I always thought the idea of skiing uphill was silly, absurd even. That’s what chairlifts are for, right? Who would subject themselves to that level of torture, right?
I have never thought of myself as particularly “active,” at least in the physical realm. I love being outside; a nice day hike in the summer and fall? Sure! Shredding down the Green trails in the winter? Sign me up! I guess I would have always considered myself an outdoor leisure enthusiast. Nothing stressful, nothing too physically involved, a nice dose of fresh air to keep the mind sharp.
Then the pandemic hit and it seemed as though all of my leisure activities slowed down - too much for even my liking. My daily walks throughout March and April were necessary, but not enough. A trip to the grocery store felt a little too riveting for what it should be. Throughout the spring and summer I craved a type of stimulation that would make the days pass by a little faster. Finding a swimming hole or hanging out on Lake Champlain was great, usually my favorite parts of summer - but it wasn’t enough to replace how I found stimulation in other ways, like grabbing a drink with my friends, walking up to campus for my classes, seeing my family on a more regular basis, traveling, etc.
In the fall, I started to feel the looming doom of winter as the days started to get shorter, the sun showed itself less frequently, and the ease of outdoor hangouts was about to end. I knew that if the warmer months were challenging for me, winter would be...well, tricky.
It was on a particularly chilly fall day that I started doing some real introspective thinking...in order to get myself through another long VT winter...in a pandemic...with no near end in sight...I needed to find a concrete outlet to satiate my need for stimulation past daily strolls and 1,000 piece puzzles.
Skiing! I will get really into skiing this year! I’ll go every single day, I’ll even go in the early hours before work! I relayed this to a couple of my Patagonia Burlington coworkers, and they hyped me up and told me they’re excited for me, but that I should TOTALLY get an uphill set. I laughed it off for about a month. They kept pushing.
“We’re all getting into alpine touring this year”, they said.
“We’ll all learn together. There will be no pressure and no rush to get to the top and we won’t do anything too crazy!” they said.
I gave in. I gave in because I could feel the support of my community, my peers in pushing me to try this cool new thing. I gave in because if there’s another lockdown and they close the ski mountains to lift service, I’m out of luck. I gave in because all of a sudden, I felt no intimidation at the thought of getting into a very intimidating branch of an equally intimidating sport. I gave in because this just might be the perfect combination of mental, physical and emotional stimulation to get me through the long winter.
My first time skiing uphill was less than smooth. I made sure to go with a friend who knew the in’s and out’s of alpine touring, but who also wouldn’t leave me in the dust or laugh at me for looking silly. Yes, those were (and still are!) very real concerns of mine!
We approached the base of “Lower Turnpike”, the trail to ascend up to the Wilderness Chair at Bolton. My skins were nicely sticking to the bottom of my skis, my backpack full of extra layers, a full water bottle, and lots of snacks - I’m ready!
Then a wave of panic set over me...I had no idea how to make my skis go from “ski” mode to “walk” mode...I forgot to watch the online tutorial that I told myself I would watch the night before! I quickly made my skinning partner look up a video while we still had service. I flipped my bindings just like the expert did in the video, clicked the pins in my skis to the pin holes in my boots, and off I walked!
I took breaks often. To catch my breath, to take in the views, to ask myself why the heck I decided to do this, to play in the four inches of fresh powder, to tell myself that I’m awesome for doing something that I previously deemed “absurd”. I fell forwards, I fell backwards, I accidentally stuck one of my skis straight into a stream and spent the next 15 minutes scraping the ice off that had accumulated very quickly. After about an hour and a half of probably making a fool of myself, we made it to the top of Wilderness Chair. And oh was I already sore!
It was the kind of sore where I looked like I had 2 broken hips when I walked. The kind of sore that made me feel like I just aged 50 years. The noodles-for-legs sore. The sore that let every part of my body know that I’m being pushed to my physical limit. I could have sat at the top of that mountain for hours. But I had to get to the bottom before peak soreness set in. So I ripped my skins off of the bottom of my skis, put my bindings back into ski mode, threw on some extra layers and a helmet, and shredded down the mountain (ok you got me, I pizza'd most of the way down).
I got back to the car and I couldn’t stop smiling. Despite the lactic acid coursing through my muscles and the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to move for the next 24 hours, I was immensely proud of myself. I don’t push myself like this very often. But in this winter full of unknowns, lonely days, and frankly, not a whole lot else to do, I found something to do that pushes me physically, tests my mental and emotional capacity for demanding activity, and makes me so darn tired at the end of the day that I pass out by 9 PM. I will definitely do it again soon!
- Zoe Spett,