“A bad day on the mountain is better than a good day in the office.”
My snowboard season is officially over, and I’m officially hooked. Having never stepped foot on any kind of board in my life, I chose skiing when I first came to Colorado. I had at least tried skiing before, so I was going to progress at that and then, maybe, try snowboarding.
That lasted three weeks.
People say skiers and snowboarders are completely different breeds—they talk differently, dress differently, act differently, etc. Coming in on neutral ground, I had no idea what people were talking about when snowboarders were addressed as having “switched to the dark side.”
Snow sports are just all snow sports, right?
I guess I finally began to understand when one day I found myself stuck on a near-vertical snowbank—the kind bordering the slopes, NOT meant for skiing down. How I got there? Too much speed, too little control, and too much fear I was somehow going to rip one of my legs off. So when I made a very poor turn in a very ungraceful, football-like stance and began barreling towards this snowbank, I decided to close my eyes and crash into it, rather than try another turn and somersault down the mountain one-legged.
I actually began skiing up…?! 😀
…And then I crashed. 😦 Upside down, vertical, in two feet of powder. The only way to get down was to stand up, fall, stand up, fall, stand up….down the whole rest of the mountain.
I’m not exaggerating.
Not to say I haven’t fallen even more snowboarding, but there was something about skiing that just wasn’t clicking. Granted, I had only practiced over the course of three weeks, and not every day, but it was more than just not practicing that kept me from improving; it was not having that intense interest that I saw so many other skiers have. It was watching the paths of snowboards instead of watching which direction my skis were headed. It was heel-toe clomping awkwardly to the slopes in ski boots while flexible snowboard boots passed me comfortably. It was enviously regarding snowboarders carrying only a snowboard while I juggled two skis and two poles. It was being able to stop anywhere, at any time, in any trouble, on a snowboard, while just praying for the slope to even out on skis.
I tried, but I just don’t think skiing and I were meant for each other.
So after those three weeks, I said, “I think I’m ready to try that snowboarding thing.”
Day one of instruction, I had never been so grateful for a helmet, nor so wishful for a butt-pad. I fell turning, I fell cruising, I fell standing still. And I fell in love. No matter how many times I hit the ground, I was right back up, psyched and ready for another go. It was the first sport since competitive running that I’ve felt so enthusiastic, and, from that day forward, I was a snowboarder.
I’ve never surfed, but I imagined it was a similar feeling, flying over snowy crests and powdery waves, flowing with the feel of the board and pattern of the mountain.
Every day I got better, even on days I felt worse. With the guidance of friends and a few more lessons, I gained confidence and steadily worked my way up the difficulty levels of the slopes. My goal was to try at least one black before the end of the season (green slopes=easy, blue=medium, black=advanced, double black=expert), and I finally did it in my last week (and I don’t care that it was the tamest of the blacks!!)
That’s it, I thought. I accomplished my goal, I rode down an advanced slope, and I could put up my board until next year.
But then the Highlands ski resort re-opened for two more weekends, re-opening the chance to do another goal that I previously shrugged off as being “too advanced”….hiking the Highlands Bowl.
The Bowl, 12,392 feet above sea level at the top, is pretty much what Aspen Highlands is known for, and Annie and I were geared up to conquer it last Sunday the 24th. A chairlift ride took us only so far, so it was either A) Take a snowcat about halfway up the peak, or B) Hike the whole way, carrying our boards.
No way we’re taking the lazy way.
782 vertical feet over about a mile against powerful winds took about an hour to reach the top, but let me tell you:
The view was worth everything. (See video below for a better perspective)
Cliche to say, but it really did feel like the top of the world. A 360-degree panorama of sun-flared snowy peaks; wind rippling through colorful, strung Tibetan Prayer Flags; vibrant, graffitied chairs inviting weary hikers to sit and have a beer before dropping down a 48-degree pitch….
It was definitely one of the more rewarding hikes I’ve ever done.
But, eventually, it came time to face the true trek.
This run down was not a black, but a double black. This was far steeper than anything I’d ridden down yet, and I hadn’t been on my board for nearly two weeks.
I stared down the powdery cliff of doom. Annie was hyped up, waiting for me at the edge. I strapped into my bindings and stood, genuinely laughing at the thought of my body tomahawking down the mountain.
Haha, I did not disappoint.
“If you’re not falling down, you’re not trying hard enough.” From what I’ve gathered, that’s basically the mantra of every snowboarder, pro or newbie. The only way to improve is to see when you’ve reached your limits; the only way to know when you’ve reached your limits is to go over them.
Go for it, crash and burn it, fine tune it, go for it again, crash and burn it a little later, repeat.
Just always get back up.
Tomahawk I did. Get back up I did. Repeat I did. Even when my left binding ripped completely off of my foot, not even halfway down. Even when the straps of my bindings ripped off, forcing me to screw them back together, sitting on near vertical terrain and shaking my head at the fact this would happen on the Highlands Bowl.
Luckily I fixed the binding and didn’t have to board down with one foot the rest of the way, or call ski patrol to rescue me.
Some of the most fun I’ve had snowboarding, though, honestly. There’s nothing better than wiping out that hard and only getting a face-full of soft snow. Nothing better than getting to the bottom of the Bowl, in one piece, and fearlessly accomplishing something that, two months ago, I would never have believed I’d do in this season.
So here’s a little video of both hiking the bowl and snowboarding clips throughout my short season, and let’s be clear: I am no where near bad-ass status. In fact, I know some of my snowboarding friends will probably watch the video below and laugh. But for only about 10 weeks of inconsistent riding, I’m pretty proud of my progress. And if I’m around the slopes next year, you can bet I’ll be back on the board day one of powder, geared up to see how much better I can be.
In case you were wondering, those were not the worst of my falls. Maybe the worst looking, but usually it’s the smallest, stupidest falls that are the most painful. Like when I one day reached the bottom of the most tame hill on Snowmass mountain, cruising five mph with no one around, and flipped over the only sign across the 150 yard, wide-open space. I landed so hard on the left side of my butt that I limped for the next two days and had a bruised tailbone for the next two weeks.
Yes, I love this sport. 😉
Shred on and venture on ☮