Three down, 43 to go: Nippletop Mountain

“Are you guys going for your 46ers?” the woman asked, nibbling on some Swedish Fish as she took in the view on top of Nippletop Mountain.

I shrugged. We were standing on top of one of the Adirondacks’ famed 4,600-foot peaks, so it was natural to ask whether we’re consciously working toward summiting all 46 of them.

“Kinda sorta,” I said. “Casually, and slowly.” The woman and her hiking partner hurried off to ascend Mount Blake, another 46er, before the end of the day while we hung out at the summit and enjoyed a snack and the views.

It’s not that we’re uninterested in “going for our 46ers.” But we’re more interested in the journey to each peak than we are in the actual peak-bagging. Maybe this is why we’ve only done three since moving here in 2013. (Read about our ascents of Cascade and Wright here.) In any case, Nippletop (I know—heh, heh) is worth the trip, both for the vistas up top and the scenic journey leading to the summit.

There are plenty of turn-by-turn blog posts that offer advice about routes (this one from Hike the Adirondacks is especially helpful), so I’m going to focus on sharing a few of my favorite moments from the hike instead.

We camped at Gill Brook the night before. This enabled us to be among the first on the trail in the morning without waking up at the crack of dawn in Saratoga Springs (which I highly recommend). It’s a long slog down a fire road, then a beautiful hike along the scenic, brook-side Gill Brook Trail. IMG_0776 IMG_0777The next morning, we were awed by the weird beauty of the trail between Gill Brook and Elks Pass (which is exactly as steep and scrambly as everyone says it is). It’s an old-growth forest with lots of exposed roots and interesting rock formations. Right before I took this picture, Steve said: “I keep expecting a bunch of Ewoks to jump out.” IMG_0738

The summit was interesting—the actual highest point is just a small clearing without many views. A few feet below it, there’s a nice rock outcropping where you can see Mount Colvin and Mount Blake, though. We paused and took in the views there. IMG_0739

We also got that couple in a hurry to summit Blake to take our picture there.


The most amazing and beautiful part of the hike was Fish Hawk Cliffs and Indian Head. If you hike Nippletop or any of the other nearby peaks, don’t miss the sweet, deep peace of this fjord-like overlook.


We lingered for an awfully long time, staring at Lower Ausable Lake in pure wonder. We were in no rush.

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Signs of summer: Lake swimming begins

It’s raining in Saratoga Springs today, and the temperature is barely cracking the 50-degree mark. Water is pooling in the potted plants I haven’t transferred to garden boxes yet, and I’m wearing a thick sweater and drinking tea.

But just last week, I got the truest taste of summer there is—the beginning of lake swimming!

Moreau Lake last Thursday evening.

Moreau Lake last Thursday evening.

Last Thursday was Saratoga Triathlon Club’s first open-water swim in Moreau Lake. The 20 minutes before the swim had all the joy and excitement of a summer-camp reunion as I saw and hugged the swim friends I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.

I hadn’t brought my wetsuit—we’ve had such a warm spring, I couldn’t imagine the water temperature being anything colder than lukewarm—so it was an unpleasant surprise to hear the lifeguards tell us the water temperature was 67 degrees “in the shallow spots.” “No promises about the deeper areas,” said one guard forebodingly.

I walked into the water gingerly, expecting ice cubes and uncontrolled shivering. Instead, it was pure heaven, feeling more like 72 degrees on a warm, sunny day. I was a little more tired than usual (note to self: get back in the pool more often!), but by the second lap around the lake, I felt the same cool blue peace that keeps me coming back to the lake again and again.


Lake Desolation on Saturday morning.

Saturday at Lake Desolation was no different. I felt more tired than usual, and could tell I was a little slower. After the same mental note (back in the pool, please!), I chilled out and swam at my own pace, finishing a bit early by cutting off the last out-and-back stretch. I snapped this picture while I relaxed in some comfy sweats on the dock.

How are you celebrating summer?

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Tales from a 50-day ski season

What a magnificent ski season it’s been!

I think I’m finally ready to admit it’s over. This means spending some time reminiscing about the things that made this season special. Will you indulge me?

No? You’d rather watch this marmot photobomb a Greenpeace video? Well, let’s watch that first, shall we?

Now. Back to the ski season that was.

I traveled to new mountains and made new skier-girl friends through SheJumps. I’d like to think I would have made it to Berkshire East and Magic Mountain on my own. But knowing that I had a crew of skier-girls there waiting for me gave me extra incentive to explore.11050743_10152846566873043_3117595188167487574_n

I skied in a whole new state when I attended the Powderfall ski-patrol conference at The Canyons in Utah. I hung out with other patrol-nerds, took clinics from PSIA demo-team instructors and relaxed with some of my dearest friends. While wearing gold-lamé pants, of course.


