Dear Backcountry Babes,
I miraculously just completed your AIARE Level 1 course on Vail and Loveland Pass with Anne, Janine, and Eryka. I think I would follow those ladies anywhere now after witnessing firsthand their experience, knowledge, and leadership skills. Wowza!
Before this class I emailed and asked you ladies about the physical requirements/skinning mileage because I was nervous about living in Golden and not at relative altitude. You kindly reassured me that most folks who are active in general keep up just fine, and that you pride yourselves on having guides who are patient and supportive. So I showed up, apprehensive about being the most out of shape gal on the trip. And…I was! I am not being modest. This was one bad ass group of ladies of all ages, really a pretty exceptional group.
The first 2 days I felt like my 9-10 years of backcountry experience in the PNW had been a made-up dream, a figment of my overactive imagination and too much ski porn. Apparently, five years at sea level and a day job had somehow deemed all those other years irrelevant. No more Tuesday powder days, I’m in a windowless office fighting the good fight these days. Pretty sedentary 40 hours/week.
So I struggled. The first day we barely went anywhere but I could still tell I was not in Rhode Island anymore, Toto. Saturday, as we chugged up Vail Pass in 3 degree, blowing snow, I was way back in the pack. That’s when things got a little more serious and I thought, hmm, perhaps this isn’t the year for me to do this. That evening I voiced my concerns to Janine and Eryka, mostly because the last thing I wanted was to hold up my group or interrupt the guide’s process. Time is of the essence out there, after all. But you were right about your guides; they wouldn’t have it. Neither Eryka nor Janine hesitated for even a minute when they reassured me that we would make it work on Sunday. With admittedly slightly teary eyes, I walked away prepared to tackle whatever Sunday would bring.
I realized that no matter what I did on my own, in my head, or talking to the guides, if I didn’t share my concerns with my group during trip planning then I was not really participating and being a team player. So I swallowed my already tainted pride and ‘fessed up to my little group of 19 and 20 somethings that I was concerned I was the weakest link physically, and felt very anxious about holding them up all day. Much to my surprise, this pretty introverted group of gals softened and unanimously expressed their support. We were a team, and we would all look out for each other. So there it was.
We chose 2 trip leaders, Alix and Bekah. Alix volunteered to be the caboose, a position which I thought I had dialed, but Alix insisted. So off we went, on a cold bluebird day, away from the crowds at Loveland Pass, up and away into the silent noise of trees. We went up. I mean, like straight up! (Alix could tell you the actual slope angle should you want to know how ‘up!’). I couldn’t breathe, and my extra long splitboard felt super awkward. Every time we stopped for observation and snow tests, I thought, that’s it, I can’t possibly move another step. I don’t know what happened! I used to be able to knock out 2-3 laps like this before going to wash dishes or clean a hotel room. It’s only been 15 years, what has happened?!
That’s when Alix started to tell me a story.
You know when you’re trying to focus on something really hard, and someone is talking to you, and you’re thinking, oh my god, I can’t reply to anything you’re telling me! But Alix kept going. “There was this hill near my house in Wisconsin when I was a kid…I mean, it was Wisconsin, so it’s really not that big, but when I was little, it felt really big! And my Mom could bike up it, and my brother could bike up it, but I just could not bike up that hill. So my mom made up this mantra for me: Hills Build Strength. And you know what? Eventually, I could bike up that hill.”
And I’m now really listening to what Alix is saying because I know that she does not share easily, so I’m recognizing that this is a gift she is giving me, this story, and I’m so focused on this gift, that I don’t even realize the rest of the group has stopped at our final destination, is removing their packs, and taking in the scenery.
Alix continues…”So…I think we could use that mantra right now,” she says to me, and then, we are at the top.
I certainly don’t know everything, but I do know this: Snow science and avy knowledge and backcountry skiing and riding steep lines is really cool. But you know what’s even cooler? Showing compassion, and patience, and kindness to virtual strangers you met 3 days ago. That’s what I think is really cool. And along with slabs and depth hoar and how to read an avy report, that is what I will remember most about my AIARE 1 class.
I share my story in case you have other women who are afraid to show up, doubtful in their abilities, or apprehensive for whatever reason. You and your guides have created a space for supportive learning in the craziest of conditions.
See you out there,
Thank you so much for sharing your story. You brought us and your instructors to tears. Your challenge on the skin track is a universal story and I think everyone can relate to that experience! It’s wonderful to hear that you were met with kindness, patience, and support from your instructors, your group and yourself. Thank you Alix (and mom!) for sharing your mantra, “Hills Build Strength!”
Here at Backcountry Babes, we strive to create a supportive learning space; and it is really up to our participating Backcountry Babes to bring it to life out on the mountain and back at home. We’re proud to share your story and yodel it through the mountains for anyone who is afraid to show up or doubtful in their abilities. We are all in it together!
Hope to ski with you again soon!