Feature in Base Camp Magazine

I am always astonished by the people who happen to stumble across my blog. One such person was Cass Légér, the Editor of Base Camp Magazine. Taken by my life and stories, she reached out and asked if I could write an article about my accident and road to recovery and back to my life in the mountains. I am usually pretty prompt about attending to tasks and matters in my life but, for some reason, when it comes to writing about myself, I put things off till the very last minute. I know exactly why. So much has happened in my life; so much tragedy and joy, so many emotions and feelings experienced. The volume and enormity of these events and emotions are so overwhelming that the idea of attempting to convey even a sliver of it all is almost paralyzing (no awful pun intended).

I am really glad that Cass’s offer forced me to write this little piece. I do not think I find writing to be cathartic. But the process of writing always helps organize my thoughts and notice how I can go from being completely clinical about things to unexpected weeping. Writing for an audience who will quickly lose interest in a verbose, rambling article discussing every single detail forced me to prioritize and be selective about what I wrote about. I hope you enjoy reading the final article.

Quick Chile trip recap

Outrigger power

As usual, there has been considerable delay in my brief write-up of my brief trip to Chile in early August. It took a full 24 hours of travel each way, from Boston to Las Trancas. South America is big! I think people outside of South America don’t realize how large even countries like Peru and Bolivia are.

The group accommodation was simple and very pleasant. It seems like there are a ton of accommodation options in this town.

Unfortunately, the weather gods were not on our side. It was raining half the time, and when it was snowing decently, the resort would stop running their lifts due to high winds. Certainly a bit of a bummer.

Not what you want to see during ski season

But I did get a day or two of decent skiing in. I also met another three-tracker in the group. It has never happened where I meet (1) someone who skis on one leg and ski, (2) Rips, too, (3) Skis on the same leg as I do. Holy shit, the trinity is complete!

I think we have a good shot at qualifying for the US National Synchronized Outrigger team. (Photo: Maria Peters)

We just look fuckin’ weird here (Photo: Maria Peters)

It is pretty cool to ski in August! And it was nice to visit Chile again; it has been a very long time since I was last in South America. As I am currently teaching myself Portuguese, my Spanish is totally mangled, and I spoke some kind of Portuguese/Spanish hybrid when I was in Las Trancas. I was able to get away with this because the area gets a lot of Brazilian skiers/tourists, so most folks there can speak some basic Portuguese.

An unfortunate health problem cropped up for me on this trip  and it made me wonder about what kind of medical care could I get in Chile, let alone a place like Las Trancas. Access to excellent health care and specialists is a huge factor in deciding where I will live, and that elicits a lot of negative feelings and emotions in me. I hate feeling and being limited in my choices.

I was pretty wrecked after so much travel, and connections in confusing airports (i.e. Santiago). It’s not that fun lugging around a huge ski bag twice my size around airports. I am very mobile given my disability. However, I was thinking the whole time about the difficulties someone less mobile than me would have in the same situation, and what assistance they would receive.

If you are making a connection in Santiago, the process and airport are very confusing. You might be approached by guides or people with official airport badges offering to help you.  They aren’t doing it to be nice; they expect a sizable tip.

I will be off to Portugal again soon. It is kind of cool to go from the Andes to sunny Portugal. I love contrast.

(Almost) Chile-bound – a hedge pays off

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like it when:

  • You cancel plans (say, climbing or skiing ones) because of forecasted weather but the weather ends up being favourable
  • Finding out the item/service/commodity you just bought went on sale shortly after your purchase
  • Make the decision to change airline travel plans e.g. because with imperfect information you are quite sure you will miss your connecting flight; don’t get on your original flight; and later find out you could have made your connecting flight, which would have saved you a great deal of trouble.

Fortunately, #3 did not happen today.

This round of travel involves many steps, all tightly interwoven and dependent on each other. Like blocks in an igloo. Or like this engineering marvel: a ring created out of Pringle chips. If you remove one chip, the entire structure collapses.

Getting to my final destination of Nevados de Chillán required:

  1. Flying from Boston to Miami
  2. Catching the connecting flight from Miami to Santiago, Chile
  3. Flying from Santiago (SCL) to Concepción (CCP), Chile
  4. Ground transport from Concepción to Las Trancas

Many steps: BOS to MIA to SCL to CCP to Nevados Chillán.

It was only when I was looking at why the travel time from Miami to Santiago was so much longer than I expected (~9 hours) that I learned just how large Colombia (440,800 sq. miles), Peru (496,200 sq. miles), and Bolivia (424,200 sq. miles) are in size! Texas (268,597 sq. miles) is super dinky in comparison.