I became a senior ski patroller. This involves passing two practical exams—one to test my ski-and-toboggan skills and the other my leadership and problem-solving abilities in Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC, the medical part). It also involves a heck of a lot of extra training. I struggled to explain to my non-patrol friends why I spent so many weekends this winter in clinics and other training sessions, and why I spent my free-ski days doing drills meant to help me finish my turns. I can say only this: When I completed my first senior OEC clinic in 2012, I had two simultaneous thoughts: “That was impossibly hard and exhausting,” and “If I see this process through to the end, it will make me better.” Three years later, I know that going through the extra training has made me a calmer and more confident ski patroller, which I know translates to my daily life as well.

I had a 50-day season—my first since my senior year in college, when I planned my schedule at University of Colorado around skiing two weekdays at Eldora and weekends at Vail or Arapahoe Basin (thank goodness for student-priced passes). I learned that having classes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. straight on Monday, Wednesday and Friday made those Tuesday-Thursday ski days even sweeter. I relied on the same tactics this year—I loaded as much work as I could into a four-day work week, and tried very hard to take one weekday each week to patrol. Just like back in college, I found I was more focused on the days I was in front of a computer, and enjoyed the ski days even more for the work it took to make them happen. The downside: I may have neglected this blog a tiny bit (sorry, friends!).


Day 50 at Killington last weekend.

I just went. Netting 50 ski days while working full-time at a desk job—even one that lets you dictate your own schedule—means just going, and hoping the forecast of freezing rain/gusting wind/bone-chilling cold is going to be wrong. On some days, that was totally the case—one rainy day in Saratoga was a surprise powder day at Gore. On other days, not so much, such as the day in February when the wind chill was -60 degrees.

I had SO MUCH FUN. Photographic evidence below.






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Pretty Faces movie benefiting SheJumps in Saratoga Springs, NY

It’s been nearly a week since our showing of Pretty Faces in Saratoga Springs, NY, to benefit SheJumps, and I’m still riding on the high of it.

Until showtime on Saturday night, I wasn’t sure whether anyone except for me and the 20 friends I forced to attend would make it. So you can imagine my delight as I watched skier-girls of all ages mill into the auditorium. There were women my age looking to get involved with SheJumps, and there were itty bitty girls wearing costumes and great big smiles.

They filled my heart with joy as they stopped by the SheJumps table set up outside the theater, giggling at the girraficorn stickers and filling in the “#IAmSJ” placards with crayons and magic markers.


The “#IAmSJ” hashtag answers the question: What is it about you that embodies the mission of SheJumps, the non-profit that aims to increase the participation of females in outdoor activities? I explained to the girls that it could also answer the questions: Why do you love to play outside? What is it about the outdoors that inspires you? Their answers blew me away.


My favorite one: Because I am confident (in) who I am.


Listening to all the giggles and “oohs” and “aahs” as the movie rolled was just the icing on the cake.


If you haven’t already, please take two minutes to watch the trailer for the movie. I promise it will brighten your day.




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Pretty Faces tour coming to Saratoga Springs, NY!

When a video promo for Pretty Faces came up in my Facebook news feed one afternoon a couple years ago, I was riveted. I played it over and over, watching women dropping cliffs, shredding big lines, lifting hard and dancing with pure joy.

I figured the all-female ski movie from pro freeskier Lynsey Dyer would get made in a jiffy—after all, Dyer is a sponsored athlete who regularly appears in Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Project films, among others.

Two years, one big Kickstarter campaign and countless hours of work from Dyer and her team later, the movie debuted. In November, I drove to Burlington, Vt., to see its East Coast premiere. And I am beyond thrilled to announce that at 7 p.m. Saturday, it’s coming to Saratoga Springs, NY, thanks to the support of The Alpine Sport Shop and Skidmore College’s Ski and Snowsports Club. All proceeds will benefit SheJumps, a nonprofit which aims to increase the participation of females in outdoor activities.

Read about what it took to produce this gem of a movie in this ESPN story. Find more details about the Saratoga Springs showing on our Facebook page, which I’d be forever indebted if you’d share with anyone in the Saratoga Springs area. Learn about my impressions of the movie here, and read about my experiences as an ambassador for SheJumps here.

And below, enjoy a few behind-the-scenes shots of pre-movie preparations.

Trying on movie-night costume pieces at Sissi Boutique, one of our amazing sponsors.

Trying on movie-night costume pieces at Sissi Boutique, one of our amazing sponsors.

