I Just Can’t Give It Up.

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I almost gave it up, until I realized giving it up meant giving up more than I was willing to give up.

I loved rock climbing for quite a number of years, but as climbing gyms became more mainstream and everyone started “climbing”, it got to be more about saying you were a “climber” around the coffee pot at work than actually being a climber. It became all about what grades you were climbing and if that grade wasn’t up to some arbitrary “hard man” standard, you’d be dismissed as a real climber, even though the standard wasn’t being set on real rocks but rather on plastic holds in a converted warehouse.

For me, it got to the point where it didn’t seem to be much of a cohesive community among those with an appreciation for the beauty of the full process of climbing (on real rocks). That said, it honestly wasn’t hard to give up that part of the climbing culture and I’ve since found a smaller, tighter and more genuine community in the ice climbing world.

Similarly, when I got bored with snowboarding a few years ago, I decided I wanted something truly challenging, more so than just skiing again. I naively borrowed some telemark gear from a friend and set out with a grand notion of being a knee dropping, free heeling crusher within a couple of weeks. Five years later I’d finally consider myself pretty solid on the teles but still not really a “crusher”. I still get doled large slices of humble pie often and sometimes have to limp my burning quads and battered ego back to my truck…but always with a perma-smile etched into my face.

However, I think the thing I’ve fallen in love with most is the telemark community. From day one I was never ridiculed or looked down upon while faffing around on easy green slopes like a goober while I was trying to figure it all out, even from people who were ripping super hard. In fact, I was always just blown away by the comradery of everyone in the telemark community. There didn’t ever seem to be a top and bottom of the pecking order, just an equal community amongst everyone involved. Bottom line is that telemark is hard, like really hard, and that fact seems to galvanize those who drink the tele cult Kool-Aid instead of pitting them against each other.

This past week I headed to the backcountry up near Breckenridge with a friend with high hopes of another stellar day of uncrowded glades and endless fresh tracks. In reality I probably had my worst day on teles since early in my first year. I had no explanation for it other than just having a terrible day. I’ve worked really hard over the years to get better and make stronger turns in the backcountry so was mercilessly thrown for a loop when my whole game inexplicably just fell apart. The more I fought it, the worse it got.

I’ll admit, I was really, really discouraged. Just two days earlier I had a great powder day in the backcountry and was riding high and confident…then that happened. It was so discouraging that during my drive home I had stray thoughts of just hanging up the free heel life and switching to the far easier AT gear. I even went as far as looking around on the internet when I got home to see what was on sale in the AT boot and tech binding arena. However, after a night of sleep I decided I would go back inbounds for a day and see if I could right the ship before I sold out and dropped $1,500 on new gear.

Out of the dozen or so times I’ve been out this season, this was only my second day inbounds. Though I prefer the backcountry, it actually felt kind of nice to have a consistent surface under my skis, not fear hitting submerged stumps and logs, worry about tree wells and avalanches and have a cushy chair transport me up the mountain instead of grinding out a skin track for a couple of hours only to get one or two runs.

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So, thinking that this day would either further my rogue thoughts of exploring the AT skiing set up, or forever putting my tele chakras back in alignment, I released my emotional Kraken and ripped like I seldom do for four straight hours. I was able to channel all my anger and frustration into something positive and worked through the valley of angst from the previous day’s ugliness. It felt fantastic from the first turn and fortunately my mojo was quickly restored. No, it wasn’t an epic blower powder day, but I instantly remembered why I love the tele turn so, so much.

Not ironically, on the way home I was listening to the latest Absolute Telemark podcast http://absolutetelemark.com/ and heard free heel icon JT Robinson recount how hard the telemark turn was to learn and then actually do well, but how the “community” is always there to pick you up and help you along when things aren’t going like you hoped. It was right then where I realized had I given up after something every telemark skier experiences, I would be giving up more than just a sport, I’d be giving up the community I love so much and feel so much a part of. Something I’m simply not willing to do. Not many things I can say that about.

So, I’m five years into the telemark tribe and I still love it more than ever. That’s not to say it doesn’t still frustrate the hell out of me some days! The beauty in it is that everyone who teles has their own style and there are no rights or wrongs…just self-expression and individuality without a single care what the mainstream thinks.

Climb high. Ski hard. Travel far. Live simply.

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Talk to Each Other Face to Face? Scandalous!

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. ” — Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Perhaps because of the inevitable lunacy associated with the holiday season, I’ve been feeling a little overstimulated with the pace and constant white noise of daily living. With so much information coming at us, it becomes hard to think for ourselves sometimes, much less allow us time to be creative or cultivate meaningful relationships. It seems our world is getting more and more accepting to that “phenomenon” and people simply aren’t willing to say “enough”.

I’m likely in the minority saying this, but I loathe this contemporary way of “connected living”. I hate feeling like I don’t even know the people in my life…like really know them. Because of that, this past weekend I gathered up some good friends for a few days in the backcountry to get away from cell phone and internet coverage, do some touring, ski some untouched glades, flex those creative muscles with a camera and sketch pad and most of all just talk to each other and make sure we didn’t lose those honest connections which have become so endangered.

Maybe if we remove ourselves from the world of connectivity for a few minutes here and there and actually get to really know people the way we can in the backcountry, perhaps there would be less hate and more love, compassion and understanding in this world.

