the world where you are! You can expect a valet to help you step off that gondola safely once you reach the top of the mountain and hand you your skis. Refreshed, you can then head out to ski a prepared piste that has taken hundreds of man hours to groom to perfection so you can be as comfortable as possible and never have to work too much and enjoy your time away from the grind of daily life. At one resort, there are even chefs waiting at the base area with warm chocolate chip cookies and a cup of mulled spice cider to welcome you back to the warm bosom of luxury, comfort and relaxation.
My preferred way of detoxing from work in the winter season is ever so slightly different. The process for me is turning up early at some trailhead on a cold morning, hopefully pulling on non-frozen ski boots after having accidentally left them in the back of my truck. At the same time, I’m usually hopping around on one foot trying not to step in the snow with my bare socks. After that, I slap the skins on my skis, debate for the umpteenth time whether I’m dressed too warmly, take the last sip of lukewarm coffee from my thermos then head off to climb uphill for the next 1-3 hours…then stop five minutes later to shed a layer because I’m too hot.
Once I’m where I want to be, I’ll begin stripping the skins off and hope the wind doesn’t blow them away or wrap them around my head like flypaper. Once that’s sorted out, I’ll take a drink from my half frozen water bottle, maybe I’ll frustratingly gnaw on a frozen Clif Bar for a minute or two, snap a photo then proceed to ski back down to my truck. Sometimes if the conditions warrant, I’ll put my skins back on and repeat the process.
Someone once asked me why, in a state like Colorado, with hundreds of high speed chair lifts at my disposal within an hour drive of my house would I chose to suffer (their words) for only one or two runs. I’m constantly reminded that those chair lifts can transport me dozens of times a day to the top of a mountain and I could probably ski ten times the amount of vertical I’d get in the backcountry without really having to work at all!
The short and long answer is, “I love it”.
I took a day off from work this week and headed out with a friend to climb up a peak adjacent to the mega-resort of Breckenridge. Even on a Tuesday, the highway up from Frisco was clogged, the free lots were in complete choas, the shuttle busses were packed to the gills and people around town were too busy relaxing away from their everyday lives to pay attention to crosswalks or acknowledge another human being. Ah yes, the whole town was set abuzz as a new stress free day of standing in lift queues awaited. So hilarious.
The little trailhead where we parked was directly across the valley from Breckenridge Resort, maybe five or six miles away as the crow flies, but seemed a million miles away from the hubbub of town. There were four, maybe five cars there and most everyone already there said hello to us when we pulled up. Of course there is the compulsory five minutes of playing with everyone’s dog when they too come over to welcome us. And as each of those people set off for their own adventures, they would flash a genuine smile and exclaim, “have a fun day!”, then be on their way.
This day was my good friend Carin’s first in the backcountry. Without a bit of trepidation, she jumped out of my truck with an ear-to-ear smile and immediately started packing her gear. Her general stoke is always fun, but that day it was downright contagious! Of course being a beautiful bluebird Colorado day with no wind and having a fresh layer snow, we already had the recipe for an amazing day.
Among other things, Carin teaches spin classes at her home in Vail (altitude 8,500 feet) and I would definitely consider her generally “uber fit”. I’m not exaggerating here. She also races mountain bikes and is a stout whitewater kayaker on top of that. But climbing up the side of a mountain with skis strapped to her feet and a pack on her back soon began calling her out a little, as it does everyone.
This is usually the part of the programme where most people cease loving it and it starts becoming a job. Not Carin. You could see her mind cranking away trying to figure it all out (steep climbing with skis on isn’t exactly a unicorn picnic). She would ocassionally comment on how her quads were getting thrashed but would always follow up the comment with how it would definitely make her stronger for other things. Not once did her enthusiasm crack!
We toiled away until we reached the high point of our ski tour. When she looked around to see the view, she was literally almost brought to tears. Yes, I’d made the plan for the day, had chosen the location and had driven us to the trailhead, but she earned 100% of that view with the big effort she put in. It makes such a massive difference in the meaning of that stuff when you’re fully invested.
Skiing the backcountry is straight up harder than skiing a nice prepared piste inside a resort. As we were preparing to start back down, Carin voiced her concerns about being able to find the flow and balance on her board with the added weight of her backpack as well as the variables of the terrain. I of course eased her nerves by telling her not to worry because everyone falls. Oh, I also reminded her to keep a keen eye for buried stumps, logs, rocks and that she might also want to avoid tree wells…you know, the stuff that will help put a person at ease so they can relax.
As she started down I could see in her body language she was anxious about making that first backcountry turn. But true to her spirit (and of course my awesome words of encouragement), she reigned in the fear, fully committed to the turn and ripped a spectacularly beautiful arc in the deep snow. When she looked back up, the huge smile on her face told me she was undeniably hooked. Of course the whooping screams of delight as she was about mid turn sort of clued me in well before that!
We skied our way down through an amazingly beautiful glade to an old mine where we’d agreed to stop and regroup. She was literally still sliding toward me when she asked if we should do another lap. I actually had to laugh out loud before I quickly agreed! Once again, without mention or concern of the hard work ahead, she quickly set to prepping for another climb up.
When you can spend a day with the people closest to you doing the thing you love, you’ll truly never work a day in your life and can also consider yourself the luckiest person on the planet. I have to say I’ve been pretty lucky to have been happily suffering with those people in my life over the last few weeks…and you know who you are.
Climb high. Ski hard. Ride long. Live simply.