Closer up of Chile stops/destination in relation to each other. Note the scale at the very bottom of the image.

As I write this, I should be in Miami by now with plenty of time to spare for my connecting flight to Santiago. But I’m not because I made the decision at the check-in counter to change my flight to be a full 24 hours later (same time tomorrow) based on estimates from non-airline (in this case, I am flying American Airlines) websites (e.g. Google which is based on FlightAware); forecasted weather for the next few hours and tomorrow; and predicting how a ton of flights were going to be backed up. The original departure time was supposed to be 1645 hr. This was pushed to 1730 hr this morning, which still gave me enough time to make the connection. We continued to check flight status right before leaving the apartment, and during the drive to the airport. AA continued to stand by this 1730 hr departure, despite predictions from FlightAware of a delay of over an hour. As of right now, this is the status of that flight:

Original departure time was 4.45p then 5.30pm. The plane still hasn’t taken off.

Of course, so that airlines can minimize the official delay time, the flight has been pushed off from the gate for a long time now, and just sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff, with passengers wanting to gouge their eyes out, I’m sure.

So yes, I can now feel vindicated about my decision, but it really was not clear at the time. Firstly, my SCL to CCP domestic flight was on  a separate ticket with a partner airline that would have been the same airline I would have flown had I kept that leg as an AA reservation. Nevertheless, AA could not make changes here. I did this to save a couple hundred dollars. Maybe the moral of this is to try and have all legs of a journey on one airline.

Before I made the decision to shift my departure to be 24 hours later, I needed to see if I could change my internal Chile flight and what this would cost. Comically, when I called LATAM customer service and tried to do this, the agent told me their system was down for maintenance. WTF. Who schedules maintenance on a fuckin’ weekday afternoon. So I didn’t know what was going to happen there. But I was also sure I was going to miss the connection in Miami so I’d just have to sort that out later.

The next complicating factor was travel insurance would likely not cover the additional and non-trivial expense of having to get a separate private shuttle from CCP to Las Trancas due to my late arrival, if my original flight actually had taken off in time to make my connection.

I might be wrong, but it seems like the pain and inconvenience of travel is rarely conveyed. On the whole, it is a relatively small price to pay for the reward of the destination and experience, but it is still very much a necessary evil to me. The neuropathy in my left leg from the Spinal Cord Injury, inability to sleep at all on planes (sleep is a big issue for me in every day life too), and the back pain from all the hardware holding me together makes me loathe/dread flying or any other kind of transportation that involves sitting for long periods of time.

I’m not thrilled that my layover in SCL is now 7+ hours instead of the original 4 hours as they did not have seats on the same flight the next day (I was told by the organizer that the whole process of disembarking, collecting bags, rechecking bags, and getting onto the domestic flight took them ~3 hours yesterday). But I would have been a lot more unhappy if I was stuck in Miami overnight or Santiago for who knows how long. I was lucky that Scott was there to drive me to the airport, wait with me to see how things transpired, and drive us back; and be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. As Tim (the organizer) said, you’re the best person in the whole group for this to have happened to. Yay, I’ll take one for the team.

In any case, I’ll be going back to Chile for very different reasons and under very different circumstances from 8 years ago when I was in Santiago. It will be an experience, that is for sure.


Cham skiing and injury woes

We skied a lot less than anticipated due to what I now know is a bad case peroneal tendonitis, which had first cropped up in January on my skiing road trip, but I thought was just muscle inflammation. Tendonitis sucks because tendons are avascular and take forever to heal. I have dealt with elbow tendonitis from climbing, and also in my knees when I was running a lot in my late teens/early 20’s; so I know the deal. It is going to be 3 months at best, probably longer, for recovery. There are a number of contributing factors in my case: standing on one leg when I ski and asking these tendons/muscles to do so much work stabilizing my full body weight, very high arches that put more pressure on the peroneal muscles AND my foot’s tendency to supinate (roll outwards), not stretching at all on my road trip leading to just solid and tight leg (especially calf and hamstring) muscles. This issue may have been instigated on my early December trip to Hong Kong, where I was walking for a couple of hours a day on many days. A diet that was not particularly nutritious and had a lot of foods associated with inflammation did not help matters either. I hate being so high maintenance (not in the tai-tai way, at least).

The pain was bad enough to cut short the skiing, and walking is painful. But we did get some turns in, in gorgeous weather. It was perhaps the first time this winter I was able to ski with my face exposed.