Being simple. It’s not so hard.

Lost in Lobato

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A few years ago (2004) I read an essay by Alison Gannett in a holiday Patagonia catalogue. In the essay, she talks about wandering through Africa, looking for somewhere specific, but getting lost in the mountains of a place called Lesotho. By abandoning her “goal” for a short time, she learned things about the people of some random little village and more importantly, some things about herself. As is most often the case, the original goal is sometimes not the end game, but instead the journey becomes the purpose. This article has stuck with me for a long time (obviously) and to this day remains an important reference in my own journey through life. You can read it here if you’re interested:

http://www.patagonia.com/ca/patagonia.go?assetid=48936

This past week we did a little road trip down to Santa Fe. Instead of blasting down I-25 at the speed of lunacy like everyone else, we opted to cut over into central Colorado, do a little biking, explore a couple of places we rarely get to and take those lesser used roads as we made our way to the Land of Enchantment.

I don’t think anyone who knows me would be shocked by the fact I would take a circuitous route to get there, or anywhere I go for that fact. For a few days before leaving, I’d been looking at maps and reading about the areas we’d be driving through trying to get a little info on local history, interesting characters and some local’s faves for food and drink.

When I look at maps thinking about a road trip, I always seem to find myself tracing those dull, almost translucent lines across vast expanses between the thicker, more heavily fonted direct lines indicating major roads. The way it worked out in this trip was that I had a Point A (Boulder) and a Point B (Santa Fe), but connecting those points involved doing so via Point D, then Point E en route to Point C while passing Point G, but only after stopping at Point F. There is life in all these places and I want to see it and experience it.

Leaving Buena Vista after our first night and heading south toward New Mexico, I found myself lost in thought while imagining the area a hundred years ago and what life in those vast open spaces much have been like. As we continued on, I remembered reading about an old bridge crossing the Rio Grande and how at the time it was considered a structure “modernizing” travel by efficiently connecting some of these remote communities in all seasons. The Lobato Bridge eliminated the need to travel dozens, if not hundreds of miles to find a bridge to cross the river. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try and find it.

We didn’t have a map with us but through my previous reading and tracing lines on maps in my office, I thought I had a pretty good idea how to get to it. My basic information was from the small town of Antonito, Colorado I needed to go east on Road G. Of course in the town of Antonito, Road G was not marked as Road G, but the totally intuitive 5th Street, or maybe it was 6th Street? I eventually deduced 5th Street (or 6th) would turn into Road G because it was the only road heading east which extended past the city limits. I suppose I could’ve pulled out my GPS, but what fun would that be?

About half an hour after leaving the pavement, Donna gave me “the eye” and asked, “Do you really have any idea where you’re going?” Well, I sort of believed I knew where I was going so I threw out some confident words and soldiered on east at 35 mph leaving an impressive contrail of dust — which would eventually settle back to earth without anyone but us and a few crows ever having seen it.

Eventually, that immense and vast landscape seemed to fall off a little and there it was, the Lobato Bridge. Built in 1892 by the Wrought Iron Company of Ohio, this bridge is the southernmost crossing of the Rio Grande River in Colorado and remains one of the few one-lane truss style bridges in the Western United States. This was state of the art engineering back in the day and probably one of the crown jewels for the Wrought Iron Company, yet it was now likely nothing more than a footnote in the county records of Conejos County…unless you’re me looking for these random types of things.

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Lobato Bridge in Conejos County, Colorado

There were no souvenir stands with commemorative pins and cheap 50/50 cotton-polyester blend t-shirts featuring Minions standing on the bridge and no 64 oz. tankards of pop on offer, but this was good stuff. It was obscure, historic, way off the beaten path and certainly contained infinite stories related to the history of the region. I looked around and could imagine a family traveling this way in a horse drawn wagon taking hours if not days to travel what I had in about 45 minutes. I imagined them being blown away at the modern convenience of this bridge as they made their way east or west across this huge expanse of openness and how appreciative they must have been for this simple bridge, something we take for granted every single day.

After another 20 minutes of impressively lengthy dust contrails as we continued east toward the communities of Mesita and Jarosa, we spotted a lone grave a little way off the road. Literally no one or nothing for miles and strangely there was the grave of Torrey Marie Foster. Who was she? How did she die? Did she die here on the spot or was she placed there for some reason I’d never know? I saw no remnants of an old home site anywhere nearby to maybe explain the situation. I honestly intend to at least try and find the answers to these questions about Torrey.

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The grave of Torrey Marie Foster, somewhere in Conejos County, Colorado

After another couple of historic bridge crossings, more singing along with Taylor Swift on our iPod (loudly and without shame), Native American Pueblos, random antelope sightings and more meandering translucent line following, we finally made it to Santa Fe, about six hours after we originally thought we’d arrive.

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Taos Junction Bridge near Pilar, New Mexico

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San Lorenzo de Picuris, Picuris Pueblo, New Mexico

While certainly beautiful and featuring some amazing food, the original idea of winding up in Santa Fe as the terminus of our road trip seemed a bit anti-climactic. Turquoise tourists working themselves into a consuming frenzy clogged every nook and cranny of the city making it near impossible to take a single moment to consider the history of the place or enjoy any of the abundant art galleries. We found ourselves feeling anxious and frantic instead of relaxed and inspired as we had hoped. I didn’t even feel like searching for and buying that commemorative rubber tomahawk I really wanted. We did manage to get a couple of good mountain bike rides early in the mornings, but that was about the extent of it. Honestly, after just a few hours in town, I think we were both ready to hit the road again and do some more exploring off the beaten path.

