Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Women's History Month and Skiing High in the Rocky Mountains

Imagine this. It is crisp and cold yet the sun is out, and you are enveloped in a quiet world of deep snow - a white substance that softens the interface between you and nature.  It is a mythical land similar to Narnia. Occasionally the sun glistens off the snow, and you swear it is made of billions of tiny diamonds - a girl's best friend. This white blanket covers the hills like thick cream cheese frosting coats a carrot cake. It is delicious looking.

Now imagine this - you are sliding down these frosted hills just like you did on your wooden sled as a child. Down, down you fall, gaining speed as gravity grabs you, the wind kissing your face. But instead of a wooden sled underneath you, there are long wooden boards attached to your feet and they allow you to be upright and magically float on top of the snow. The feeling of standing up and falling is exhilarating but also terrifying. 

At the start, you greet the mountain facing downhill but you begin to gain speed and it is unsettling. You work to find your center in this journey – every time you lean back, you go frighteningly faster. You try to find a more forward posture, trusting the boards more. With great aplomb, you bend your knees, turning the boards perpendicular to the fall line of the hill. That one simple solution breaks your speed almost in half, and you are no longer afraid but acquiring control. Then, you repeat the movement turning in the other direction -  fearlessly snaking turns. The only thing that matters is the free falling, the turning, and the present moment. This, my friends, is downhill snow skiing.

It has taken far too long to write a post about snow skiing. This is surprising because it is one of my favorite things to do – not to mention skiing and snowboarding are Colorado’s official winter sports.  Colorado boasts such fine specimens of the Rocky Mountains, proudly offering 58 fourteeners or 14ers* – mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 ft. high.  It is no wonder that snow fall is plentiful and powdery around those peaks, and winter sports are a massive part of the Colorado culture.

I love skiing – both Alpine and Nordic.  I was lucky to have lived in the Vail Valley for six years back in 1980s. Living in close proximity to great groomed ski trails, I was able to get to the chair lift within 15-20 minutes and thereby easily accumulate mileage on the slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek during the winter season. In the first year I was awfully green – or just plain awful; I had old used equipment and fell down far too often. Luckily, the deep powdery snow softened the blow to my butt and my ego. Sometimes I laughed and sometimes I was embarrassed.

A great friend, Chuck, taught me how to use the physics and technology of skis, relax my muscles, read the mountain, and pick a perfect fall line. One day it all clicked. I found my balance point - my center. Not too far back or too far forward, not too much to the right or to the left - but just "right" over the balls of your feet and your skis. It was very Goldilocks-like. I find it fascinating that horseback riding, ballet, yoga, and skiing all share the lesson of being perfectly centered and balanced to be successful. So, yeah, I have heard this before too, but it’s true: skiing is a metaphor for life. One must achieve balance or fall down, and success is simply getting up one more time after you fall.

March is Women’s History Month and also features St. Patrick’s Day (honoring the luck of the Irish), and the Spring Equinox (the perfect balance between sunlight and dark)! In keeping with my love of skiing along with honoring the ladies, luck, and the equinox, here is my list of female alpine skiing legends – the top seven (7) great women skiers in the world (along with a few honorable mentions). You go, girls - you are my heroes of the winter wonderland!

 MyTop 7 Greatest Female Skiers
1. Janica Kosteli - Croatia
2. Vreni Schneider - Switzerland
3. Anja Pärson - Swedish-Sami
4. Annemarie Moser-Pröll - Austria
5. Picabo Street - USA
6. Lindsey Vonn - USA
7. Julia Mancuso - USA
Honorable Mentions
Gretchen Fraser
Andrea Mead Lawrence
Suzy Chaffee
Kim Reichhelm
If you have a chilling desire to experience this downhill skiing thing in Colorado, I have listed all the ski resorts and their websites below. There are 28 at present and a dozen of them are listed as the greatest ski resorts in North America. One monetary issue – I cannot tell a lie – alpine or downhill skiing is exorbitantly expensive. Often a single day pass (lift ticket) runs just shy of $100, and lessons (I highly recommend them) can cost well over that. Many resorts will offer money-saving packages that include lessons, lift tickets, hotel, and ski equipment rentals (if you do not own your own).  One must save for the experience and shop for specials. Nordic skiing is less expensive, and I will share those resorts and experiences in a latter post.

List of Colorado Alpine Ski Resorts (and their websites)
    Arapahoe Basin
    Aspen Highlands (Aspen)
    Aspen Mountain (Aspen)
    Beaver Creek
    Buttermilk (Aspen)
    Copper Mountain
    Crested Butte
    Durango Mountain Resort (formerly Purgatory)
    Echo Mountain
    Hesperus Ski Area
    Howelsen Hill
    Kendall Mountain
    Monarch Mountain
    Silverton Mountain
    Ski Cooper
    Snowmass (Aspen)
    SolVista Basin (formerly Silver Creek)
    Winter Park/Mary Jane
    Wolf Creek

And to leave you with a great ski quote: "Gravity is love and every turn is a leap of faith."

Note: *Actually there are 53 ranked 14ers and 5 unranked 14ers. 




  1. I love the artwork and the photo. They help illuminate the philosophical metaphor of skiing and make me feel good.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I love vintage poster art!