Aiguilles Rouges

Aiguilles Rouges

I had first learned to ski as an adolescent in Verbier, Switzerland, which borders the Haute-Savoie department Chamonix is in. So this trip to Cham felt a bit like coming full circle (in a very contrived kind of way :)), even though I had never skied in Chamonix before. I am definitely a North America skier by trade, and noticed a number of differences between skiing in Chamonix versus areas in Canada and the U.S.

There are four “altitude ski areas” around Chamonix: Brévent-Flégère, Balme-Vallorcine, Les Grands Montets, and Les Houches. We spent most of our time at Grands Montets because of the more interesting terrain and location and views of the Glacier d’Argentière, les Drus, Aiguille Verte, les Droites, amongst many many peaks. I did not bring any touring gear with me on this trip, so we stayed at the resort the “whole” time.

Les Grands Montets sits right above Glacier d'Argentiere

Les Grands Montets sits right above Glacier d’Argentiere

There had been no new snow for a while before my first ski day ever as a “proper” skier in Europe (!); conditions were pretty icy, and the lower part of the mountain was in bad shape. I was not super impressed with conditions, but was happy to be in very warm, sunny conditions, after all the time spent in really frigid, often low-visibility conditions in Canada and the U.S. on my road-trip. The warm weather did keep the snow that had not been skied off in decent, soft, shape though. But conditions were not good enough to warrant paying the extra to take the tram to the top of the Grands Montets.

One thing I noticed was that people here did not approach me or ask me questions like some do in the U.S., Canada. Maybe it is because of language differences, or maybe it is more cultural reticence to pry. One French skier yelled something to me which I did not understand, and when I apologized for not understanding he said “It is beautiful to ski on one leg like this!” That made my day. Another difference was that I was skiing and riding lift with Yves; whereas on my road trip I was a solo female skier with a curious setup, and that tends to invite conversation.

Yes, I attract a lot of stares with my setup

Yes, I attract a lot of stares with my setup (Photo: Yves Durieux)

A close-up showing how I clip my left leg up to a quickdraw attached to a belt on my waist. Like pin the tail on the donkey

A close-up showing how I clip my left leg up to a quickdraw attached to a belt on my waist. Like pin the tail on the donkey. Except no prizes. (Photo: Yves Durieux)

We were not expecting vastly different conditions the next day, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find great skiing conditions! There must have been some new snow overnight, and/or the direction of the wind had deposited the snow favourably. It was a total blast skiing the same runs we had done the previous day. Temperatures were still extremely mild, though a little colder (a good thing), and with such good visibility, we took the tram up to Grands Montets.

Looking up Grands Montets from the lunch deck

Looking up Grands Montets from the lunch deck

I don’t think I can recall a tram at a US ski area covering such a large vertical distance as the tram here. It was great! I had also never been so jammed in a ski lift as was on this tram. It’s a good thing I wear a helmet as my face is at most people’s chest height.

When you exit the tram, there is a little platform area with a great view of les Drus and the Aiguille Verte.

Aiguille du Grands Montets. It's a lot of steps down from where you exit the cable car down to where you put your ski(s) on.

Aiguille du Grands Montets. It’s a lot of steps down from where you exit the cable car down to where you put your ski(s) on.

Aig d'Verte Grand Montets ridge

Aig d’Verte Grand Montets ridge

It was particularly cool to see such a storied and iconic formation, Les Drus, so close up.

Les Drus and Mont Blanc from the top of the cable car

Les Drus and Mont Blanc from the top of the cable car (Photo: Yves Durieux)

My right leg is even huuuger (in Donald Trump voice) than my left leg these days

My right leg is even huuuger (in Donald Trump voice) than my left leg these days (Photo: Yves Durieux)

About to step in ski and ski down from Aig. des Grands Montets. Yeah, those outriggers are kind of beastly

About to step in ski and ski down from Aig. du Grands Montets. Yeah, those outriggers are kind of beastly (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Because the run gets a lot less traffic than the rest of the resort, the run down and snow was awesome. The views were pretty spectacular too, especially of the 9km long Glacier d’Argentière.

Skiing towards Glacier d'Argentière

Skiing towards Glacier d’Argentière


Getting turns in from the top of Grands Montets

Getting turns in from the top of Grands Montets (Photo: Yves Durieux)

I love that there are so many people who tour/ski out of bounds in Chamonix. But there is also a sadness I feel when I see people with their touring bindings (mostly randonee), ice-axes, and avy packs, because I can’t ski like that any more.

My overall impression of the skiers I saw at the ski resort is that there is a very wide range of ability levels, more so than the US. I’m guessing this is due to all the tourist traffic this place gets. I would say the grading of ski run difficulty is also softer here than in the ski resorts in the US and Canada that I have spent time in; and the snow quality in North America is better. That being said, I loved the mild conditions here, the setting, enclosed cable cars (versus frigid long chair lifts).