I know it sounds super cliché, but I’ve again pleasantly reaffirmed that for me, the journey really is the destination. I love staying off those thick red lines on maps and seeing where those translucent gray lines will take me.

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Backroads between Mesita, CO and Jarosa, New Mexico

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The Taos High Road near Nambe, New Mexico

I love getting lost in places like Lobato. And like Alison said, in the end getting to Santa Fe never really mattered at all.

Climb high. Ski hard. Travel far. Live simply.

How South Africans May Have Saved My Retirement

My wife and I have been developing a plan on how to hit the “ESC” key on our careers since we were in our early 20s. The plan has been simple:

  • Work hard
  • Save lots of money
  • Live well below our means in every aspect (travel, material purchases, life philosophy, etc)
  • Keep everything in life simple (travel, material purchases, life philosophy, etc)
  • Trust in the plan and be dedicated to the plan
  • Walk away early in life and commit to doing whatever the hell we want

There have certainly been diversions and obstacles along the way, but we’ve been super good about quickly recognizing the value in simplicity when it happened and always dutifully returned to the plan.

As we get closer to hitting “ESC”, naturally we’ve started to get a little impatient. Like when you’re a kid and drive into the parking lot at Disneyland and your excitement almost makes you pee your pants before you can get to that first ride. This is what we’ve diligently been working toward for over 30 years, so of course the closer we get, the more palatable and raw the emotions.

With our “ESC” within sight, we’ve been spending more and more time fine tuning the details, thinking of all the adventures that lie ahead and shaping all these thoughts and dreams into what the new reality might look like. As I mentioned before, with any impending approach to an event you’ve been forever planning for, the dopamine and adrenaline starts to flow like wine from the scepter of the Gods and you unfortunately sometimes take leave of your senses.

If you listen to your heart, it’ll always lead you correctly. In this case, we muted that voice and were forging ahead, longstanding plan be damned. We were literally seconds from making a decision, a very large financial one at that, when we thankfully had one of those “WTF” moments. I know our individual decisions are always our own, but last night I had a little help from a family of South Africans to slap me upside the head and bring me back to earth.

A few weeks ago I was over in Utah doing some climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking and wild camping. The best thing in the world is finding a campsite without another soul for miles, literally, and having some massive landscapes gobble you up and let you know your miniscule place in the world. In the middle of nowhere is where all the petty stuff of this world can’t survive and you can “think” without bias, filters and influence.

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On our way back, we stopped in Moab to get gas, ice and generally restock our supplies (i.e. beer) as we moved on to the deserts of Fruita, CO. While there, we took advantage of free WiFi at the Visitor’s Center and checked messages, emails and news from back in the BoulderValley. While doing this, I saw where a family from South Africa I’ve been following via the internet for a while were also there in Utah. They’ve been overlanding for three-ish years in South America and are now making their way north to Alaska. Immediately I thought of tracking them down just to say hi and maybe hear a story or two. Unfortunately they were pretty far away in Kanab and we simply didn’t have the time to get down there and find them.

Anyhow, we did our mountain biking thing for a couple more days in Fruita then headed home. Still, I was thinking about this family as we drove back and when I did finally get home, immeditately ordered the book they’d written about their travels.

A few more days passed and one morning as I was catching up on the blogs and websites I follow, I saw that this same South African family was now actually in Boulder! I immediately shot them an email asking if I could swing by and chat, see their Land Rover and hopefully hear some amazing stories from a life lived overlanding. Graeme quickly wrote me back and said they were attending an event in an adjoining town and said to definitely swing by.

I’m a strong believer in people’s energy. I can usually walk into a crowded room and within seconds know who I’d feel comfortable talking with and who I’d definitely need to stay away from. We had ridden our bikes to this event and when I saw the Land Rover and the Bell family next to it, I literally got that positive “I need to talk to these people” vibe and quickened my cadence at little.

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To make an impossibly long story somewhat short, we found the entire Bell family to be sincerely warm, charming, funny, and incredibly interesting. I literally could’ve stayed for hours discussing the mechanics of the Landy alone, much less all the amazing stories of adventure they no doubt possess. On the surface the entire expedition seems exotic and perhaps rightfully so a bit of a complicated affair, and maybe it is to some degree, but to me it was a testament of absolute simplicity.

Even though I’d purchased their book via Amazon about a week earlier, I couldn’t resist buying one right there and having them sign it. I can always give the unsigned book to someone I think would properly appreciate it. With other engagements that morning unfortunately bearing down on us, we wished them safe travels and regretfully were on our way.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m now well into their book appropriately titled, We Will Be Free. On the upside, it’s an incredible book filled with honest stories about how this expedition came to pass and some hilarious and sometimes tense tales of adventure along their journey. I love it. image

On the downside, it’s a career killer. I’ve thought of nothing since page one except how I should shuck everything I own, buy a Land Rover (a TD5 equipped with 2.5 litre turbo diesel, right hand drive and attached rooftop tent for anyone curios and interested in giving me one) and set sail to see the world.

