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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She Jumps: Get the Girls Out at Berkshire East, ambassadorship

The She Jumps team was ready to board the lift at Berkshire East for our third annual Get the Girls Out event there on Jan. 9 when a woman and her pre-teen daughter approached us.

They wanted to participate, but mom was a new skier, and the instructor providing beginner lessons for the event had already headed out to ski. Could we help?

What happened next was emblematic of the spirit of the night, which involved glow-stick necklaces, girraficorn stickers and plenty of lady-shred pride among the three dozen participants.IMG-0716

We boarded the lift with the pair, and set out for a beginner trail. We gave mom some basic tips—press her shins into the front of her ski boots, and make turns to control her speed—and started down the mountain. Within a few turns, she was looking more confident and less tentative, and that progress continued until we reached the steepest section of the trail, where she stopped short, unsure of her next move.

“You got this,” I said, waiting above her. “You’re doing great.”

Slowly, she proceeded down the hill, shaky at first, but gaining strength as she neared the bottom. By the time she made her last turn, she was grinning ear-to-ear, having proven to herself in one small way that she was stronger and better than she had previously believed.10931383_10152729376453043_418237439374346678_n

I think that every skier and snowboarder who took part in the evening felt that same rush of joy, whether it was from learning a new skill or making a new friend. My joy came from serving as a She Jumps ambassador for the first time at an official She Jumps event. I learned that there’s only one thing better than taking part in a skier-girl dance party, and that’s helping to lead the skier-girl dance party.

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As an ambassador to this amazing nonprofit, which aims to increase the participation of females in outdoor activities, I’ll get to plan a few of my own events. Next up: I’ll be attending the Almost Full Moon Trek to Chocolate Decadence—a snowshoe/hike up Bromley, followed by a chocolate tasting at the top of the hill and a ski down. Stay tuned for details—I hope to see you all there!

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4th Annual 100K Vertical Challenge at Whitetail Resort

On Feb. 9, I will again be part of a group of skiers and snowboarders who will descend 100,000 vertical feet in one day, or 107 runs at Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, PA. Our 12-plus-hour adventure aims to raise funds for and awareness of Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation, which provides ski and snowboard lessons to disabled athletes—the majority of whom are wounded warriors from the Baltimore-Washington area.

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Participants in last year’s 100K Vertical Challenge at Whitetail Resort.

Two Top provides ski and snowboard lessons to athletes with a wide range of disabilities, including many amputees and traumatic-brain-injury patients from Walter Reed, none of whom pay a dime for their lessons, meals and lodging.
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Army veteran Karl Dorman skiing in the last year’s 100K Vertical Challenge at Whitetail Resort.

Since I first participated in the inaugural event in 2012 (and shared the story of my adventure here), the 100K has become an important funding source for Two Top, with last year’s event raising more than $75,000 for the organization.
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Participating in the 100K Vertical Challenge at Whitetail helps me pay forward my gratitude for happy homecomings like this one.

The event is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to express gratitude for the fact that Steve, and many of our other dear friends, have made it home from their deployments healthy and safe; for the sacrifices that our wounded warriors have made; and for the talented volunteers at Two Top offer these warriors a chance to experience the sense of freedom and peace that drive me to the slopes again and again.
Still smiling at the halfway point of the First Annual 100K Vertical Challenge at Whitetail Resort.

Still smiling at the halfway point of the First Annual 100K Vertical Challenge.

This year, I will be participating in the event as part of a team with three fellow ski patrollers, all of whom share my passion for Two Top and its mission. Together, we aim to raise $1,500 to help fund much-needed equipment purchases, and to help Two Top meet its goal of providing lessons for free to all participants. I so appreciate any support you can offer!

HOW TO DONATE:

You can support me by visiting my team page (https://www.twotop100k.org/riders/view/8/team-dyd).  Donations can also be made via check to: Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation, Inc., 10914 Claylick Rd. Mercersburg, PA 17236.

Want to learn more about the 100K Vertical Challenge? Check out WUSA 9′s coverage of last year’s event—and watch for a cameo of yours truly.

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Happy holidays!

Wishing you light, love and adventure (plus at least a little bit of snow) in 2015!

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New York’s high peaks from Gore last weekend.

 

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Review: Mountain Athletics app from The North Face

First, there was the rollicking beauty of the ad featuring My Morning Jacket’s cover of “Your Land” with a backdrop of the country’s most gorgeous mountains and seascapes.