Another difference is that people don’t really queue up in an orderly way for cable cars/lifts. You have to be slightly aggressive and just push your way to the front to get on a car. I prefer the pervading system in North America, where on busy days/lifts, you have an attendant calling people out and making sure chairs are filled in a fair and orderly manner.

Despite two rest days from skiing (ice-climbing and a complete rest day), I found my lower right leg issues to prohibit me from skiing on Monday. I found myself unable to control my ski because of the pain, and had to cut our day short. Again, I found myself very upset and frustrated that my injury had reared its ugly head and completely ruined a ski day in Chamonix, especially with a good friend. After another few days of rest, I could only ski a run or two on Friday before having to bail. I felt lousy.

While scrambling to rehabilitate my leg/treat the symptoms upon my return to Cambridge, I visited a PA who gave me his diagnosis, admonished the doctor in Jackson, WY for injecting cortisone into my muscle compartment, and did not want to give me another cortisone shot because it was a) too soon since the last one, and b) there is danger of rupturing the tendon if a cortisone shot is done there. All that can be done is to start physical therapy in March, strengthen, and hope I can be ready in time for a planned ski trip in the Southern Hemisphere in August. I also hope that I can return to Cham in the near future to take fuller advantage of the skiing than I did on this trip. Like with climbing and a lot of things in my life, I just need to put in a lot more work than the average person to keep things functioning and to compensate for my physical deficits. It still feels frustrating to feel so thwarted, and that this winter, which was supposed to be the ski season of a lifetime, hardly went according to plan. It does not always seem fair, but there is not much point in dwelling on that, when I need to get on with things, learn from these experiences, so that I can embark on future trips and adventures.

Despite being frustrated and upset with my injury, life isn't so bad

Despite being frustrated and upset with my injury, life isn’t so bad on the lunch deck (Photo: Yves Durieux)


Chamonix – Journey and arrival

Close to three weeks after departing for Chamonix, I am finally getting around to writing and posting about my experiences there and the surrounding areas. While I was on my big skiing road trip I felt compelled to blog about a place and/or experience quite quickly, so as not to forget details I wanted to document; and also so as not to let things build up so much that writing would feel overwhelming. I know that I have a tendency to be quite emotional/volatile when I am documenting my emotions and feelings soon after an event. While there is something to be said about letting time pass and processing thoughts, I am at that point where it feels like there is too much to write about.

This was my first visit to Chamonix, and came about by the kind invitation of my friend Yves who I stayed, skied, and ice-climbed with the entire time. I am surprised we were able to spend close to a fortnight with each other, in a small space and with each other all day, without killing each other. I could not have asked for a more accommodating, generous, and wonderful host.

My journey to Geneva got off to an inauspicious start. My original Boston to Montreal to Geneva route got completely wiped out after my original Boston to Montreal flight was cancelled due to weather (hard to believe since the snow was very light in Boston), and then my later Boston to Montreal flight was sure to be delayed thus ensuring I would miss my connecting flight. While I was pissed with Air Canada (there will be an Air Canada-shaming post later) for the original flight cancellation, I will say they did try hard to find an alternative and called me to ask me to come to the gate when I was outside security killing time for the later Boston to Montreal flight, when it was apparent I would miss my flight. After a bit of scrambling on their part, and even the gate attendant holding the departing plane for me while he made phone calls, I agreed to get on the Boston to Toronto, Toronto to London Heathrow (LHR), LHR to Geneva flights. Of course having to go through two connections instead of one did not make me happy, but the alternative was arriving in Geneva one day later versus 4 hours later. Connecting through Toronto and LHR did have me going through nice airports with plenty of amenities, and incidentally, places where I have family should I needed to spend a night/long time in each of these places.

It was a real treat to fly into Geneva on a sunny day; I could not believe it was wintertime. The views of the Alps in the distance (I think I was looking at Parc naturel regional du Haut-Jura) were spectacular. I was struck by how clear the water was in Lac Léman; it could have been an alpine lake, or even the clear waters on a Pacific Ocean beach. I was also struck by how much wealth there was, as I saw the châteaux and boat docks around the lake. We also know how the Swiss acquire(d) their wealth in a clandestine and dishonest manner, which leaves a rather bad taste in my mouth.

Yves picked me up in Geneva, and as we drove to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc valley, you could see the western part of the Mont Blanc massif. It was quite a sight to see the snowy peaks, including the Dômes de Miage and Mont Blanc behind it, but I knew more spectacular views awaited me in Chamonix.