Parallel to all this world of global overlanding, being free and unadulterated simplicity, we’ve recently been mired in a vortex of making our long term plan entirely too complex. To call a spade a spade, we got caught up in sexy houses, sexy neighbourhoods and America’s dream of what retirement is supposed to look like. We were sliding down the slip-and-slide of material prison. Man, it’s sooooo easy to let it happen if you aren’t careful.

So, last night we had just come from looking at one of those sexy houses in one of those sexy neighbourhoods, which sported a not-so-sexy price and were literally one click away from putting our house on the market and charging ahead. Should’ve been a time of excitement, but instead we were both literally sick to our stomachs. Although we couldn’t seem to verbalize it at first, we knew in our hearts that we were wholesale abandoning our longstanding plan at the eleventh hour and about to make what could be a colossal mistake costing us another year or two of work…instead of freedom.

As we sat at what may have been the worst Mexican Restaurant in the whole of Colorado, I thought about the Bell family and how in their book they explained how they’d experienced that “dream” but knew what the right thing to do was, how it kept tugging at their hearts until they finally had to listen. When we met them, it was easy to see the genuine peace in their souls. They were doing what their hearts told them. Our hearts were telling us too, but we were ignoring it.

We finally got home after driving from Golden in a pissing rain storm and finally, finally said it out loud. This just doesn’t feel right. When the words came out, there was literally an audible sigh of relief. I called our estate agent, a good friend, and told her we were having a change of heart and needed to throw the brakes on. We felt absolutely horrible because of the work she’d already done, but being the awesome person she is, she understood. I owe her a beer for sure.

We slept better last night than we have in weeks.

People and experiences come to us all the time and they all have purpose, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. I feel so fortunate that I seem to have a keen sense for when those people and experiences are there to help point me in the right direction, or in this case, keep me on the right overall path altogether. Yeah, we’re anxious to take on this next adventure, but straying from the basis of simplicity and trying to force the goal to fruition through complexity, which is oftentimes the easy way out, would’ve inevitably take us farther away.

Thanks Graeme, Luisa, Keelan and Jessica for appearing from nowhere right here in my backyard at exactly the right time and keeping us on track. Beers on us when we see you again.

www.a2aexpedition.com

Climb high. Ski hard. Ride far. Live simply.

 

 

 

 

To Pass Or Not To Pass

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Less is more. I’ve always been a big fan of “less” but lately I’ve been hearing that phrase more and more from the people closest to me.

This ski season has been described by all the powers-that-be in the forecasting, data research and ski industry, as solidly average and officially been anointed a success. We’ve had average snow as defined by weather researchers, the piste has been covered for the most part, hordes consistently flocked to the resorts and our economy here in Colorado has been mostly smiles. As a guy who works in math as my primary means of income, the term I would use to describe this season would be “expected results”.

Going into this season I had high hopes for yet another above average season, just like the two prior to this one, but I’m greedy like that. Endless powder days, fresh lines aplenty and a season pushed well into June (and even July!). And indeed, others in my greater circle of acquaintances shared that anticipation and talked of all those big days in the backcountry ahead and how every weekend we’d be out early and home late. But once the season kicked off, those things changed.

As normal, I spent the first month or so skiing inbounds, getting the legs tuned just waiting for the backcountry to set up. That stoke and talk of all the backcountry powder lines ahead built to a crescendo and when it was finally time to pull the trigger and pack up the beacons, probes and shovels…the people I thought were in (based on all their big talk), were all of sudden suckling the teats of excuses and were perpetually unavailable for backcountry adventures (but up for resort days). It’s always hard in the backcountry so while it was marginally disappointing at first, it was somewhat expected and certainly not the end of the world.

I have to admit that my patience, will and desire to ski inbounds has been reduced to a flicker. With resorts merging, pimping and gobbling each other up at a frantic pace to see who can be the biggest, sexiest and most expensive, I honestly don’t feel they care much about me or anyone else as a skier anymore. Ski resorts are businesses and understandably are all about rankings in ski magazines and bottom lines on income statements. It’s to the point where I’ve really had to start to thinking about how much I want to spend my money to purchase a pass and commit to them for another season. Isn’t the point of spending your money that you get something in return?

Looking back, this failure to launch by the people who I quasi-counted on was a good thing. It forced me to reach out to a different set of friends, some I hadn’t known as well (until this season that is), and ask if I could tag along on some of their outings. In doing so, I also inadvertently reconnected with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while and discovered just how much our ideals and thoughts on life had merged. Perhaps this was actually meant to happen?

The more time I spent with these people, the more I started hearing just how the mayhem, expense and aggravation of skiing at resorts had soured them, how they now found themselves earning their turns every weekend and how they’d really reconnected with the soul of skiing. The one thing I also started hearing more and more was that the option of NOT buying a pass to a resort for the next season was being discussed. Two friends in particular have already committed to eschewing a pass next year and will be sticking solely to the backcountry…no pass for the first time in 25 years.

My good friend Jason was here last weekend from Montana on the way back up to his guiding gig in Alaska. I always have a good time talking with him about life because we share the same views on simplicity. He does have a little street cred in that area since he quit his job as a PhD researcher at a high profile university a few years ago to pursue a simpler life as a guide and artist.

