31 December 2015

Happy New Year!

Moonlight skiing, complete with miniature cans of champagne, goes down in history as my best New Year Celebration ever. I've also been lucky to celebrate on a boat in Lake Union, with drinking uno in Patagonia, and I was in the FIRST time zone to enter the next year in New Zealand.

Last year, on the eve of the New Year I was on a beach in Thailand. The next morning I woke up with Tonsai Tummy, and as a result never really appreciated the beauty of the Thai New Year. In the spirit of leaving 2015 behind me and looking ahead to 2016, these are my favorite pictures from our beach celebration:


It was also a full moon. Super high-tide came all the way up to the beach hotel bar.

One of the bars. Sketchy or fun, depending on inebriation level. 

Fun ladies ready to celebrate.

This little guy was ready to rock too.

Lanterns. Hundreds flying in the sky make for a gorgeous sight.

This lantern was heart shaped.

Happy New Year!

This year I will be at a cabin near lovely Mt. Baker. The snow report says 154" and snowing. We've already surpassed last year's TOTAL snowfall for the season, and I feel lucky to live in such a beautiful place - especially when Ullr is smiling upon us.

24 December 2015

Turns All Year: Month 50

Skiing this month has been a little like this:

So. Much. Snow.

With four ski days under my belt for the month, snow DUMPING in the mountains, a new pair of powder skis in the quiver, and seven more days left in the month I'm pretty damn stoked. Rather than go on and on and on and ON about how good the skiing is right now, here are a few of my favorite WApow! shots from this, my 50th month of turns all year:

December 6: Stevens Pass Backcountry Backside with Imran

December 16: Theresa enjoying champagne pow at Crystal.

Dec 16: Theresa captured me enjoying some turns too.

Rainier and Rainier, on an unexpected bluebird day.

Pano by Theresa, taken from the summit of the King.

Peekaboo! Christy I see you! December 22 at Crystal Mountain.

Christy is STOKED!

December 22: Me choking on pow. I've never skied anything so deep before.

17 December 2015

The Power of a 'Good Day'

On my 17th birthday, I didn't know what to make of myself. For some reason, my entire life, I thought I was going to die at sixteen - most likely in an airplane accident. I cannot explain this feeling. But it was so strong that on the morning of the big 1-7, I was shocked to be awake.

The rest of that year - 2001 - I felt unsettled. Like I was wearing a sweater that was both too tight and too bulky. I just couldn't move.

In 2009, I turned twenty-five, and I felt the same sweater tightening around me. The year had started off poorly with a layoff, and I struggled with feeling useless and inadequate for months. I didn't know where I belonged or where to go next. For whatever reason, twenty-five - like seventeen - just didn't "fit" well either.

Seventeen. Twenty-five. Thirty-one.

Beginning half-way through my 28th year, I started working on my 30 Before 30 countdown, which propelled me past twenty-nine and into my thirties with a *bang*. I LOVED being thirty. I had been looking forward to it by telling people I was "almost 30" for nearly two years. Finally I WAS thirty! All was right with the world.

Then, suddenly, as if blindsided by simple math, thirty-one hit me like a ton of bricks. Where thirty had been no problem, the extra syllable - the one - was absolutely soul-crushing. And the big 3-1 birthday happened in the middle of a pretty bad year. In April I found out about Petra, my parasite, who I contracted on a not-so-great trip to Thailand at the beginning of 2015. I quit climbing in June, and I have yet to figure out how to fill the climbing-sized hole in my life. Petra was evicted eight months ago but I'm still not quite 100%. My tummy is still angry sometimes, I can't run as fast or as far as I could before, and I feel like I am overall less motivated and driven than before.

Which is why, seven months after my birthday, I can still hardly bring myself to utter my age as thirty-one. To say I'm looking forward to thirty-two would be a giant sweater-sized understatement.

I thought this was going to be happy blog Kristina? It is. To truly understand why yesterday was such an incredibly good day, I feel the need to qualify just how difficult this year has been for me. I feel like 2015 beat me up and spit me out and I'm still putting my parts back together. I'm making progress but it feels slow. And painful.

Even through all of this tumult, skiing has remained my happy place. And yesterday at Crystal Mountain I was in my happiest of places. For the first time in 2015 I truly felt alive. I felt like myself. Myself before Petra and the climbing-sized hole.

Theresa experiencing snow to the face.

Me going deep.

I don't want to discount the rest of 2015. I've had some good times. I climbed Shasta and traveled to Alaska and celebrated my four year anniversary of turns all year. But this day - this December the 16th - revived me in a way I didn't know was possible. It opened my eyes to what I've been missing and awoke something deep inside I had forgotten was there.