Mont Blanc massif East (Source: Wikipedia)

Mont Blanc Massif West (Source: Wikipedia)

Mont Blanc Massif West (Source: Wikipedia)


Yves picked me up in Geneva, and as we drove to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc valley, you could see the western part of the Mont Blanc massif. It was quite a sight to see the snowy peaks, including the Dômes de Miage and Mont Blanc behind it, but I knew more spectacular views awaited me in Chamonix.

From left to right, you can see the peaks of the Aiguille du Grepon, Aiguille de Blâitiere, Aiguille du Peigne, Aiguille du Plan, and the Aiguille du Midi:

View of Aiguille des Charmoz to Aiguille du Midi from the town

View of Aiguille des Charmoz to Aiguille du Midi from the town

Chamonix church

Chamonix church

I also got my first taste of the hearty Savoie food of the region: ridiculous amounts of cheese smothering a baguette with big morel mushrooms on top, served with even more bread. This pretty much characterizes the cuisine of the region: simple, rich, hefty, mountain fare, developed and consumed by the farmers who occupied the region before it became a winter sports destination.

I had a little bit of time to myself the next morning, and as I walked through the town to sort out some lift ticket inquiries, I saw why the location of the village is so spectacular.

View of Brévant from the front door of where I was staying

View of Brévant from the front door of where I was staying

Chamonix is really quite uniquely situated in a valley surrounded by a lifetime of climbing/skiing/mountaineering. The peaks in this part of the Alps are so striking. I can see why it would be difficult to leave if you are an ambitious mountain (wo)man.

How can one tire of these views

How can one tire of these views

Yves brought up the good point that being surrounded by all these peaks and terrain can make a person feel a certain pressure. I am sure being surrounded by lots of very skilled skiers/climbers does not help. While I am not totally old, I think I am at a point in my life where orienting my life around chasing hard lines is not really practical any more, especially given my disability. Nevertheless, there is still an internal tension around leading a comfortable, financially-stable life, and being a bit more of a dirt-bag. While Cham was a great place to visit, and I would love to go back there for more climbing and skiing, Cham, for me, is not a practical choice for year-round, permanent living; I don’t have EU citizenship/residency, I don’t speak French, and there is not enough culturally/intellectually outside of winter sports.

I love that Cham is at the intersection of three countries and that we were driving so casually between Italy/France, France/Switzerland. It gets a lot of tourist traffic, but mostly from Europe/Britain. Goodness, there were a lot of Brits there. It is not ethnically diverse at all, but what mountain town is, I guess (I know I do a lot of “white people sports”). The search for the “perfect” mountain town for me continues…

This loop closed

And thus brings an end to, as someone put it, the mother of all road trips. In total, I travelled 7,896.3 miles. That is more than I usually put on a car in a year! The drive back was fairly speedy, but felt very tiring. Maybe it is because driving East feels like stepping back (is it a coincidence that people tend to say “back East?”), versus the feeling of liberation heading to the wide open spaces of the West. Driving into fog, cold sleet, and rain did not help alleviate this feeling.

Miles travelled on this trip: 7,896.3 miles

I thought skiing at Snowbird in the morning would be a good way to jolt me awake for the first leg of the drive back to Cambridge, MA. Overnight and continuing snowfall cemented this decision. At least that was the plan. And as we see from this trip, plans inevitably get thwarted.

The Snowbird aerial tram has the beefiest arm I have ever seen

The Snowbird aerial tram has the beefiest arm I have ever seen

Conditions were a stark contrast to my warm, bluebird day at Snowbird, but the fresh snow was great.


White-out conditions

White-out conditions make for excellent photos

Yet again, outrigger issues cut my day almost the moment it got started. Snow/water kept getting into the spring mechanism that allows me to flip the outrigger blade up and down. I went into the cafeteria to get hot water to temporarily fix the issue, but it came back as soon as I did a run. I was pissed because I had gone through the trouble of getting up very early to get first tram and spent the money on a lift ticket, only to have equipment failure ruin the day.

However, I had learned the previous day that my new job’s start date had been delayed till March 1st. This immediately made me want to use this opportunity to travel to Colorado to ski at the places I had intended to go to on this trip, but had to forgo because of the delays caused by all the mishaps. So it was easier to roll with the situation knowing that I had an opportunity to get more skiing in later in February.

