“Meaning in the Mountains” is a series of videos promoting small ski areas in Montana. I love these videos — there are several. The main guy — host — is Vasu Sojitra who lost a leg when he was 9 months old. He skis on one leg. All of the videos (the link below will lead you to some of the others) are beautiful and Vasu is not only a great — meaning amazing — skier but a wonderful host.
There are videos of him back-county skiing in the Beartooths — mountains in Montana that I love. It’s great to see them. (I never downhill skied in Montana. I wish I had). If you like ski videos there are a lot here on his blog including this beautiful climbing story.
When I was a kid in school in Nebraska, I was always excited when the Weekly Reader showed up. It left a big impression on me that lasted a long time, like until now long time. One of the great things I read about was Palomar Mountain where the Hale Telescope sat. Once the Good X and were living in San Diego, and I realized WHERE that was exactly, I was excited to go see the telescope. I loved space. We went soon after we found our apartment. It was great.
When our first San Diego winter(1984/85) rolled around, and I read that there were 12 inches of snow up there, I wanted to ski the trail from the campground to the observatory. It was one of our first back-country ski trips in Southern California. I learned a lot from it.
First, Southern California plants thrive in winter and die down in summer. Second, most of the 2.2 mile trail to the observatory was lined in brush meaning we had to stick our poles in the manzanita and sage scrub. It was ludicrous, hilarious.
At that point, I didn’t even know what those plants were except an enormous pain in the ass. As we neared the observatory, the trail was cleaner.
The ferns that grow along the upper trail were dormant and the pasture was wide. In the fullness of time (years) I would see the mortreros in the rock along the trail where the Indians ground acorns and I would know that the trees around me were mostly Coastal Live Oak and Jeffry Pine but I wasn’t there yet.
It took a long time to get up there, and though it was an insane caper, it was fun and the sight of that beautiful dome rising from a snowy landscape took my breath away.
We decided not to go back down on the trail. Parts were steep and narrow with almost no means of controlling a downhill ride, no room to turn, no place to plant poles. We took the road — which, up near the top had not been plowed.
As we careened down the mountain, whooping in exhilaration, we passed a family who, having heard there was snow up there, had brought their equipment for a fun California day. This consisted of a cooler, a couple beach chairs, a beach umbrella and a couple of boogie boards. This wasn’t irony; this was serious. As we whizzed by, one of the kids yelled out, “Hey mom, THAT’S what we should be doing!”
That was my first experience with the Southern California phenomenon of “going to the snow.” Many, many years later, when I was teaching Critical Thinking through Nature Writing and my students had to go “out” into nature and write about it in their journals, I read many sweet and funny stories about my students’ first encounters with the glorious white stuff. Most were surprised that it wasn’t softer to land in. Others were surprised it was so cold. On days when I took a dog or two up to the Lagunas to run through snow drifts on the Garnet Peak Trail, the Sunrise Highway was always lined by cars filled with people who went into the “wilderness” only about 50 feet for the experience of winter. Lots of people filled the back of their pick-up truck with snow and put small snowmen on the hood.
Today I took Bear and Teddy out to the Refuge. I’m still a little friable physically. The knee isn’t quite right and the groin muscle is tight and achy, still, but better. I was worried Teddy would pull too hard in one direction and Bear in the other, but no. Bear walked with me so I didn’t even feel her on the leash. Teddy is starting to understand what a leash walk is. It was perfect. All day showers have been coming over the San Juans in waves of air-brushed clouds of snow that obscure everything and go on their way. The three of us walked most of our walk in just such a miraculous shower.
In spite of a mildly torqued knee. a pulled groin muscle, and a limp, I decided to take Bear out to the Refuge. I thought I’d use a cane for stability, but I’d forgotten that is Bear’s job. She’d kind of forgotten that, too, at the beginning of our walk, but she remembered before she did any damage.
The moment I arrived, I noticed the welcoming party.
It was very deer of them to be there, waiting for me, and I was grateful. I took it as a benediction on what I feared was a bad idea, walking Bear when I am physically a little fragile. I sent them my thanks through ASL (which all muledeer understand perfectly) and my friend and I took off slowly, me limping, Bear wanting to smell everything. I didn’t blame her. Even I could see the stories left in the snow.
We went along. I had no idea how far I would go before I couldn’t go, but it turned out that I was able to go almost as far as usual. The only reason I didn’t go all the way is because my mom told me not to, I mean because I’m less stupid and stubborn than I was three days ago. Bear studied scents, rolled in the snow, dug down to where maybe some little creature had burrowed for warmth.