Anyhow, we spent a day climbing and skiing in the backcountry in some of the places introduced to me this winter. As always, we found our way into long, protracted conversations about simple living, appreciating life at a slower pace (as we slowly huffed and puffed our way up the skin track) and how conversations like the one we were having were by far the best part of backcountry skiing. Yes, the powder turns in the backcountry are simply fantastic and the feeling of satisfaction of climbing to get those turns is unequalled, but having the time and quiet format to connect with friends on a deeper level, maybe even suffering a little together in a spectacularly beautiful setting, well, that’s the real reward.

On our ski down, Jason and I stopped at an old mining cabin to get out of the wind, take some photos, chat and have a bite to eat. After that we skied a bit more, took some more photos, sat in the snow and chatted for a while, climbed a bit more, skied some more and we even got a little lost and wound up with a mini adventure bushwhacking to get back to the drainage leading to my truck.

In the end we only skied about 2,000 vertical feet in four hours, earned some thoroughly thrashed quads, worked up a massive appetite, didn’t see another person the entire time and I think I can speak for Jason and say we had one of the best days ever on skis. Best of all, a day in the backcountry will cost me a little gas money and about $15 for an IPA and a burger at the local brewery. Cost of a single day lift ticket at Vail, parking, an Epic Burger and a beer, $200. I’ll let you do the math on this one.

The spring-season-pass-sale-silliness has begun here in Colorado and for the first time in a long, long time, I find myself debating whether to buy one at all. If I don’t purchase a pass for next season, I probably won’t be skiing over 700,000 lift served vertical feet which seems to be a benchmark good year for a committed season pass holder. Instead, it’ll probably be more around 100,000 self-propelled vertical feet like this season.

I’ve had such an amazing year in the backcountry this season and I owe that solely to everyone who shared those cold early morning climbs, heart and lung pounding ascents and those long, meaningful conversations. I honestly can’t say that about my brief time spent at resorts.

Climb high. Ski hard. Live simply.

Pro Leisure Tour

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Sometimes the correct answer is to throw some gear in the truck, throw out any notion of a firm plan, tell no one what you’re doing, turn the key and see where your internal compass takes you.

The result is a pace of life defined solely by our own rhythms, finding yourself delightfully lost out in some big country, embracing random encounters with old friends and new ones alike, absorbing some magical campsite sunrises/sunsets and restoring the term “simple” back into the daily vocabulary.

Less is more.

Never Work A Day In Your Life

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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.

Check In or Check Out?

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During the past two winter seasons here in Colorado we were situated solidly in the storm track and seemingly every weekend got exponentially better and better for those of us who love skiing powder. It was so consistent and so good that instead of “spring skiing” in May we were still skiing legit powder of the knee deep variety until almost Memorial Day. Well, so far this year our seasonal snowfall has been classified as “average” according to the National Weather Service and other such agencies who track all kinds of fun weather related statistics. After being spoiled for two seasons, average now seems anything but.

It took me all of about about two days of standing in those long lift queues, endlesly waiting to ski the hardpacked piste, surrounded by people more concerned with “checking in” on Facebook, updating their status or checking on their Epic Mix apps than actually skiing, before I started thinking of better ways to spend my time.

From that point, I started spending most of my weekends climbing well before daylight to the high point of my favourite little resort, whereupon I could watch the sun come up then ski back down on empty trails and actually enjoy making turns without fear of other people crashing into me. After that, maybe I’d do a couple of lift assisted runs then head home around mid-morning. Every once in a while I’d get a wild hair and decide it was time to ride lifts all day again…and that fantasy would generally last about two hours.

As slow to come along as it was, the backcountry here in Colorado finally shaped up to a reasonable level. Instead of fighting those crowds (and traffic), I started spending most of my weekends with one or two friends touring quiet valleys and skiing the glades off the surrounding ridges. As usual, besides the lack of crowds and general anxiety, the backcountry has lots of benefits our society sort of forces us to ignore.

My wife has a job which requires, or at least “expects” her to sort of be in communication range about 95% of the day, including late into the evenings sometimes. I guess you could say she finds herself “checking in” quite a bit. While her job does have the benefit of being a rather fairly compensated position, the balance of pay and “time” sometimes gets a little tilted to the negative side and the stresses of it start filtering out the important experiences of life.

The funny thing about employment is we work our entire lives to accumulate money and material things and theoretically, the more we work, the more we have…and I use the word have loosely because those things actually own us! What our app-oriented, faster-is-better society fails to capitalize on is that we were all born with a wealth of currency in the form of time. We are conditioned to work ourselves to death, literally sometimes, frantically climbing the waterfall of accumulating money and material things. And although we know it all too well, we will NEVER be able to keep pace with the materials things we “need” because marketing firms will spare no expense to insure we are always insecure with what we currently have. The sad thing is we will let the balance in our “time account” go bankrupt while we try.

Last weekend Donna and I went out for a backcountry ski day to a place a friend recently turned me onto. She skis very well, but is still rather new to the backcountry and isn’t yet overly comfortable with skiing the oftentimes variable conditions. However, she’s learning quickly and getting more comfortable every time out. That said, we chose this place because it has a relatively mellow tour into a beautiful valley and features some low angle glade skiing as to keep things on the low-anxiety side of things. There is nothing really all that easy about backcountry skiing to begin with, so finding places that are skill appropriate for the people in your group is always the first key to having a good day. It’s also key to maintaining a firm level of marital bliss…just sayin’.

