As my patrol and PA friend gathered round with an oxygen mask, I gasped for air through sharp pains in my chest:
“Can we at least check to make sure I’m not bleeding…like really bad?”
While this might sound like the start of some crazy, once-in-a-lifetime ski wreck story, this was par for the course in my skiing life pre-baby. I was bold, committed, and down for adventure. My days on the mountains were pretty consistent: work on short straight lines, continue to take longer and more committing straight lines, then on a day when I thought my head was in the game, commit to charging a line I’d been eyeing for a while.
In this instance, I stuck the french-fries through the chute. Unfortunately, however, it was the rocks in the blind opening I hadn’t planned on encountering. I loudly dry docked on their protruding edges and was sent tomahawking through the air before my body was abruptly stopped by another set of rocks.
I managed to retrieve a ski some 100 yards away from where I’d landed and made it to the groomer. It was then that the searing pain gripped my body; I thought I had literally been ripped open by the rock that had stopped my catapulting. I limped my way down to the clinic where I collapsed at the door, struggling to breathe. After further inspection behind closed-curtain, I realized my beacon had taken the brunt of the trauma, luckily leaving me with only a badly bruised chest, torn jacket, and possible break between my 7th rib and my sternum.
Ah yes, life before I was a mother—when I could ski full throttle and take huge risks. If things didn’t go as planned, the worst that happened was a trip to the clinic and not being able to hit up my routine yoga class for a while… and maybe a bruised ego to compliment my bruised body.
While these are the days that I find myself missing now that I have a little one, these are also the wrecks that seem to stick in my head as I try to focus while skiing in the no fall zone as a parent.
I believe that in order to commit to skiing extreme lines, you can’t have much to lose. Not that I was suicidal before becoming a mom, but the potential of being seriously injured left me with thoughts of get well cards and a good story to tell my friends, not struggling to care for a small child or worse— not being there for them at all. I’m sure this is probably true with most high risk action sports. Whether downhill mountain biking or skiing a committing line, there’s a moment where you have to think to yourself “fuck it” and clear your head before dropping in.
For me, this means giving yourself permission to be wholly in the moment; you aren’t worrying about what the president’s tweeting or how to pay that unexpected bill. Not only is this freedom an often-referenced reason for indulging in these activities in the first place, it’s also imperative to your success and safety in the mountains. I’ve been there when I haven’t followed through with this motto… freaking out with a million “what if” thoughts in your head half way into something bold rarely ends well.I don’t want to jeopardize my ability to be there for my daughter in the future, or even not being able to care for her due to an injury, but taking risks and focusing my energy into a skill set such as big mountain skiing is part of who I am. It was a huge part of my life for the 30 years I lived pre-motherhood, and while my daughter means the world to me, I’m not sure I want her to grow up with a mother who is full of regrets, lacks pride in her expertise, or *gasp* feels resentment.
So how do I balance these two seemingly antagonistic parts of my life: skiing the no fall zone and the heartstrings of motherhood? I trust my abilities, I utilize good judgement, and I systemize when possible. Over time and through experience, I’ve compiled these guidelines that I try and stick to when skiing terrain with higher than average consequences:
1. Pick your days. Sometimes it’s chalky, icy, or beat to shit and those days really aren’t worth going hard in consequential terrain, at least not for me. I just slow it down a little in places I don’t want to fall and opt out of airs if the landing’s not stellar. I take advantage of these days to practice technique for when the conditions warrant game-on type skiing. For instance, if I’m skiing Fantasy Ridge on a high pressure day, I’ll opt for a shot that’s been skied heavily and of little consequence. It’s still fun because it is steep jump turns through a couloir on chalky heaven (I love that stuff), but it isn’t above a 150 foot cliff where one hung up turn could mean the end. Usually on those days, I’m happy with one or two ridge laps and then heading to the front side where the beat up bowl of bumps is a safe area to practice sticking to a fall line, looking ahead, and skiing smoothly in chewed up snow—all necessary skills that translate to skiing the zones with more cliffs and chutes.
2. Know your line. If I can only get out every so often, I take the time to check stuff out on high pressure days so I can charge when the conditions are right. I also shamelessly ask questions about things I used to be able to observe myself back when I could ski every day. I have no problem asking which way the wind was blowing (i.e. loading–which at an avy mitigated resort means where the pow is), what’s been open (i.e. more tracks), or even about exits, entrances, or mandatory directional turns (i.e. it’s been a fat winter, and that last storm might’ve covered up the stump that signaled an entrance). I lucked out earlier this season, riding up on the opening of the ridge after it had been closed for quite some time. The hike was fat, the lines were untouched, and the riding was steep, deep, and epic. Unfortunately I hadn’t been up there to scope things out yet this season, so I didn’t know how well things were covered or if some lines went or had a mandatory air. I chose a new line that day that was perfect and over the top, but had I taken the time to previously scope out the terrain I could’ve charged harder knowing whether there was a cliff leering below me or if I’d just end up getting sloughed into the adjacent, more open chute.
3. Get Fit. I don’t want to be beat from the hike before I drop in for a million jump turns (or charging if it’s pow). While I’m more fit this season than I was when I was pregnant or had a newborn, I recognize that I’m still not in peak shape. When I’m only hiking the ridges once a week (honestly, that’s if I’m lucky), as opposed to the nearly every day that my friends are, staying in good shape for the mountains can be hard. I never really appreciated how high my level of fitness was back in the day until I am where I am now–trying to have short, casual conversations on the boot packs without letting my friends know that I can’t breathe. To optimize my fitness, this year I broke down and got myself a Nordic center pass. I feel dorky as hell out there sliding around in super old gear and awkward clothes (Is there a way to look cool as a x-country skier, if so please divulge), but my kid sleeps like a champ in her sled and I’m getting in shape for those downhill ski days. You can bet your bottom dollar that duck walking back up the runs in flimsy-ass nordic gear while maintaining momentum to keep my daughter’s sled sliding uphill is a workout and I’m hoping it’ll payoff on ridge and storm days.
It’s easy to find yourself at the top of a ridge and feel pressure to pick something gnarly. But before you get caught up in “what did you ski?” mentality, keep in mind that it’s ultimately just a pissing competition. Anymore, it’s not really that important to me now that I have a child; I realize it’s just skiing. I guess I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone but myself… and my daughter. It all reverts back to that notion of balance: while I want to have fun and feel fulfilled pushing myself, I also want to come home to her at the end of the day. Hopefully when I show-up stoked simply because I was out there honing a skill set, whether charging or practicing, I’m teaching her that skiing is fun no matter what.
Mama to a wild little girl, attempting to find balance between motherhood and her own wild side. Cabin dweller. Oftentimes finds herself in over her head.. in both parenting and adventuring and she wouldn’t have it any other way. AMI 2017 Ambassador, see her full profile here. Also follow Heidi’s adventures on Instagram at @BCCHeidi.