You can feel the sunburn forming inside your nostrils. Despite regular applications of sunscreen, your nose keeps running, wiping away any hope of a blister-free tomorrow. You silently curse yourself for forgetting a critical piece of gear: a buff.
It's high-noon on a sunny September day and you've been hiking for 3 hours. You reached snowline an hour ago, where the intensity of the sun only got worse, which doesn't make sense because you've gained 3,000 vertical feet and are, you know, standing on something cold. But the sun's rays are now bouncing at you from every which way, and in addition to the sunburn forming in your nose you think you're getting burned in your armpits too. Neat.
But in the end, it'll be worth is as you stride triumphantly into the massive crowds at Paradise, having successfully skied another day in a new month in a row. People will ask you if you went skiing (yes, that's why you're carrying skis), where the snow is (see that white stuff up there?), and why you hike for 4 hours to ski for 10 minutes, then hike for another 2 hours to get back down (they don't know these details, but any reasonable person can do hiking math). That last question, the question of 'Why?' is the most difficult to answer.
The first time I went backcountry skiing was actually my fourth month of Turns All Year, I just didn't know it yet. My friend Imran took me on a short, easy tour in February 2012, and after taking longer than I'd like to admit to skin less than a thousand feet uphill, I enjoyed the best 8 turns of my life. After 25-years exclusively riding chair lifts, skiing had begun to feel relatively monotonous. This new sport put me back in love. I had new skills to learn and new gear to master and new places to go. I was hooked on backcountry.
Realizing I could make up my own rules for TAY, I decided that having skis on my feet for an hour - uphill travel, downhill skiing, or riding lifts - was good enough for me to count as a day of skiing. I counted backward to November when I started for the season, and my TAY streak was born!
Now that I'm 78-months deep in this endeavor, I can look back and appreciate how I got here:
The first 12-months I was motivated by the challenge. Everything was new again. Learning how to read weather reports, understand terrain, use avy gear, and find friends who wanted to do this crazy thing with me presented a unique opportunity to learn and grow. I skied in the pow, skied in the rain, went on my first snow-camping expedition, visited Camp Muir for the second time in my life, and climbed Mt. Adams and Mt. Baker all in a 6-month span. Each trip taught me something new, including the lesson that you don't know until you go, even though sometimes you go and end up visiting a brewery because it's pouring rain (or find a sheet of ice where pow was abundant only days before). Before I knew it, I was skiing VW Beattle sized sun cups on the Muir Snowfield to celebrate 12-months of TAY.
The next few years I was motivated by the community. My list of backcountry skier friends grew slowly. As a new bc skier, you are a liability to the more experienced people in your group, and I will always be very grateful to the people who slowed their pace or picked smaller objectives while I learned the ropes. In July 2013 I took a fateful trip to Mt. Hood and met my ski-qual (rhymes with equal, get it?) and soon-to-be-bestie Theresa. From the day we met, Theresa and I were together for 21/41 ski trips I went on in the next year, including one very memorable June 50k adventure. Our ski-mance continued and we worked to grow our ski community together (mostly thanks to Theresa).
Today I am motivated by people, places, and let's be honest, momentum. I continue to meet amazing people through the backcountry community. The list of places I want to go keeps getting longer, even as I check off awesome places like Norway, heli-hut touring in Canada, and classic lines in my own backyard. And I've been doing this hiking-for-skiing program for the last 78 months - that's six and half years! - in a row. That's not the type of momentum when you walk away from. Once you get through the first 12 months, it's downhill again until about month 22, and so on. Only two months of the year are generally unpleasant, but even then you can be surprised by unexpected spring corn conditions in October and find renewal in beer-drinking-lift-skiing in September.
In truth, I can't imagine doing anything else for at least one day every month. I'm learning how to mountain bike and am thinking about signing up for another half marathon, I may even dip my toes back into the climbing scene, but nothing rivals the sheer exhilaration of skiing down after hiking for many hours while carrying your skis on your back. Skiing in the summer is guaranteed fun, even if it's Type II fun, and it'll be sure to leave an indelible memory etched in your mind. Just try to always remember the important things, like a buff.