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.
Just wondering how you ended up with an unlimited Gold Season Pass – did you work for the resort and this was part of the compensation?
I am a blonde living in Longmont, CO and very much enjoy reading your blog posts. I have also been skiing since I was a young ‘un. There is definitely something zen about skiing that brings me back year after year. It’s brought a lot of joy to my life.
The old fashioned way– I paid for it by writing a couple extra features for the magazine. A (not so small) investment in a much coveted skill-set. 🙂
A tip of the old knit cap (or should I say helmet) to you, Ms Coyote. It takes mucho courage to point the tips down a narrow double black chute. It requires confidence to face endless, tight 180 degree changes of direction. But with the life you live you should be used to that by now :). There are soooo many Life metaphors that come from skiing, but I’ll stop with that one.
Your legs must be in good shape… just in time for hiking season.
Thanks for posting again.
Too bad the ranch-sitting didn’t work out, but you got in a great ski vacation! I’ve only skied back east. Lots of ice…never got to ski powder.
Sounds like you’re ready to take up surfing!
I’ve skied over 100 ski areas in the US and Canada over the last 53 years and I just have to say that Big Sky Rocks! It’s a great place, and I love the people there. Even us old timers still party hard and ski hard…..
You be careful up there on that hill…..I see it’s the last day, but just in case you go back next season.
Skiing is the best sport…..there is no doubt about it.
Ed in Tahoe
you are a badass! I am glad you know when to listen to your alarm bells and say fuck all! the path is diverging and I will go the way I did not expect. in a few months I will hit the road in my rv with my dogs and I don’t want to be at the mercy of any of those things that your home owner laid out to you. I am glad you know to follow life and not be beholden to bullshit. well done!
It looks magnificent. Glad you’re mastering the art of skiing. Enjoy! 🙂
As usual, your fearless personality has delivered you to a new nirvana: skiing! You might enjoy the short films created by Nimbus Independent. They chronicle the lifestyle of free skiers from a unique perspective. It’s not all jumps and daring do. The culture of their destinations is emphasized along with the beauty of floating on and above snow in the backcountry. Try this one:
My son is the videographer. In the early portion of this video, he is the giant smiling with the diminutive elderly Japanese lady.
glad you found such a great plan b!
So glad that our lack of communication from you meant that you were having too much fun!!
Way cool, Mary! You are quite the adventuresome woman! We are finally road-tripping in the Pony (our pop-up). We just spent two wonderful weeks camped alongside Paulina Creek south of Bend, Oregon, and are now on our way south. We will be gone from Wallace about 3 months of this trip, but already have others planned that will take us to New Mexico for the winter. Best to you and safe travels always (whether on the road or on your skiis!). Carol
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