Friday, November 15, 2013

173. Hiking Boot Skiing

Sometimes when I watch movies, I get this strange feeling of impending awesomeness. It usually happens in epic action movies, where some regular person is suddenly imbued with a power they must learn to control or understand. Like in Return of the Jedi, when Luke walks up to Jabba's Palace in his cloak like a total badass. Or in The Matrix, when Neo improbably keeps Trinity from exploding in that helicopter, even though physics said "No." Or in Jurassic Park, when Clever Girl the Velociraptor figures out how to open that door to the kitchen. My heart beats faster and I get a chill and my brain throws its fists in the air screaming: YES. Things just got REAL.

I'm not a film director, but I would imagine that they spend a lot of time trying to orchestrate these precise moments of emotion in their audience. Maybe not the exact emotion I was talking about before; although I would love if cheesy romantic comedies or lifetime movies had more explosions and dinosaurs. However, regardless of the genre, I feel like the "chill" is what movies aim to accomplish.

This evening I went to a showing of "Ticket to Ride," a Warren Miller documentary film about Heli Skiing. In case you hadn't heard of Heli Skiing, it involves insanely rich people getting into helicopters, flying up to the tops of gigantic mountains, leaping out of the helicopters and then hurtling down the mountains while strapped to a couple of pieces of waxed wooden planks. The waxed wooden planks are commonly referred to as "skis," or "a snowboard," to make people feel less nervous about the reality of what they are actually doing.

Somewhere in there, I got the creeping feeling of the chill. Somewhere in the back of my brain was a little voice that said "I wanna do that." And, unlike all the movies I mentioned earlier, I might actually be capable of doing the thing I saw on the screen. Unfortunately, I am not a jedi, nor am I The One, nor am I actually a supremely intelligent velociraptor (but a girl can dream). I did, however, learn how to ski when I was 4 years old. It was the only skill that my parents insisted that I learn at a young age, other than walking, potty-training, swimming, and learning all of the words to the entire Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

In the Smoky Mountains, after the blizzards, the terrain was beyond gorgeous. There were so many craggy peaks with snow-covered trees contrasting brilliantly against the bright blue sky. As we hiked through the tundra, our breath forming puffs of smoke around our faces like were were a train of tiny steam engines, it was impossible not to be captivated by the astonishing reality of nature. Everything looked like a National Geographic photo, except we were living inside of it instead of seeing it on the other side of a 2-dimensional photo.

The troublesome part came with the descents. The snow was piled so thickly that it was nearly impossible to find footing. This wasn't so hard with going up mountains, as I could just dig in my boots and scrabble my way up. But going down was seriously tricky. There was nowhere to put my boots that wasn't already a few inches of completely slick slush on top of a few feet of packed snow. When I encountered my first treacherous-looking descent, I thought about sitting down on my rump and sliding. Instead, I decided to be bold.

I leaned forward, lightly planted my hiking poles, then pulled myself down the hill. I would go 6 or 7 feet per slide, balanced upright on my boots, ostensibly skiing down the hill. There was nothing fancy about it - it was really just, as Buzz Lightyear would say, "falling with style." But there was something really fun about moving my way down the Appalachian Trail with no forces other than gravity, without injuring myself. I would use my hiking poles like skiing poles, to gently keep myself upright and to correct any unbalancing. I would often yell "Weeeeee!" because it only seemed appropriate.

I don't know if I'll ever go Heli Skiing. Maybe if I win the lottery, or if a helicopter just lands in my front lawn one day, 007 jumps out and tells me that my country needs me and the only way I can help is by flinging myself off the top of a huge mountain. But barring those scenarios, I will likely only be able to ski like regular people, on a regular ski slope with a lift and a lodge with hot chocolate and less possibility of sudden death via avalanche.

But I'll know that I've been skiing in a place where no one else has been skiing. Even if it was on my hiking boots. And even if it was for only 6 feet at a time. I caught the wind of the Smoky Mountains, and I rode it.

Me in the Smokies. Photograph by Dumptruck.

Clever Girl


  1. That's what I ended up doing in Norway on the mountain! It was just so much easier to slide down on my boots, pushing with my poles, than walking. I kept slipping anyway, so as you said, "falling with style". That's awesome that you got to experience all weather extremes on the trip (in retrospect). sooo epic.

  2. Not so my snow, but we did some "mud skiing". The top 1/2" of trail would thaw to mud, over the icy base below. Everything looked like normal trail until you stepped on it, then you'd better have a pretty good sense of balance! :-)