I knew that I wanted/needed to get back to Cambridge by Sunday evening, but I was not entirely sure where I was aiming for this first day. Lincoln and Omaha, NE were certainly too far. I re-entered probably one of my favourite states, Wyoming, driving through and reminiscing fondly about all the times I have spent in this state. Interestingly, I crossed the Continental Divide on two occasions as I drove East on Interstate-80. I had never driven through Nebraska; there was a similar peace to it that I experienced when I was driving West through Saskatchewan. Seeing large drilling and mining equipment, and a wind-turbine blade transported is really cool, too. I made pretty good progress and decided to bed down for the evening in North Platte, NE, which was a fairly sizable town. Most importantly, the town had places to get coffee for the next morning. I’m normally not a big Starbucks fan, but I will be the first to admit that their in-store and packet Pike’s Place coffee has gotten me through many a cold morning and drive on this trip.

Day 1: Solitude Ski resort to North Platte, NE

Day 1: Solitude Ski resort to North Platte, NE

Like the drive westward, the second day is the toughest driving day by far for me. It was a combination of poor sleep, very boring terrain and scenery, the toll of the first day of driving, and accumulation of all the days of driving on this trip. I had to make numerous stops at gas stations/rest-stops to nap, and buy horrible snacks to eat to keep me away on the drive. I don’t think I can look at Chex-Mix or Muddy Buddies for quite awhile. Though both are very flat states, Nebraska felt wide open and peaceful, while Iowa just felt bleak. Illinois was a fairly brief interlude between Iowa and Ohio. The nice thing about driving on a weekend was avoiding traffic around metropolitan areas, like Chicago.

I became more alert at around 2.30pm and found myself going strong for the Toledo, OH area, which would put me in a good position for the third and last day of driving. It’s funny how the relative density of the East Coast becomes so apparent as you travel farther East.

Day 2: North Platte, NE to Perrysburg, OH

Day 2: North Platte, NE to Perrysburg, OH (just outside/next to Toledo, OH)

The final push. I woke up very early on this third day feeling very alert. Again, it could be knowing this would be my final day of driving and that it would not be a marathon driving day. It is somewhat amusing that a driving day of under 12 hours now feels on the shorter side! While it was dreary and wet, temperatures were far above freezing, which made for quick travel. Having such closely spaced rest areas across New York and Massachusetts is both weird (like, why the need?) and quite nice, knowing my next bathroom/soft drink/gasoline refuel opportunity is coming up soon.

Day 3: Perrysburg, OH to Cambridge, MA

Day 3: Perrysburg, OH to Cambridge, MA

It was hard not to let anxieties about unpacking and unloading the car, and washing and packing for my next trips (Martinique and Chamonix) creep in. It would have been nice to have trips spaced out a bit more, but I felt the need to jam in as much fun during this time I have of not working.

So would I do this again? I got to ski in some really awesome places with great conditions; I got to experience familiar places in new ways (e.g. Alberta, Idaho, and Wyoming in the winter); I got to see totally new places, like inner British Columbia, America’s Heartland (Nebraska, Iowa), Saskatchewan, North Dakota; drive across the continent and back; experience extended periods of deep cold like I had never done so before and travel/deal with it; learn how my body and equipment responds to extended skiing road trips (the good, the bad, and the ugly); and all this solo. My main complaint was the abysmal skiing/driving ratio. Driving was a great way to see Canada and the US, lug all my shit around, and have the freedom to drive wherever, whenever, depending on conditions and circumstances. But that time spent driving could have been spent skiing or climbing. Granted, I was operating under a very compressed timeline. If I had another month or two on the road, I might consider driving again. But, more likely, I would choose to take two trips and fly (one city in Canada for one trip e.g. Calgary, the other city being Salt Lake City or Denver) rent a car for a month or a few weeks each time, and do a loop. What I certainly will do next time is:

  • At the very least, carry plenty of spare outrigger parts. I had some spare parts with me on this trip, but they were the wrong parts; not the ones that kept failing. Now I am much more aware of the parts of the outriggers that are most likely to fail for me. Transporting a second spare pair of outriggers would not be possible with air travel.
  • Now I know what the causes are for my lower right leg pain that was bad enough to stop me from skiing for awhile, I can get on a foot, leg, and hip strengthening program months in advance of the start of ski season.
  • Perhaps be less ambitious in how many places I wanted to go to. Driving from place to place was very tiring and made things not as relaxing/restful as they could have been. But again, I was operating under a very compressed schedule and eager to “make the most” of my time.

Now it is time for some R&R in Martinique this week, a welcome change to the rain, sleet, and 50 mph winds in Boston last night/today.