Then, there were the videos featuring ski mountaineers, climbers and trail runners demonstrating exercises designed to prep athletes for each of those sports. I started doing Kit DesLauriers’ Quadzilla Complex workout a few weeks ago, and feel stronger already.

As if that wasn’t enough to make it seem like The North Face marketing team is living inside my head, TNF recently unveiled the Mountain Athletics iPhone app, which allows you to program your phone to deliver customized workouts for your sport of choice, all designed by the folks at the Mountain Athlete gym in Jackson Hole, Wyo. I’ve been a little bit obsessed with this gym ever since Outside and SKI magazines profiled it a few years back, but reading the training plans and exercise descriptions on its website made my head hurt (if you can figure out how to do a “pinch-grip assessment and work” or an “operator ugly,” you’re a better woman than I am). The North Face Mountain Athletics App

Enter the Mountain Athletics app, which idiot-proofs the whole workout process. Not sure what to do after your legs are aching from a strength workout the previous day? That would be a lactate tolerance/core workout followed by a recovery day. Need a demo of core exercises such as the EO, or loaded jump squats? Big-mountain skiers like DesLauriers and Angel Collinson star in videos showing exactly how to preform each movement. (By the way, when Angel Collinson told me in the video not to “sandbag” the situps in the circuit she was demonstrating, you better believe I listened to her).

Do I feel a bit foolish for being so easy to market to? I might feel that way, if I weren’t so tired from this morning’s lower-body strength workout (those loaded jump squats are no joke!).

How are you training for your winter sport of choice?

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Pretty Faces review: The story of a skier-girl who watched a movie about a skier-girl

The little girl sitting in the front row turned around and stared at us in awe.

“Mommy!” she said to the woman sitting beside her. “Unicorns!”

My ski-patroller friend Lauren and I were wearing purple-and-blue tutus and purple unicorn horns in honor of the Burlington, Vt., showing of “Pretty Faces,” professional freeskier Lynsey Dyer’s long-anticipated all-women ski movie. The unicorn getups echoed her production company’s name, Unicorn Picnic * — and spoke to just how excited we were to be in attendance.
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We took our seats in the row behind the little girl, her little friend and their moms. As we waited for showtime, we talked to the two six-year-olds about tutus (they definitely love tutus), books (they’re into Ramona right now) and, of course, skiing (they looove skiing). They drew us pictures of unicorns skiing, and unicorns rappelling down zip lines.

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That was just a taste of the genuine, not-at-all-cliche girl-power vibe that imbued the night. We saw the movie at the Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vt., where skier-girls of all ages packed the room. There were high-fives. There were impromptu dance parties. There were, of course, unicorns.

And the movie itself! After the cheers and hoots and hollers from the opening segment died down, we all stared in rapt attention as Lynsey Dyer and Rachael Burks ripped the you-know-what out of Revelstoke. My friend Lauren turned to me and whispered, “I love it, because it’s not perfect skiing. They scrub turns just like the rest of us.” I nodded, fixated on the screen. She was right — the women were shredding, for sure, but the editors didn’t skip the scenes that were a little less pretty. It was amazing to watch not in spite of the imperfections, but because of them.

The movie also didn’t gloss over the less-than-perfect elements of the skier-girl life. One segment shows various big-mountain skiers doing the “day jobs” that allow them to ski—from washing windows to instructing Pilates (and even freelance writing!).

Perhaps my favorite part of the movie, and the aspect that sets it apart from every other ski movie I’ve seen, is that it acknowledged the presence (and importance!) of fear. Nicole Yavis spoke about repeating this mantra before dropping into an intimidating line: “Conquer fear, that’s why you’re here.” Rachael Burks, after getting swept up in an avalanche in Alaska, talks about how much the experience rattled her, and how she was happy to give up her spot in the helicopter for a few days.

It didn’t occur to me until I heard these amazingly talented skiers speak those words that we just don’t hear stuff like that in traditional ski movies. Which, by the way, is crazy. Why is it weird to hear people talk about how it’s scary and rattling to get caught up in an avalanche, or to huck a huge cliff in the middle of a line that you’ve only scoped out from a helicopter? Why does it take an all-women’s ski movie to hear someone acknowledge the fear that accompanies pushing yourself to the next level in any sport—extreme skiing or not?