On the way I noticed a large bird in one of the cottonwood trees. Then it went “ooo-hooo” and I realized it was “my” great horned owl. Too far away for a good photo, but when has that deterred me?
When Bear and I turned around, Bear did her lean thing which I interpret to mean, “Thank you Martha,” but it might mean, “Aren’t we going to hunt some more?” We walked along together, my hand on my dog’s back, and I thought, “Is this so bad, Martha? Really, what’s wrong with this? Your best friend is here. Your welcoming committee was waiting for you. The snow is one big mantle of diamonds and stories. And look at that! Look, right in front of you!!”
I did. I stood there and looked at the little grouping of mountains I’ve painted so many times that they’re almost a part of my hand, and I started to cry. “We are hardly a consolation prize,” murmured all the features of the landscape, “And we’re yours. You came here for this and we are here for you. Do you have to live according to some idea of yourself or can’t you just do what we do and BE?”
There were no human footprints anywhere. A couple signs of someone on X-country skis maybe three days ago, but otherwise? As it is most of the year, it was just us, Bear and me and sometimes Teddy, too. I like the cold, the wind, the changes, the tracks, the possibilities of seeing other animals besides me and my dogs. I like what I see going slowly.
Time casts a long shadow. I’m feeling that now. Four years of anger and frustration and bewilderment and “POOF!” I know the changes that need to be made won’t be “POOF!” but I’m wondering how much of that anger, frustration and bewilderment BECAME me?
Yesterday after Biden had been sworn in, I took off on my skis. The nordic club had laid track basically for ME. I wanted to be out in the snow while it was still cold and not sticky. I struggled to get one of my bindings to close, but I succeeded and took off. It was beautiful. Then, at the halfway point I decided to turn around because my bio mechanics is funky and one of my legs is 1/2 inch longer than the other and I’d been skiing with that leg on the inside of the curve when it should be on the OUTSIDE (think of a drawing a circle with a compass). Not long after I turned, I lost my balance (the snow depth is very uneven out there) and fell. I got up and more or less into my skis, well into one ski, but I wasn’t able to close my ski binding again no matter what I did. I ended up lugging my skis a quarter mile out of there. Not fun.
My balance until this year has always been pretty good out there. This year? No. Yeah, a packed trail is easier to ski on and it wasn’t packed, just nicely broken. And there’s the leg length problem. And there’s the fact that my glasses are whack. While I was skiing, I struggled the whole time to keep my feet in line and to remain upright.
Once I got to Bella (who loves deep snow, bless her little Jeep heart) and turned on my car, Mohammed’s Radio was playing the Byrd’s, “Turn Turn Turn.” “Fuck that,” was my first thought.
I was hurt, but not injured, if that makes any sense. I’m still not walking great and so on and so forth. There are bruises around my ankle where my legs threw themselves against my boots in the second fall day before yesterday.
The thing is, I want to go back out today, but can’t because of my ski binding and my body. The store says I should bring them in and that’s right, but today’s not the day. I want to change them out for automatic bindings that I don’t have to bend over to close or open. That’s what I always had (once I’d given up 3 pin bindings which are OK with me, too). When a person has balance problems, bending down to close something on the ground isn’t always a great idea.
On the other hand, I have begun to wonder if it’s just time to give up. As things are right now, I’m barely walking, but I know it will be better tomorrow and the next day. The thing is, if you can’t endure falls, don’t ski. 3 falls in two days.
I am still superstitiously haunted by Bella’s spooky radio and The Byrd’s singing, “Turn, Turn, Turn” is a semi-quote of Ecclesiastes 3. No one knows who wrote Ecclesiastes, but there is a case made for it having been written by King Solomon. In any case, these are wise words, and a part of Ecclesiastes 3 that isn’t often shared. I don’t know any rock songs about this:
“…10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”
The part we all know is a lesson in acceptance: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”
It’s strange we don’t go around saying, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live.” Personally, I think it would be cool if we did.
I expect that I will take the skis to the shop next Monday and see if I can switch the bindings. I don’t think I’m psychically ready to give up, but the problem is, it might be physical wisdom to hang up my skis. Life seems to be a process of becoming someone else all the damned time. I remember being young and wanting to “find myself.” The thing is whoever that “self” is, it’s like the horizon.
Like this little poem by Stephen Crane. I used to read it one way; that we have the right to pursue our dreams and no one has the right to stop us (Take that mom). Now I just think it’s a smart, experienced person talking to a child.
“No, seriously. The Smilodon gig for the kiddies, I dunno. But I never tire of seeing our old haunts, and the scene of one of my greatest hunting triumphs back in the day.”