So we set out well before daylight to hopefully get ahead of the I-70 weekend traffic. After 20+ years of living in Colorado, it’s still shocking to me that no matter what time you leave, it’s never a relaxing drive into the mountains around here. Anyhow, we initiated the alpine start and arrived to the trailhead right around daybreak, where much to our delight we found we were the only car there. One car in the parking lot where we were, yet, literally three miles away there were thousands upon thousands of people piling into the expensive pay lots at a major resort…and of course “checking in” on Facebook to make sure everyone knows it.

As I mentioned, the ski tour up this valley is rather mellow. It follows an old mining trail through a dense pine forest before eventually breaking out at tree line into an incredibly beautiful and majestic bowl rimmed with jagged peaks above 13,000 feet. On this day the cloud deck was low and it was snowing lightly so the highest of the peaks were hidden, but there was still no denying the magic of being in a place like that and having it all to ourselves.

About the time we reached tree line, Donna stopped for what I assumed was a little oxygen break given we had been traveling at a little above 11,000 feet for a while. That was partially true, but what made me more happy was I discovered she had stopped to listen to the absolute quiet, something I myself cherish when I’m climbing alone at a resort or skiing the backcountry. You could even hear the light snow as it drifted down onto our nylon packs. We just stood there for a bit and let the energy of the place seep into our soul…and stresses of our everyday lives drain out.

We’ve been out skiing a few times together this year, mostly inbounds, but this was the first time I’ve actually seen her relax and actually take the time to enjoy the experience instead of starting the day anxious about fighting the crowds, the traffic and the general lunacy of what we’ve come to accept as acceptable. I think she clearly saw why I choose to ski in these places despite the hard work it takes to get to them.

Backcountry skiing is hard, especially if you don’t do it often. Regardless, I could see a distinct energy about life in her I don’t see all that often during the work week. She seemed less stressed and was willing (with encouragement) to fight her way up some steeper sections of the skin track to reach a flat spot on the adjacent ridge where we’d start our ski down. It definitely got her out of her comfort zone a little but the positives of being there and experiencing kept nudging her appreciation of life upward as the weight of everyday life lifted. Skiing at a resort seems to congregate and intensify people’s everyday stresses, where skiing in the backcountry seems to give you enough room to dissipate that stuff and see a little more clearly.

Once we reached the high point of our tour, it didn’t take much more than a cursory glance around that cirque to realize just how special it was to be in a place so beautiful and not have another person within miles. Instead of spending our currency of time being surrounded by hordes of oftentimes rude people on a crowded piste, we had invested our time in getting to a place that allowed us to relax and earnestly experience our surroundings and fill our souls…exactly what skiing is supposed to be about. Most importantly, we got to share that investment of time together and make another deposit into our “joint experience account”.When everything is said and done, all we’ll ever have in our lives are our experiences. It’s why I choose my time investments and who I invest them with very carefully these days.

It wasn’t exactly the powder day we hoped for, but we had a wonderful ski down despite the challenging variable conditions. Progress and growth of any kind is oftentimes a process of two steps forward and one step back. Skiing in the backcountry will definitely teach a person patience, humility and how to take broader strokes to the way you see things. You have to work through the tough times, trust the process and keep trudging down that road of self discovery. In the movie 180 Degrees South, Yvon Chouinard spoke of doing anything that involves discovering something spiritual about yourself by saying, “if you shortcut or compromise the process in any way, you’ll be an asshole when you start and you’ll still be an asshole when you finish”.

I saw some more big progress in Donna’s backcountry skiing and I know for sure she built another good layer of confidence in herself to tackle things that aren’t always very straightforward. I think that revelation came after the exhausting part of trying to get up after a fall or two in baseless snow…but it did come. Next time we go out I know she’ll grow yet again…we all do. I can’t help but think every day out there will help her compartmentalize those stressful days in her work life and keep them from filtering the amazing experiences we’ve had and will continue to have.

We didn’t “check in” that day like the thousands of people were doing just a few miles away, but we did manage to “check out” for a little while, which we tend to find a lot more appealing. It’s also nice to enjoy our long time home here in Colorado the way it should be enjoyed. It’s especially enjoyable to share those experiences with the ones you love.

Climb high. Ski hard. Ride long. Live simply.

I Used to Live Like That…

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2014 has been a fun year, but an interesting one at the same time. This year has been one of those where I’ve really focused on my penchant to do the things I love…and do them a lot. Sounds simple but sometimes things aren’t always as simple…as just being simple.

I’ve worked really, really hard in the past few years to not let this unnecessarily complicated world creep into and complicate my own simple little world. Complications, most often the totally self-imposed ones, tend to put too many filters on the things we’re really looking for in life. That said, I decided long ago when it comes to living my life, I’ll only “shoot life’s photographs with a basic lens”. No filters to obstruct or alter the view, just enjoy what I have here in my hand…like it is…for what it is.

The downside to living this way is that very, very few other people are dialed into that way of life. Ringing up a friend to go out for a ride or a ski at the last minute, or even a few days’ notice, is no longer that simple. There are so many distractions tugging at (tugging = cluttering) people’s lives anymore it’s almost impossible to get more than a few uninterrupted seconds with anyone, much less a full day. For a world that professes to be connecting itself through technology, it’s actually isolating people like never before. 