Rainbow hello.

Every run greeted us with fresh tracks. We never waited in line and skied powder all day long. I was filled with energy fueled by the snow flying every which way. With a sore face from smiling and throat dry from screaming, I could feel my insides swelling with warmth, even in the crisp winter air.

That's the power of a good day. It leads you back to yourself. Whether a good day to you means skiing freshies or hiking in the hills or curling up with a good book, I just want to say: go out and do it! I am so thankful I did, and I'm feeling hopeful that in 2016 this too-tight sweater that is thirty-one will loosen just a little until I can pull it off, and find myself again.

So happy to be 'home'.

10 December 2015

Turns All Year: Month 49

For November turns this year, Muir seemed to answer the 'Where to ski?' question. The tutu made three visits to the mountainside camp.

Situated on the south side of Mt. Rainier at 10,188', it's both very accessible and incredibly remote. Muir is four miles and 4,640 feet above the Paradise parking lot. In good weather it can take as little as 3 hours to climb and 30 minutes to ski down. In bad weather you can get lost in a sea of clouds for hours or days. This November, I had a little bit of both.

November 10
For the first (and second) foray to camp, I headed out with two buddies. We left a rainy Seattle in the rear view mirror and skinned above the clouds. With a sea of white below, we enjoyed sunny warmth. About 8800' I started feeling pretty lousy, but endeavored on to camp, which I reached long after my partners. I stuffed my face with PB&J and a PBR and really felt much better.

Breaking through the clouds.

Always my favorite part of the climb.

Looking down into the clouds.

We skied down to 8500' in fun, bouncy snow. Looking at our watches and realizing it wasn't even yet 2pm, we stopped and skinned back up to Muir and again enjoyed 4 inches of freshies on the descent.

Freshies for the sunset ride down.

Then things got spicy. Clouds enveloped us in a sea of white. Just standing was hard. Skiing was harder. Skiing vertigo is hard to understand unless you've experienced it, but trust me when I tell you it's nauseating.

Soo disorienting. 

Navigation WIN!

We spent 90 minutes in the whiteout. Thank you Amar for bringing your GPS. Safely at the car, we decided it was time to find more beer.

The road to beer was temporarily closed because we were late. Don't worry, we eventually got through.

November 21 
Like the rest of the ski universe, our crew headed to Paradise to check things out. Driving through the gate at 8:57am felt pretty rad (we get THREE FREE MINUTES!) until we got to the parking lot to discover we were car number 46.

Yes. Forty six.

We found a place to park, gathered gear, and waited for friends. With a large group, we opted to stick to the "easy" route and go up to Muir. Again.

Panorama Point dottted with tens of skinners.

Skinning was pretty straightforward out of the lot, albeit a bit icy. Skiing down was not super great, but not terrible. The upper section was wind blown and inconsistent, although a few soft patches of pow could be found. Then we entered the ice festival section, which was just so, so bad. Then we found some lovely spring corn and all was right with the world.

03 December 2015

How To Get Started Backcountry Skiing

As “the girl who skis in a tutu,” people regularly ask me how to get started backcountry skiing. I love introducing others to my favorite pastime. The more (safety-oriented, environmentally-conscious) BC skiers we can get out there the better.

I've said before that backcountry skiing is this awesome love-child of snowshoeing and downhill skiing. It offers the quiet, blissful experience of walking through fresh, snowy tracks far from the beaten path with the sheer exhilaration of swift, snowy descents. I love powder. I love going fast. And I love doing these things with people who love doing these things.

That said, I want to voice a note of caution: before venturing into the backcountry, you should be able to ski a black diamond run in any snow conditions. I cannot stress enough the importance of in-bounds proficiency before going into the side or backcountry. You need to be confident on variable terrain and in sub-optimal weather conditions. Spend time off-piste exploring manky-wet snow. Practice making tight turns in the trees. Learn how to navigate on ice. The backcountry won't give you a "warm up run". Trails are not marked on a map to point you toward the easy way down. You won't get a toboggan ride if you break your leg. Not to stifle your enthusiasm, but I'd rather err on the side of caution than hear about another accident out-of-bounds. Be safe and make smart decisions. The first smart decision you can make is to invest in ski lessons to hone your skills.

Always Tutu

Get started in 10 steps*:

Set realistic expectations. This sport is expensive. It takes a while to join the community and meet regular adventure partners. Even if you're an expert skier, you are not going to be an expert backcountry skier right away. Realize your first few times out the people taking you are doing you a favor. You are a liability to them, but we will take you because we were all once a liability. Be honest about your fitness and ski ability levels. The fastest way to oust yourself from the community is to lie about your skills and end up somewhere you have no business going. Backcountry skiing should be fun, but it won’t be fun unless it’s also safe.