“Just have to rub it in, don’t you.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is. Sometimes you’re the Smilodon, sometimes you’re the Wooly Mammoth. As you’ve said before, maybe even thousands of times, reincarnation is a crap shoot. Where are you off to?”
“Oh for some downhill ice skating?”
“It soften ups around 11.”
Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.
Another beautiful day on skis. The snow was less great than the other day but the way I see it, the snow doesn’t owe me anything. If I’m going to engage with it, I’m the one who has to adapt. I have no problem AT ALL surrendering to the imperatives of snow. I’m honored to have the chance.
I had to break trail today and learned that my skis, which are named “back country,” seem to be mostly designed for groomed trails — but that could be my lack of skill at this moment. As I skied from snow to ice to some small patches of grass to deep drifts to the lanes I skied on Saturday, I thought about that a lot. I thought about all the skis I’ve owned and when, sometime back in the mists of time, I switched from “fish-scale” — waxless — to skis that needed to be waxed, I never looked back. Sometime I learned back then the advantage of skis whose grip I control.
Groomed trails are nice — you don’t slide sideways, you can predict the surface beneath your skis because it’s been packed and prepared. Breaking trail is often not skiing at all. I had forgotten that, even though in California when I had the chance to Langlauf, I always had to break trail — again, with different skis than I have now. Sometimes that was hilarious as it could mean navigating through low manzanita bushes. Once I skied up Mt. Palomar with the dream of seeing those beautiful white observatory domes in the snow. It’s a five mile trail, all uphill, and some of the trail is bushy and all of it is narrow. It was still fun. The reward came coming down the unplowed road, though. It was wide, snowy, steep — fun. As we whizzed past a family who’d driven there from LA to “Visit the snow” a kid yelled, “Mom, that’s what we should do!”
They’d gone to the snow with a beach umbrella, beach chairs and a cooler. They looked very disoriented. A boogie board would have been a good thing to bring, but they didn’t have that.
Today I also thought how — last year — we didn’t get significant snow until January, and then we got A LOT. The San Juan Nordic Club went around grooming everything in sight — even the driving range! The temps stayed below freezing for a couple of months, so the groomed tracks stayed in nearly pristine condition — the only kicker (ha ha) was waiting until the highest sun of the day (1 pm or so) when any ice that had formed in the night would have surrendered.
It’s doubtful that I will switch back to waxable skis; it will depend how ambitious I end up being and how skillful. For now and maybe forever the waxless skis I own now are fine. It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, anyway.
The other “iffy” tool is “the foot,” but it held up again today, only mildly painful when we were in motion. The thing is, I realized, after nearly 3 months of not being asked to support my weight continually, it’s a little out of shape. It’s only been these last few weeks that I’ve expected it to hold me up for a whole day while I painted, or to keep me upright walking Bear as she checks her messages.
As I did my happy loop of the local golf course I thought, “The cool thing about this is I can get better, more skillful, stronger and as that happens, I will learn more and, I hope, take on a bigger challenge.” The golf course is — right now — all I can contend with. I’m so lucky to have it.
My main regret in life is that I didn’t stay at Head Ski back in 1975.
It started like this. I got my BA in English in the summer of 1974. I had to find a job tout suite. I was married (it was a very very very bad marriage), he was still a student and part of our income had been my government grant from my Dad’s GI Bill, awarded to children of disabled veterans. I went to the local paper and got turned down (didn’t type fast enough). I went everywhere. Then there was an ad in the Daily Camera saying Head Ski (then headquartered out on Valmont Road) was hiring line workers. I went and applied. I started the next day which was lucky as we’d just been turned down for food stamps. It was work on the ski production line leading up to Christmas.
For a month or so I cleaned and painted the sides of Head Skis. This involved Naptha, black paint, and pumice to get the rust off of the metal edges. I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking). I had a partner across the table from me, a tall, bosomy blond my age (22) who was contemplating cheating on her husband. We talked a lot about infidelity during those evenings. I’d already cheated on mine, but, in fact, he deserved it. Still and all, I didn’t want to do it again. It hadn’t helped or solved anything. It just made it worse. I should have left, but…
Turned out I have a great work ethic and this was observed by the floor manager. He promoted me to burning serial numbers on the edges of skis, measuring their flex and putting them in net bags for shipping. That’s a pretty responsible job. It was less smelly than the job cleaning the edges and some of my co-workers wondered why I got the promotion and not them. Life on the factory floor is kind of weird. The job I really wanted was silk-screening the Head logo on the bottoms of the skis. I envied that guy.
