May 2011


Blue bottomed vapor puffs

hover over shadowed mountainsides

a storm brews

growls;

the highest peaks dissipate under

cover of  thunder claps, rain sheets;

charcoal shades join, fade,

deepen, soften and

hang

above ridgelines.

Minutes ago the sky was endless

wide big blue broken only by

sundrenched mountain chunks, summits

a gentle breeze just brushed

the skin,

dogs dove for shade,

stroller wheels squeaked on sidewalk,

spandex emerged on roadbikes.

Now a gale gusts

dogs scatter

trails clear of strollers, spandex

and the clouds–the clouds!

only here in spring

wild rocky mountain spring

There was a moment when I was skiing behind a snow mobile at 30 miles an hour, my face blasted by wind, skis clattering over the sled tracks, frozen fingers iron-gripped to my ski pole handle bar, knuckles surely white beneath too thin liner gloves when suddenly my mind was overtaken with images of carnage–a ski edge caught, limbs, skis, poles, pack, helmet, goggles strewn in every direction, splayed out in this larger than life mountainscape like a bug that didn’t belong. Fall and you’ll be ruined for sure, I thought, and gritted my teeth. I would not fall. Out of my eyes’ periphery, I watched the powder loaded Colorado backcountry stream by. Mountains rose and slid past me, their jagged shapes golden in morning light, appearing as fierce and commanding as something straight out of Alaska. I might be the luckiest girl alive, I thought. Suddenly my ski parter Jordan gunned the sled faster, nearly dislodging my arms from their sockets in the process and my eyes snapped back to the track ahead.

Later, once we had successfully arrived unscathed at our trailhead, Jordan asked me how I liked the sled ride. I looked him straight in the eye, “Scared the shit out of me.” He laughed. “I only had you going 30, I once towed my buddy going 70 mph.” “Jordan,” I replied, “don’t you ever do that to me. Not unless I tell you to.”

What is hardcore? A taste for adventure and risk that some people are intrinsically born with that allows them to push limits with little concern for preserving their life and limb? Or is it something, given the right environment, anybody with a halfway adventurous spirit can develop a liking to, (a liking that around here often leads to obsession)? Here in the Colorado Rockies, the term takes on a new level. Hardcore isn’t just attempting to ski a 13,000 foot peak in stable spring conditions, hardcore is attempting to ski every 13,000 or 14,000 foot peak in Colorado during their most avalanche prone winter months. It isn’t taking a leisurely tow from a sled to a trail head, it’s barreling behind one charging 70 mph. There’s recreational hardcore and then there’s extreme hardcore. Jordan, my sled driving ski buddy exemplifies the latter category. The youngest person to ever to summit and ski down all of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners, Jordan has also skied Denali, several peaks in Mexico and Chile and is hoping to make some turns off the top of Kilimanjaro this summer. He is one of many in this valley operating on a way higher level (no pun intended) than the rest of us.

Jordan heads for the goal, West Pearl Peak

But he asked me if I wanted to go skiing, and hell yes I did so there I was wheezing my way up to the summit of 13,306 foot West Pearl Peak, remembering those days spent as a snowboard-bound adolescent bombing down the bulletproof slopes of Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain, nary a thought in my mind that this is where it’d lead me. I’d skied higher stuff before, and steeper too but for whatever reason this climb was a constant battle for breath. Not to mention that despite our late April date, it had been snowing for about a week straight and the slopes were loaded, practically pregnant with dry Colorado bounty. In other words, prime for a slide. Finally after a nearly agonizingly slow skin up to the summit, we reached its wind scoured perch and without hesitation readied ourselves for the ski down. Jordan went first, the experienced ski guide that he is, scouting out the most stable spots. After skirting a few steep rock patches we paused atop our chosen chute and stared down. “Meet you at the bottom,” Jordan said and then dropped in, carving effortless, even S-turns in the light, deep snow. I waited patiently, tapped my pole against the edge of my ski, gazed out over the majestic West Elk mountains. And then, I let my knees and telemark skis drop into bliss. The snow was easy, it gave soft like velvet and soon I found my rhythm, heard only my labored breathing echo in my head. Midway, I paused to sooth the burning in my thighs and take a breath, a laugh, then started again. Jordan was waiting at the end of the chute as I pulled up. “Pretty nice snow, huh?” he asked. “Yeah,” I replied breathlessly, “not bad.”

That’s the thing about the mountains: their beauty is in itself a great equalizer. I may not be, or care to be, that hardcore but when the snow is good, and the skiing and the views as incredible as they are here in the Rockies, it doesn’t matter just how hardcore any of us are. Getting out there is hardcore enough. Getting out there and loving it.

Looking west toward the valley we had just skied out of. No shortage of snow on April 27.