Sign up for an avy class. Yes. That’s right. I list this as number two before I even talk about gear. If you are going to go into the backcountry you need to take an AIARE I course. Most of the skiers I know won’t go with you unless you have taken one. Spanning three days of your life and costing around $300, this is the most important step you take in this entire process. You’ll learn the basics of avalanche behavior and how to judge snow angle and aspect. You’ll also practice doing beacon search, which is seriously the most valuable thing you can do. These classes are only offered a few times a year and can fill up quickly. Sign up now – you can find listings here and here and here. This is a great way to meet future adventure buddies.

Get the gear. For an entire list of all of the gear you may need, check out my backcountry basics blog. If you’re starting with nothing, the cost of the soft and hard goods (aka EVERYTHING) will easily run you $3,000-$5,000 (see step #1). If you already have a suitable backpack and ski clothes (and some old skis maybe you could use), you’re looking at about $1,000-$2,000 (for beacon/shovel/probe + boots, skins, and bindings). If you aren’t sure about all of this stuff, go rent the gear. For those of you in the Seattle area stop by Proski Seattle, and tell them I sent you.

Learn the landscape. This means both physical landscape and the cultural landscape in your local community. Near Seattle, we ski in the Cascades, which offer terrain from mellow to extreme. Conditions vary GREATLY depending on temperature, slope angle, aspect, elevation, and weather conditions (you’ll learn many of these things in Avy I). Luckily, we have amazing recourses available in our area to help us understand terrain and make safe decisions. For avy reports, I recommend you bookmark nwac.us (and consider making a donation). To learn about conditions and discover new backcountry routes, read the trip reports on Turns All Year. Forums like this are another great way to meet backcountry ski buddies, and pickup some cheap, used gear. Books are also a good resource – I recommend this ski guide written and published by locals.

Do a dry run. Take all of your new (or new-to-you) gear out in your living room and do a dry run. Load your pack. Practice taking layers in and out of it. Know that layering while skinning is seriously half of the battle and no one is good at it their first time. Put together a food bag – bring twice as much as you think you’ll need. Make a checklist for yourself so you won’t forget anything. No one wants to be the gaper on a powder day.

Create a trip plan. A trip plan lists where you’re going, who is going, what you’re taking in terms of safety gear, and current conditions/concerns you have about terrain. This formal planning process is important when you are new to the backcountry, and assures your emergency contact person has the necessary information in case something goes wrong. Even if you forgo this step, at the very least you need to have someone in town who knows where you’re going, who you’re going with, what car you’re driving, and when you expect to be back in town. If you aren’t back by that time, they need to know how long to wait until contacting authorities, and who to contact when they do.

Go easy. For your first trip, plan something close to the car. Something that will allow you to “yo-yo” a slope (aka go up and down multiple times). This helps you practice transitions and breaks the touring up into smaller chunks. It also gives you a quick bail strategy if something goes wrong. Touring uses different muscles than pretty much anything else. Even if you have the fitness of a Greek God, you will be tired after your first day of touring.

Take yet another class(es). Notice that “education” is a big part of backcountry enjoyment. It takes a long time to learn how to plan a trip (I am far from an expert here). This means matching your slope and aspect and elevation with the existing weather conditions. Take a Navigation course to help with this. And then take a Wilderness First Aid course in case something goes wrong.

Speak up. No one is an expert. We are all learning. Open your mouth when you have questions. Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. Speak up when you have concerns. Backcountry skiing is a team sport and everyone has a voice.

Have fun! Oh yeah, I almost forgot this because I was too busy nagging you. That’s only because safety is paramount to fun. Backcountry skiing is dangerous and committing. It can be scary. It can also be the most exhilarating activity of your life. Learn the basics and go play. I promise the time and financial investments are worth it.

Happy Skiing.

*By no means are these hard and fast rules. If you just want to give backcountry a try then rent some gear and get a friend to take you to a safe snowfield in the late spring/early summer. That'll give you a taste and let you know if this sport is for you. If it is start ticking off the above items. It'll take a while to get your kit of gear and skills together. As of this writing I have skied 50 consecutive months and have 98 days in the backcountry. I don't consider myself an expert and am actively working on improving my navigation and terrain selection skills. I do surround myself with like-minded backcountry enthusiasts who share my views on safety and acceptable risk. Finding your backcountry people will be the most difficult and rewarding part of your journey.