US Winter Paralympic race training with National Abilities Center (NAC)

Today, I had the opportunity to ski with alpine skiers trying to make the 2018 US Winter Paralympic team at Park City, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. It was a very informative experience as I had never even swung myself around race gates before. Today, the team was working on GS (Giant Slalom), so were out in their skinny, long GS skis. I found out the minimum height for GS skis for women, regardless of height and weight, is 183cm. And of course, it gets longer for Super-G and downhill events. This is a disadvantage for the smaller and shorter girls like myself, but why should I stop pursuing sports that I am not genetically pre-dispositioned for? :p

The prestigious and luxurious NAC double-wide trailer that houses lockers and equipment and changing space

The prestigious and luxurious NAC double-wide trailer that houses lockers and equipment and changing space

Ski resorts can be a dangerous place, I guess

Ski resorts can be a dangerous place, I guess

Erik, the Head Alpine coach, had given me information on what to expect today, but I still was not sure what that would entail. The first part of the session from 9am to 11.15am or so was spent warming up and little drills. This was followed by a 15 min or so bathroom break before heading out to the race course. At the race course, Erik and Shannon, a visiting coach from Australia, had us go down one by one while they videoed us and gave us verbal feedback on the course.

Racing down icy black runs is not exactly my idea of fun

Racing down icy black runs is not exactly my idea of fun

I was very conservative because I really did not want to cause further injury to the right leg. The overwhelming feeling I had was, I really like ripping it when I’m just skiing for fun because no one is making me do it. If I were to race, it would feel a lot like a job (which it would be to some degree), and that would make it no fun at all.

Then there is the risk of another injury. The video below shows a sit-skier with the Mexican team who was in the recent Sochi Winter Olympics. It turns out he had a bad crash and sustained an even higher level of spinal cord injury (T10-ish) than his previous one (L-level). He is holding back a lot in the video below because he is hurting, and also basically learning how to ski again with his reduced function. Why would he want to ski again? I guess people ask me the same thing with respect to climbing: Aren’t you worried about getting hurt again? It’s about living and feeling alive; yet, climbing and its risks (which, to me, are much lower) are acceptable to me, whereas hurtling down and icy slope to beat a clock/other people is not.

The day ended with brief video analysis. I was surprised that the video analysis was as quick as it was. But I suppose these guys see each other most every week day.

Another source of hesitancy, besides my personality and motivation, is the financial side of things. Being poor to freeze my ass off in lycra to ski down ice is not terribly appealing. Sure, you could piece together an existence, with grants, scholarships, jobs, and a low cost of living. But any other disposable income or saving for retirement? Forget about it. I am not ruling the possibility of racing entirely out, but I know for a fact I have a lot more fun free-skiing.

Well, this round of skiing is coming to an end. I am hoping to squeeze in a morning ski tomorrow before having to start my drive back to Cambridge, MA tomorrow afternoon. I can’t say I am too excited about three days of sitting on my ass all day long driving. While equipment and physical setbacks made me have to skip out on Colorado and New Mexico this time round, there is a chance I can make a dedicated CO ski trip between when I return from Chamonix and the start of my new job. Of course this depends on a number of factors, including my body. Such a trip would make me very happy as I would get to return to a place I love very much (Telluride) and see friends there.

Return to Utah

“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder. You always have the choice.” –Dalai Lama

Looking over Mineral Basin

Looking over Mineral Basin

Over the course of this trip (perhaps “expedition” is the proper word: unpredictable, setbacks, recoveries, lots of travel, and even some skiing (credit: Scott)), resentment and frustration about shit going wrong and why (related to my spinal cord injury) surfaced many times. Sometimes it felt like I was swept away by these negative emotions. But the above quote reminds me that I do have a choice in how I respond and react.

So why did I choose to return to the Salt Lake City area after such a disastrous stay 10 days earlier? Part of me wanted to redeem myself/SLC; part of me wanted to take up this opportunity to hang out and experience a training day with the US Paralympic Alpine Ski team. I did consider booking it to Telluride to ski there and Taos, before having to drive back to Cambridge, MA on Friday afternoon at the latest, but conditions were not so much more superior to make the abysmal driving/skiing ratio worth it. SLC was relatively close (a 5 hour drive from Jackson, WY), and I knew I could get in skiing at a number of resorts there.

A glimpse of the moon

A glimpse of the moon

What a difference bluebird skies and warm temperatures can make to ones mood and skiing experience. Despite no recent snow fall, the coverage at Snowbird was excellent and decent snow was to be found if you went a little hunting, and also because the aspects of the slopes mean they don’t get totally baked (e.g. like in Jackson). Utah resorts typically have a much later season, so having this much snow so early in the season has been unusual for them, and more than a few locals have said this is the best coverage they have seen for this time of year in awhile. The warmer temperatures made for a warmer, less stiff boot, which helped the lower leg pain too. I’ve been having to diligently ice, NSAID, massage etc. to get through each ski day, but the leg held up decently today and I managed to stay out longer than expected.