This silly phenomenon of being pulled in so many directions renders people’s lives so complicated that simply saying “yes” or “no” becomes a big, scary commitment. When that happens, having to decide on only one thing or another immediately kicks in a person’s FOMO Syndrome — Fear of Missing Out. It’s like having those 976 cable channels and flipping through them constantly looking for the perfect show to dedicate your precious time. You never really slow down or stop long enough to see if you would actually like what you’re seeing! It definitely keeps you busy, but in reality you become a slave to the promise of something better.

This year found me doing more than an inordinate amount of things solo. This has been my biggest single year on a mountain bike with a total of 189 rides, yet I’ve ridden less than 16 times with others. Would I have preferred to ride more with others? Hell yeah I would’ve because I definitely went to some cool places, saw some amazingly stunning scenery, rode some incredibly beautiful singletrack and truly enjoyed the natural beauty of an autumn season here in Colorado not witnessed in the 20+ years I’ve lived here.

The upside to this is when I do these things solo, I can move at my own rhythm. I can get up at those ungodly hours in order to be at a trailhead as the sun rises, or in some cases like when skinning at a resort, get there long before daybreak and spend my time climbing by moonlight or by headlamp. I know these “alpine starts” aren’t for everyone, but I personally find watching the sun break over the horizon to be like nature’s metaphorical permission slip to fashion the day, and in fact the life ahead, into exactly what I want it to be. 

Equally, during the warmer months, I love being at some trailhead super early in the morning to get my mountain biking kit organized for a long day of singletrack, knowing that when that sun finally does come up and I clip into my pedals, whatever else is happening in the world simply won’t matter for the next few hours. 

There were definitely times when I was nervous going out on my own because of the remoteness or rough nature of the terrain where I was headed, but when the choice is to go it alone or not go at all, I’ll go every time. Life is too precious to wait around on others to get their complicated lives sorted out in order to make a simple decision…and sometimes they can’t get it sorted out and are paralyzed into complete inaction anyhow. Sadly, it has sometimes become easier just not to ask at all.

The classic Meyers-Briggs personality test has me equally pegged as an “I” and an “E” (Introvert and Extrovert). My full attribute profile says I’m an ENFP (or INFP 50% of the time). I’ve taken this test a zillion times and been “ranked” right down the middle when it comes to that first attribute every time.

I guess this explains why some days I’m perfectly content being all alone skinning up to some high point in the mountains and can sit patiently for a very long time while I wait on the sun to arrive. There are other times however when I would truly enjoy the company of a good friend, someone to share in the hard work it takes to get where we’re going, share in the magic of a new morning or share in the silent contemplation of what good and amazing things the world and our future has in store for us as we go forward. 

Recently I spent yet another solitary early morning skinning up Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. When I got to Lenawee Ridge (the high point of the resort), I scuttled into the patrol headquarters building (PHQ) to warm up for a minute or two before skiing back down prior to the lifts opening for the day. 

Inside PHQ I found Kent and Doris, a couple I’d met a couple of years ago and whom I fortunately now see regularly throughout the season here at the Basin. If I’m correct, Kent is 77 years old now and Doris his junior by about 10 years. They typically skin up the mountain more than 120 times a season so are kind of local legends in these parts! And don’t be fooled by that 70+ age category because they can still CRUSH you going up AND coming down! 

Not only is it awesome to get up there first thing in the morning and see them chilled out and relaxed, drinking from their small thermos of coffee, reading the day’s paper and ALWAYS smiling, it’s even more awesome and inspiring to see people who love life and cherish its simple gifts as much as they do. In a world of all the false heroes found in pro sports figures, politic nutcases (ugh) and all those other celebrity goofballs, I find Kent and Doris to be the true heroes of life. They 100% “get it”.

Anyhow, as I was packing away my skins, gnawing at my frozen Clif Bar and changing out of my sweaty jacket, we found ourselves discussing how few people were out on the mountain on such a spectacularly beautiful morning. We concluded that being around a holiday, hangovers were probably the culprit for the low turnout. We agreed we were happy to have abstained the night before and were able to enjoy another beautiful sunrise in relative peace — which had just brilliantly started to peek over the surrounding ridges. This is when Kent randomly blurted out something which both warmed my heart and re-affirmed my own lifestyle choices. He said, “I used to live like that… living hard, living complicated, but one day a long time ago I decided I could either do that, or I could become an athlete and spend the rest of my life getting out to places like this and enjoying life’s simple pleasures”. 

Prophetic words spoken from on high…literally…like at 12,485 feet above sea level high!

I do love getting out and adventuring with friends because I really, really do love sharing life’s stoke with the people I care most about. However, when people’s lives get so complicated and bogged down in minutia they can’t make simple time for others, or even make a simple yes or no decision, I’m glad the “I” in my Myers-Briggs profile can kick in and I can easily just go.

Looking back, I’ve had a great kick at it in 2014 and have certainly finished strong this December with another backcountry hut trip with Donna and some good friends. And now that the snow has finally come in earnest, I’ve also been able to get out into the backcountry a couple of times and enjoy some fun-filled days of powder skiing away from the crowded resorts. Most importantly, I’ve had some fabulous simple holiday time with my little family here in Colorado as we close out the year. 

Climb high. Ski hard. Ride long. Live simply.

We All Have Our Place.

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Just as this past ski season kicked off, my wife quit her job at the behemoth ski company she was employed with and away went my free season pass.