Head had gone from the classic all black, all blue, or all red ski (on which Jean Claude Killy skied ❤ ) with the small, tasteful “HEAD” on the toe to brightly colored skis with the word “HEAD” part of the design. The Yahoo (featured image) was the new ski, and it was shorter than other skis with a deeper side cut.
Howard Head was a ski innovator, designing the first commercially successful aluminum laminate skis. He was also a really nice guy. Anyway, the skis we were making were beautiful and I didn’t think I would ever, in my life, afford a pair. I had a pair of Harts I’d bought with my first $100 from working two years at the A&W in Colorado Springs in high school…
Around Thanksgiving we got the skis all done. Although I didn’t notice (numbering, measuring and bagging skis is a solitary job), some of my co-workers had already been laid off. I wasn’t even aware I had a seasonal job, so being oblivious and alone had advantages. We were moved over to filing the throats of Head Tennis Rackets, a supernally boring job for which we all got high in the parking lot. Weed back then was cheap Mexi so don’t go all thinking we were having some wild drug experience. All it did was slow down time and make us care less about being bored. It made us better at filing the tennis rackets, though. In that state, one could become actually INTERESTED in the throat of a tennis racket.
Then…we all got laid off. We were told at “lunch” (8 pm). “Thanks for your work, Head Ski really appreciates it. You’ll find your final pay in your locker.” As soon as we need workers, you will be the first we call back.” Of course we were all angry and went out to smoke weed and resolved not to file many tennis racket throats when we got back. Down with the man. Screw the system…
I quickly found a Christmas job at a toy store.
Fast forward many incredibly interesting stories to the January day I got the phone call, “We’d like to hire you back to work in the mail room.”
I was so young, so ignorant, I didn’t realized that I’d been lifted out of the plant and placed in the office. Everyone’s dream. It wasn’t a dream, though. It was real, and life in the mail room was bizarre — that’s another post for another day. Over time, I caught the eye of Howard Head. What happened was I rebuilt a table top offset printer I found in the mailroom and got it running so we didn’t have to send memo head and other internal stationary out to be printed, saving the company money. Mr. Head called me in, gave me a bonus check and dinner in a fancy restaurant on the company.
I was tried out in a couple of departments offices and the plan was I would “float” where help was needed until I found my niche. I worked in cost accounting and marketing. Things were going well in Marketing. I did a painting that the company used as a poster (you could see it on Mork and Mindy in Mindy’s house, on her wall). I liked it and the marketing team liked me. Then…
The plant went on strike. My friends from the old days were on strike. Most of us in the office went back to the plant to keep production going. We did finish work, the last stuff to get the product out there. I wrapped leather grips on tennis racket handles…
After a few weeks of crossing the picket lines (all that happened to me was my friends shouted out, “Hey Martha! How’s it going? You wanna’ grab a beer some time?”) I decided I was too smart to work at Head Ski. After all, I had a BA in English (never mind I’d been thrown out of one school and graduated, ultimately, with a humble 2.7 though a 3.9 in my major), I was the intellectual god, and I needed to go to grad school (from which I was more or less ejected, though given the option to go ahead and write my thesis, if I was able to write it, which all but my thesis advisor doubted).
It wasn’t until I was living in San Diego, was 35, and a student from Geneva said, “I live for ski” that I realized that was my story, too. It wasn’t until I moved back to Colorado five years ago that I properly appreciated that fateful decision to return to school. Maybe it took forty years for me to know myself (possible). If I’d stayed at Head Ski I’d have had free skis for life and possibly traveled the world doing marketing for the company.
It’s kind of weird how things turn out. The best and most consistent teaching job in my career was teaching business communication at the university level, not literature, not poetry, not writing, but business communication. Maybe we should say to kids, “Not all smart people are academics, sweet cheeks. Follow your bliss. You don’t know what that is? Give yourself some time. Believe it when you find it. Pay attention to the people around you. If you are encouraged, accepted and respected, you might be home.”
Feeling like a total freak mourning winter’s passing while everyone around cheers the arrival of spring, I was stunned to see a word posted by a Facebook friend, a noun, for creatures like me (and my big white dog). Chionophile. OK, Chionophiles are mostly animals who live high up in the mountains or on either of the poles, but why not Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and me?
There are also people who suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in spring and summer rather than in fall and winter. It’s rare, but the symptoms are anxiety, insomnia and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Funny that’s how summer makes me feel. People all around are all excited about what they’re doing in summer. I try, but for me, summer is a trial. I just try to make the best of it as I wait for it to end. Back in the day, I taught almost every summer. The money was great, but also I didn’t notice summer as much.