Burks’ vulnerability and honesty makes it even sweeter to watch her shred her “dream line” at the end of the movie, and even more awesome to hear her giggle in relief and joy when she reaches the run-out at the bottom. It was a gorgeous reminder that in skiing and in life, that’s why we’re here—to fight the fear.

Bottom line: See this movie for the gorgeous, gutsy skiing, but also for the honest portrayal of a skier-girl’s life. And maybe even to see a unicorn or two.

* Why Unicorn Picnic? Dyer answers that question in this Outside Magazine piece : I have a nonprofit called SheJumps and the logo is a unicorn giraffe—a girafficorn. Every time someone sees it, they smile. You see this hint of nostalgia. I think it reminds us of when we were kids and anything was possible. Since my focus is to try and get more girls outside, I knew I needed to make it less intimidating and more playful. Bring back the magic of what we see in the mountains rather than, it’s so gnarly and scary. It’s fun. The picnic part is about community. Find that magic and then come together.

** Why do we need an all-women ski movie? According to Dyer, though women make up 40% of the skiing population and 30 percent of the adventure-sports-film viewership, only 14 percent of athletes in major ski films were female this past season. That’s up from 9 percent the previous season.

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Race report: 2014 Tropical Splash Open Water Swim

**Editor’s note: The editor isn’t sure how more than two weeks have passed since this race occurred. The editor promises to get her (expletive) together and get back on top of her schedule soon.**

At first, we thought the loud, sudden boom that woke us in the night was an explosion.

It roared and crackled for what felt like a long time—maybe five seconds—before giving way to a low hum. Thunder, followed by rain.

It was the night before the 2014 Tropical Splash Open Water Swim in Siesta Key, Fla. The rain had been in the forecast all week, but I had mostly brushed off any concern about it. A thunderstorm in the middle of the night in Florida in October? What were the chances?

The rain continued into the morning, as I ate my pre-race breakfast in the hotel room I was sharing with Steve and my mom, my fearless cheering section. We watched the huge green blob on the radar screen on The Weather Channel with interest and confusion. Really? This? Now?

In between Weather Channel updates, I checked the race organizers’ Twitter feed for information (kudos to the team for keeping us well-informed!). The registration was postponed, but race organizers  via the organizers’ Twitter feed that forecasts indicated the race would go on. The rain poured on. A message flashed below the radar image on the TV: Rip current warning.

“Do you think the people organizing the swim know that?” Steve said.

“I’m sure they do,” I said unconvincingly.

Then, as suddenly as the storm began, it was done. The race was, indeed, on. But the 5K, the longest distance—and the one I signed up for—was cancelled, leaving me “downgraded” to the 2.5K.

As we drove toward the beach, my inner cranky teenager had a field day. Why had I done all those long training swims if I was just going to swim a 2.5K? Why did it have to storm today, of all days?

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The voice fell into a quiet awe when we walked onto the beach. The storm clouds still hung above the turquoise water, which was churned up into a foamy froth. A rainbow danced above us. As I surveyed the course from the shore, it occurred to me that while this wasn’t exactly the race I had in mind when I signed up, it might just be a cooler experience rather than a “downgrade.”

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That idea was affirmed as soon as I started swimming. Large swells pushed us swimmers forward, then sucked us backwards. A slight diagonal current pushed us off ever-so-slightly off course. This was not a chance to PR on a glassy lake—this was a rare opportunity to test my endurance and mental toughness. I dug in and committed myself to enjoy every moment of it.

I’m not going to tell you that it was over before I knew it. At many points during the race, I found myself expressing gratitude that I only had to swim one lap of the course, not the two I would have completed for the 5K. But I will tell you that it was tremendously fun and exciting, and that after I ran across the finish line and met up with Steve and my mom, I could initially only sit down on a cooler next to the finish line and mutter breathlessly: “Wow. That was something.” I didn’t even bother looking at my time—the race wasn’t about that. ‘

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But after breakfast, and before we proceeded to the Daiquiri Deck for the requisite post-race drink, I did stop to looked up my time and place. Amazingly, my time, 48:49, was the fastest for women in my age group that day.

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If we only wanted PRs in closed environments, we’d swim only in pool races. If we want adventure, surprise and awe, open-water swimming is a great place to find it. This race was a lovely reminder of that.

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