Immediately, with that change in her career path, I was cast into the mind numbing abyss of deciding which pass to get. If you’re not from Colorado, it may be hard to understand the full gravity of this situation, but deciding where to direct your ski alliances is a huge deal. People can actually lose friends over this kind of stuff.

Among the considerations a person must ponder when choosing a pass are things like quality of terrain, length of typical season, typical lift queue waits, price of pass, availability of free parking, snow fall averages, drive time to and from, cost of après activities and most importantly for me, choosing the clientele who I’ll be sharing the piste with. With this abrupt change in Donna’s career, I was faced with having to do this in a matter of hours, not the typical months of intense contemplation, meditation, divine intervention and rigourous vetting amongst peers and spiritual advisors.

Caught off guard and needing to make a quick decision, I used my default position and ended up with the “general ski area coverage” pass where I could ski the resorts in Summit and Eagle Counties I was already familiar with. This “general” pass was priced at a vastly reduced rate from the rack rate of the “full ski area coverage” pass — the one I’d had for free for several years. The only real difference was the full pass would’ve given me a few more days at the most popular resorts (read:crowded) and access to places like Verbier and one or two in Austria where I’d honestly never go to in a typical year.

I’d never really paid much attention to the cost for all those “extras” since it had been free. Now I can kinda see that buying that “full” pass is tantamount to buying all those sexy bells and whistles on a fancy car, you know, the ones you never use. Like insisting on the uber off-road package on that monster SUV when it’ll never be driven off the tarmac.

In hindsight, I now realize making that un-researched, snap pass decision may not have resulted in the best choice for me in terms of maximizing the skiing experience for the price of the pass. What can I say, the snow was already falling and I buckled under the pressure of the moment.

For the fist time in several years, without the decision being made for me where to ski, I started viewing my desired skiing experience in an entirely different way. I also began to realize I’d had a somewhat subconscious pressure to go to certain resorts and sadly, in some way feel that I needed to “fit in”. The fact of the matter is I most oftentimes felt completely out of place.

However, throughout this season, I found myself migrating most weekends to the places I felt most comfortable — A-Basin and the backcountry. This despite having access to some ridiculously posh resorts. In changing the way I viewed my ski days, I no longer felt the need to rally at 04:00 on a Saturday morning to beat the I-70 traffic and secure one of the three available free parking spaces. I no longer felt compelled to ski early and hard so I could get back in the car early enough in the day to beat the traffic home. I realized everything associated with my ski experiences for the past several years had become frantic from start to finish and more times than not, a day with my friends which was meant to be fun and enjoyable was anything but.

So, when the time came this spring to buy my pass for next season, the choice was pretty clear. As clear as the decision was on the surface though, I still needed to look at the tangibles from the previous season(s) and see what fell out. Don’t judge, this is what we do in Colorado.

According to my detailed collection of datum, I spent more than 83% of my inbound skiing days at A-Basin. There are no luxury hotels adorning the Basin (no hotels period), no swanky overpriced restaurants, no valet parking and consequently they don’t have lift queues so long they’re visible from outer space like many of the other mega resorts.

Best of all, I found I could leave my house later in the morning, pick up my people, drive at a VW Vanagon-esque pace in my Tacoma, arrive unstressed, still park for free (it’s all free at the Basin) and still get in more quality skiing in a given day than I ever did at the places promising me an experience of a lifetime.

On the intrinsic side of my analysis, the thing standing out most in my mind is I truly feel at home at the Basin. You can always find a host of incredible skiers ripping up some impossibly terrifying terrain, always find good music by local artists and always find a fairly priced craft beer along with some tasty food. Best of all, you’ll always find people smiling and laughing. It’s all about the vibe at the Basin.

It’s impossible to stroll through the parking lot or along The Beach and not strike up a fun conversation with a stranger. You’ll likely be offered a beer or brat from the grill or cooler located behind someone’s awesome VW bus, Tacoma, Subaru Outback or some other backcountry worthy rig. Simply enjoying the vibe of the Basin is almost as fun as the skiing itself! This in exact contrast of the mega resorts because grilling and tailgating is generally frowned upon or simply not allowed. And let’s be honest, most of the clientele at those mega resorts aren’t into tailgating.

With all these multi-resort passes being offered, the whole experience is starting to feel a little too much like Facebook. Collecting more and more “friend resorts” that I don’t really like or would never hang out with in real life (Verbier, etc) really doesn’t juice me up all that much so why in the world would I want to pay for it? For me, I want quality, not quantity.

As you’ve probably guessed, next season my allegiance will be solely with the Basin. I love the terrain, love the people who also call A-Basin home and love that I can slow it down and savour every aspect of the experience without sacrificing one shred of the quality. Some people call the Basin a cult. If so, so be it, but I love parking next to a old VW Vanagon loaded with boats, mountain bikes, skis and people who will talk to me and won’t look down their nose at me because I have duct tape on my  kit.

Oh, and with the cost of the season pass at about half of what I’d pay for those multi-resort passes, I can still feel good about dropping a little cash love at places like Loveland, Taos, Crested Butte, Whitewater (BC), Monarch or any of the other local areas who are dedicated to keeping it real.

Find your passion. Find your place. Find your people and live your life the way you want, not someone else’s version of it.

It’s okay to be different.