In October, I climbed Mount Saint Helens by moonlight and when I stood on the summit at sunrise, I felt the mountain rumble beneath my feet. On the way back down, sliding freely down the loose scree slope on the soles of my well-worn hiking boots, I said, “I want to learn to ski.” I believe in the wishes I make on mountains: it’s now mid-April and after around 100 days spent sliding down the slopes of Lone Peak in Big Sky, Montana, I’m well on my way to being an expert skier.
Driving east to Montana after Helens, I wasn’t thinking about skiing. I was thinking about Clydesdales. I had been offered a gig ranch-sitting a horse farm in southwest Montana for the winter and I was in love with the idea of having horses back in my life. After a week on the ranch, working side by side with the resident ranch woman, getting to know her animals and forming what I thought were trusting partnerships, I shook her hand and told her I’d be back in a few weeks, well before she left for winter in Hawaii. Then I headed south for Zion.
But my winter with horses was not meant to be. One morning I woke up to a sharply-worded email of demands, all of which should have come up much sooner: no friends or family could visit me at the ranch, my dogs needed to be kept penned up and I was to live in the tiny bunkhouse and use an unheated outhouse all winter, instead of the main house. Most disturbing was the uncompromising tone of the email and the implication that I would be watched; it was clear this woman had some serious trust and control issues. Red flags were flapping feverishly… this was not somebody I wanted to work for.
When I told Dan, a friend from Big Sky and my co-pilot for the Zion trip, about the ranch woman’s email he said, “Well, how about you spend the winter skiing instead.” What a perfect Plan B: if I couldn’t spend the winter with my first love – horses – I would spend it with my next great love: Mountains. And so I closed the barn door and climbed out the window to Big Sky.
And so here I am, wintering at one of the the most epic ski resorts in the world, on the most beautiful mountain in Montana (which in Montana is saying something), surrounded by skiers – people who live to ski, for whom skiing is being – learning new lessons outside in the mountains, everyday.
Before this winter, I’d skied a handful of times, but I was in no way a skier. Now I have an Unlimited Gold Season Pass to the biggest ski resort in America and I go skiing just about every day: on sunny days, snowy days, and on negative 20 degree days. I’ve skied all over this mountain: from greens to blues to blacks to double blacks to the backcountry. Now I can look at Lone Peak from any angle and say, yeah I skied down that face.
The most important lesson I’ve learned this winter is that Skiing is Believing. Skiing is purely physics and metaphysics, both of which the body and mind speak fluently, if you can keep your doubts, your fears – your ego – out of the way. I’ve been working on my balancing act for years, living on the razor’s edge, believing. Now I stand on my skis, these erstwhile awkward clown shoes, at the top of a steep snowy slope and I push over the edge and behold: my skis ski, my body balances and my mind is free. I believe in the wishes I make on mountains.