We have SUCH amazing sponsors! Including The Alpine Sport Shop, which made this movie possible, Gore Mountain, Saratoga Olive Oil Co., Northshire Bookstore SaratogaSissi Boutique and Violet’s of Saratoga have all generously donated raffle prizes.


The table of raffle prizes is getting awfully full!



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4th Annual 100K Vertical Challenge at Whitetail Resort

Every year, we’ve lucked out on weather for the 100K Vertical Challenge at Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Penn.

On Monday, our weather luck ran out, and when the 4th annual event began at 8 a.m., we skied into thick fog and wet, heavy snow. The freezing rain that began falling mid-day didn’t help matters.

Our participants handled the adverse conditions like true champs, maintaining good spirits by cheering each other on and keeping their focus on the purpose of the event: to raise funds for and awareness of Two Top Adaptive Sports Foundation. Though we had to call the event at 6 p.m. because of freezing rain and low visibility, we raised nearly $100,000 to help Two Top continue to provide adaptive ski and snowboard lessons to disabled athletes, making the event a huge success.

My team still managed to ski 80,000 vertical feet in the 10 hours we were on the hill, putting us well on pace to finish the 100K by the scheduled finish time. And we did it in style, with gold leggings, tutus and retro ski jackets.


My friend Lauren and I started the day planning to split the 100K—107 runs at Whitetail—between the two of us. But when a patroller-friend donned the gold leggings and offered to ski a few runs for us, we happily took him up on it.


The best part of the day was watching the half-dozen or so adaptive skiers participating in the event rack up runs for their teams. From a snowboarder with a traumatic brain injury to a sit-skier carving better turns than any non-adaptive skier on the mountain, they underscored the mission behind our madness: Creating more opportunities for more disabled athletes.


To get an idea of the spirit of the day, check out Scott Broom’s report for WUSA9 News (you might just get a glimpse of yours truly—gold pants, tutu and all).

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Powder day at Gore (with an unlikely skiing partner)

I woke up last Monday missing my dad terribly.

On Sunday, a patroller-friend had turned me onto a bluegrass cover of one of my favorite songs, “Such Great Heights.” I listened to it over and over when I got home. Steve laughed as I danced around the room during the first playing or two, but his eyes started to glaze over when I asked him to listen closely to the banjo solo in the middle. I played the song for a few friends, too—they listened politely, then nodded and smiled when it was over.

See, my dad played the banjo. I grew up with him playing songs like “Has Anybody Seen My Gal,” ad libbing the words to make it about me: “Amy Sue; eyes of blue; could she, could she, could she coo.” Since he died in 2012, the banjo has sat on a shelf in my mom’s home in Florida. One day, I’d like to learn to play it. For now, it feels better that it’s there, as if some part of my brain thinks he’ll want to come back to play it.

Which brings me to Monday morning. As Steve and I collected our ski socks and radios and lunches to get ready to head to Gore that day, I wanted desperately to call my dad and play that song for him, turning up the volume on the banjo solo. I could practically hear him exclaim, “Wow!” and then start trying to figure out the chords on his own banjo. The fact that no one else in my life shared my enthusiasm underscored a wonderful and terrible fact: There will never again be anyone on this earth like my dad.

When we arrived at Gore, the song was still in my head. I made my first turns of the day to its rhythm, and I heard that banjo solo as we worked our way to the mountain’s summit. It had rained and sleeted the night before in Saratoga Springs, but on the mountain, it was a powder day. We helped to open Lies, one of Gore’s premier steeps, and got to make fresh tracks on its headwall with a layer of light, fluffy snow beneath us.

It was a gorgeous, perfect powder day—exactly the kind of day my dad would have loved.

It was a gorgeous, perfect powder day—exactly the kind of day my dad, one of the best skiers I’ve ever known,  would have loved.

I rode up the lift alone after that first run, still giggling and breathless from the glee of it all. I sighed happily, and was struck suddenly by the strong feeling that my dad was sitting on the lift next to me, smiling and exuding the same peaceful joy he did on the countless lift rides we enjoyed together while he was alive. I didn’t say anything, but just basked in his glow, afraid that if I moved or made a noise, I’d break the spell and he’d be gone.

Nothing broke the spell that day. I felt my dad’s presence with every turn, and as a result, felt an extra boost of calm and confidence: I picked better lines and turned more gracefully, as if I actually WAS him skiing.

Of course, this feeling made my heart ache with loss. But it also made my heart swell with the silent knowledge that as long as I’m here, and as long as I’m doing the things that brought us both joy while my dad was alive, he’s not really gone after all.

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