On the way back from the ski resort, I was stopped by a police officer and let off with a warning for speeding (he was very nice about it, as I was just following the flow of traffic). He asked if I was a seasonal worker. I’m glad I look like enough of a ski bum/have enough cred to be mistaken for one :)

This is a terrible idea.

This is a terrible idea.

Testing continued, regaining mojo, human contact

It was another bluebird day at Jackson Hole, and conditions were very similar to yesterday to continue to test the leg. I was in no rush to get first lift due to the extreme inversion effect here. Today’s temperature difference between the base and top was still 25 to 30 degF but I stayed up high the entire time in the sun and warmth.

I started later to avoid the extreme inversion effect like yesterday

Jackson Hole refers to the entire valley you see below.

The steroid seems to have taken fuller effect, and combined with diligent icing yesterday and anti-inflammatories ingested, the leg was feeling closer to its normal, strong self. While I know I should work on not having my mood be so dependent on my physical abilities/state, it felt really really good to be able to open it up and rip it.

It was perhaps not the smartest idea on an injured leg, but I could not resist doing the Alta Chutes, which are considered one of the most challenging in-bounds terrain.


Cliff areas for good measure

Cliff areas for good measure

It is always nice to receive flattering compliments from other skiers, but today, I was particularly touched by a teenage girl who came up to me on the traverse to get to Alta Chutes. She told me how amazing I was and asked me how I moved so fast and I asked her if she was a ski-racer (her setup looked like it), and she said yes. She said she just wanted to come up and talk to me, and I thanked her very much for her kindness. I was just quite moved that someone would go out of there way to want to talk to me.

I also shared quite a few words with a trio of Swiss guys (I had asked them if they were Swiss because one of them had a “Gryon” (a municipality of the canton Vaud) patch on his pack. And then skied with a Jackson local. I think because I have been on my own so much on this trip, all this human interaction today played a role in bolstering my mood, along with the improvement in the leg.

Next stop, either another morning in Jackson or swinging through Grand Targhee and then back down to Salt Lake City, where I can avenge my terrible time there due to this injury.

Testing the leg at Jackson Hole

Extreme temperature inversion today

Extreme temperature inversion today

Today was the litmus test to see if I could ski or have to cut this trip short. The answer is not entirely clear, as I am not sure whether it was the injury, a crash, or conditions that made me ski for only a short period of time today.

What is unequivocal however, is that today were the coldest temperatures I have ever skied in. The temperature at the base of the mountain was -32 degF (-36 degC) when I started. Quite uncivilized.

-32 degF = -36 degC. You know things are fucked when Fahrenheit and Celsius temps converge

-32 degF = -36 degC. You know things are fucked when Fahrenheit and Celsius temps converge

The inversion effect on the mountain was the most extreme I had ever experienced. There was a 30 degF plus difference between mountain top and base.


A sea of clouds above the valley floor

I started off very conservatively, and while things were far from pain-free, I managed to stay in control the first few test runs on the groomers. Bear in mind, I really did not open myself up into full GS mode because that outside edge was still giving me problems. I was certainly not carving properly, and doing the sliding/skid on that side, to my dismay; and groomers when you can’t totally rip it just are not that fun. I crashed going at a decent speed and hurt my leg there, but after a moments rest and unbuckling my boot to give the leg some relief, I decided to test things out more on more interesting terrain. I tried not to feel bad that all the fresh snow was gone, and every thing was very hard from being tracked out and from the cold.


This stuff is usually pretty mellow for me, but my leg made me approach things cautiously and without confidence :(

The lack of new snow made conditions quite challenging for me, because of the impact of the hard snow on the leg.


Tracked out, hard snow. It wasn’t that much fun, but it was nice to be out under the blue sky.


The crash really did me in because I was kept falling any time I needed to hold that outside edge. When I am face climbing (versus crack-climbing) I tend to trend to the right before having to return back to the route if it is to the left, because I am always leading with that right side. Today, I found myself skiing down to the left (inside edge) as much as possible until I would have to stop, sit, and flip the ski around to change direction. It was a bit sad.

Super tracked out under the tram

Super tracked out under the tram

I will continue to test the leg out on Monday (Martin Luther King Day), but will likely be relegated to easy groomers, which is really not what you go to Jackson Hole for. I have certainly become familiar with the town and the surrounding area, and it was wonderful to come back to a place I love but had never been to in the wintertime. But I’m ready to hit the road soon and move on.