I am tired from the last week of in-bounds and out of bounds skiing, but feeling so lifted from the TASP backcountry weekend in Alta Lakes. This was my first time carrying a shovel, beacon, probe in over 6 years, and I really was not sure how things would go.
I had such a great time skiing at Telluride last year that I contacted Tim McGough, the Program Director at TASP, to let him know that I was interested in coming out again this season. He mentioned they were putting on an adaptive backcountry hut trip and asked if I was interested in joining. Despite some trepidations over how different/challenging skiing and traveling in the backcountry could/would be for me, it did not take me long to say Yes! as backcountry skiing was a big love of mine before my accident.
Coming up with a system was challenging given that I do not live close to Tim/TASP and there was no opportunity for hands-on experimentation. Tim asked if I was able to snowshoe. I did not know the answer to this, and had many doubts as I was not sure if my left snow shoe could clear the snow. I would not know the answer though until I tried. My first attempt was in Scott’s Mum’s backyard in Vermont. To my surprise, I managed to trudge around. The next step was to see if I could handle inclines. Again, I tromped around a bit around Jay Peak, VT and found that I could manage. I then tried to find places closer to where I live to practice. This was challenging due to the lack of snowfall we had received in/around Cambridge. I found a little suburban park to at least practice packing/carrying my equipment on my back, which also took a fair bit of time to figure out. The system I eventually went with to “skin” up was to wear snow shoes and snow boots. This means that I have to carry my ski, (heavy) outriggers and ski boot, and then find a way to transition out of my snow shoes/boots into my ski boot/ski. It does not really seem fair that I have to carry a lot more with a gimpy leg but you do what you have to do.
I admit, I was a tad bit upset to learn that I was the only person in the group with a disability. I felt like I would just slow everybody down, always be last etc. This soon passed as I proved to be able to more than keep up, at least skiing wise, with an incredible group of TASP instructors and volunteers.
Conditions were very friendly: warm, low wind, firm snow underneath dust. The drop into the lakes was fine on one ski, despite lots of trees and shitty ice.
The snowshoe up to our runs was very tiring for me though. Firm snow is definitely easier than deeper snow, and we experienced it all over the weekend. We could not have had better guides than Joshua Butson and his guiding company, San Juan Outdoor Adventures, who was extremely skilled, knowledgeable, fun and patient. Joshua, btw, has done some pretty awesome first ascents all over the world.
Aside from introducing me back into skiing in the backcountry, a large part of the trip was to cover basic avalanche skills (basically a Level 1 avy course – about 15 years since I took one!) It was interesting to see what had changed in terms of avalanche safety education over the last 1.5 decades.
While I would sometimes get dejected for moving uphill slowly and tiring (the right leg because it was doing most of the work, the left leg because it is so weak and also working), I did feel we accomplished a fair bit and I am on my way back to doing another thing I love and have missed since my accident. Being surrounded by a wonderful crew who made me laugh so hard in our “hut” was such a blessing and I am reminded of how many good people there are out there.
I was asked to help some of the TASP instructors with movement analysis and three-tracking instruction, as that is a component of their PSIA Level 1 Adaptive ski instructor exam. I spent the morning having my movements analyzed and giving them feedback, and the afternoon giving a little bit of bumps skiing instruction one-ski-style. It was just as instructional to me as it was to them, as trying to explain and teach something is the best way to learn yourself. Listening to them offer their analyses of my movements, the vocabulary they were learning to use, and trying to articulate my movements to them was incredibly useful. It also felt good to be able to “give back” a little and offer some of my skills and experiences (all two seasons’ worth!) to them.
I cannot wait to return next season.