In doing my research into this yesterday, I discovered that Norwegians and Icelanders don’t suffer from winter SAD. Either they are incredibly stoical about the cold and dark, or they (as every article stated) like it. They even have a Norse god and goddess who represent winter and winter survival skills. Skadi (Goddess) and Ullur (God) live in the highest mountains, are expert hunters and go everywhere on skis.
I’m good with Skadi. She’s depicted on Nordic skis, hunting in the high, snowy mountains with a blue-eyed white wolf. It seems to me that getting through the seasons ahead will depend on training for the Birkebeiner and, maybe, getting a 4×4 car.
Some people don’t consider Cross Country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, to be skiing. That’s OK with me. I’ve seen guys strap skins on their down hill skis, climb up a mountain, take off the skins and ski down, and I mean a big mountain. That was 30+ years ago and now the two sports have moved closer together. I know that from the skis I just bought. Like downhill skis, they are “cut in” on the sides and they are comparatively short. They are different, as I’m learning from taking them out, twice now. I can tell from the few little knolls I’ve skied down that they would really like more hills than my golf course offers, but I had to tell them, “Guys, listen. I don’t really remember how to turn.”
“Sure you do,” they said, “just keep at it.”
They’re probably right.
Maybe what I should worry about is having conversations with my skis.
I had the golf-course to myself. Someone was there this morning — the skater guy, I think, from the tracks. In the meantime — night before last — we had a sweet fluff of light snow. It was followed by a warm temps (40 F/4C) yesterday and a bitter wind, bitter enough to make slanted icicles as the day cooled and the melted snow on the roof-lines froze.
I knew this morning I wanted to get out there, but I waited to see what was going to happen with the temperature. If it got to freezing — or a little above, I would go. I knew there would be a crust of ice under drifts, and in shady spots, it was kind of icy, but, overall, I’ve skied on much worse.
I fell — that’s the best thing that happened. I found out that I can get up from a fall and how I would do it. There are a couple of positions I’m not supposed to get myself into, and one of them could be the result of getting up from a fall. It was wonderful to know I can get up.
It was a dazzling blue-sky day. Not many animal tracks and no sign of “my” deer, so I didn’t feel so guilty about having walked the dogs at the high school before going out to “our” place.
Monday I couldn’t stand it any more. I saw people X-country skiing on my golf course when Dusty, Bear and I went for Dr. Zhivagoesque walk on Sunday. So, I drove to Alamosa and went into the store I have avoided since I moved here, Kristi Mountain Sports. I knew the store would be wonderful (it is), but I have just felt like an old crippled up lady who had no business in a store like that.
I went in. The kid at the counter asked if he could help. I said, “I need cross country skis and boots. I just can’t stand it any more.”
“Ready for new equipment, huh?”
I heard that in a lot of different ways but I thought, “I got the important new equipment. Now I want to use it,” thinking of my hip joint.
“Let me find someone who knows more than I do.”
Another kid came out and damn, he spoke my language. I’ve lived a really long time without anyone speaking that vernacular of my language. He set me up with just what I wanted. I left it there for him to put on the bindings and tune the skis. They didn’t even ask for a down payment. I got a very good deal on the boots. ❤
The next morning, a frost in the air,, hoarfrost on the trees, beautiful blue sky low fog morning with occasional blusters of snow flurries, I returned and picked up my skis. They were almost the same price as my tax refund will be. “It was meant to be,” said the girl who helped me when I told her that.
But then I didn’t ski. For two days I’ve had the skis and didn’t ski. I tried to figure that out and it hit me this afternoon when I was walking Bear and Dusty. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how any more. I am no longer afraid of falling. I’ve fallen several times in the snow and gotten up. Those falls were a big clue that I should get the skis. Being able to fall and get up in snow is one of skiing’s most important skills.
This afternoon I skied for 3/4 of a mile. It was wonderful. At first I was afraid I wouldn’t figure out the bindings, but they were a cinch (ha ha), and they are great. My first few “steps” on the snow were awkward, and I nearly fell, but instincts that might have been dead after all this time kicked in, and said, “Go to the snow. Get off this beaten-down, icy shit. You’ll be fine.” That happened several times as I went around the groomed track.
It was spectacular. I loved it as much as ever. I have retained a lot of skill, and some things remain to be tested. And I live only ONE BLOCK from one of the most amazing places I’ve ever had the chance to ski. Once I get what the girl in the store called my “ski legs,” there are mountains.
The last time I cross-country skied was with my dog, Molly (Malamute/Aussie) in 2000. That’s almost 20 years ago. There was a huge dump of snow in the Laguna Mountains east of San Diego. I rented skis, ditched work, and Molly and I skied for a whole afternoon, all by ourselves, not another human in sight. It was really amazing. Today was amazing.