Skiing’s Natural High

Skiing’s Natural High

I’ve never done drugs. It’s a fact That I’m very proud of. I made it through the teen and college years with having no desire to even be tempted by it. Life was good; why would I need anything to alter or change that? But I had plenty of people around me that were trying, and experimenting, and sharing what it felt like to be high. Alas, I was never going to know that feeling; it was and never will be for me. But then, out of nowhere, at age 37, I had this one ski day. At the end of just two runs, the euphoria of a natural high coursed through my body. Is this what being high was like? God had gifted me the ultimate high experience without ever putting an ounce of drugs near my body. It came naturally and unexpectedly. It’s altered my viewpoint on how people experience nature and skiing. It came so out of the blue that when it happened, I knew I had experienced something so special and rare. It’s indeed the natural high, the perma smile, the overflow of joy that wants to spill out from every pore in the body but can’t actually be articulated well enough for anyone else to understand other than those you experienced it with.

We had just moved to Crested Butte prior to the ski season. I knew the reputation of this mountain. It has a significant portion of extreme terrain, hosts the free ride world championships, is for “hard core,” “purist,” skiers. Be prepared! I consider myself an advanced skier. I feel confident that at any other resort I can ski anything on the mountain (minus hucking cliffs). It may not be done in the most graceful manner in some cases, but I can do it! But the steeps of CB are different. This wasn’t like other resorts! Ski patrol works tirelessly every day to ensure the mountain is safe and free from avalanche exposure before opening any new terrain. And while it’s rare, inbound avalanches can happen. The risks are always high on the extreme terrain, no matter how good of a skier you are. I spent 2 months skiing all the greens and blues with my kids, and enjoying the black runs off of the Silver Queen lift, and just staring at the remainder of the mountain (that was yet to be opened) like the Headwall and Rambo (north America’s steepest run). Did people really ski some of this stuff? Let it be known that CB has plenty of terrain for all skier abilities, but if you want to expand your repertoire, wait until January and then come see what happens when the steeps open up.

The day was an average Tuesday with sunny skies and no new snow for the past 3 days. Powder was not on my radar. I had planned to meet up with a couple of moms for a quick 2 hours of skiing. We rode up Silver Queen and then jumped on the High Lift (a T bar that takes you to the top of the mountain with extreme skiing access only). The Headwall had opened a few days earlier. I knew it’d be skied out as we hadn’t had any new snow, but this would give me a good exposure of what to expect on the steeps in the future. We rode, chit chatting, me trying to suppress the butterflies and anxiousness growing in my belly. I was giving myself an internal pep talk. You’re a good skier. You can do this. Now is your chance. And then God decided to bless us with something amazing. As we dropped the T bar at the top, ski patrol was simultaneously dropping the rope to the Teocalli Bowl for the first time this season. We paused only momentarily to agree that we had all just hit the ski day jackpot! But where exactly were we? I didn’t even know that this terrain existed. A side/ back bowl that doesn’t really show up on the maps? (Okay, it’s on the map, I just hadn’t quite understood its orientation.) thankfully I had picked the right mamas to ski with. One had lived in CB for 10+ years and became our guide in this back bowl terrain. The other, grew up in Aspen and was equally as qualified to be there. I myself, a California girl, grew up skiing with my family (dad was a volunteer ski patrol). My husband and I had moved to the mountains in our late 20s and had a few glorious years of skiing Vail and Beaver Creek before kids came along that altered the type of terrain that we were hitting. It had been at least 9 years since I’d been exposed to any true extreme terrain. (Crazy how kids can change that in a mama.) It just wasn’t worth the risk of being injured or worse when I had babies at home that needed to be cared for. But today, I let these other mamas take the lead and show me this elusive part of the mountain. We traversed across to the trees. The vantage point from where we stood on this steep grade, our skis barely wedged into the side of the mountain, and the grandeur of the vistas beyond was enough for me to at least pause and snap one picture of the girls ahead of me. The rest remains only in my memory (maybe the best photo album of all). The snow was DEEP and as we made our first jump turn, we sank into the snow even more. No tracks, other than our own. Every turn burying our skis in, not inches, but feet of snow. At points, it came thigh high and we just whooped sounds of exclamation as we made our way down through the trees. Towards the bottom it opened into a beautiful open glade where we sailed through the white fluff, breathless, and all smiles. Eventually we reached the bottom and found ourselves with a 10 minute hike out. Just another part of this unexpected grand adventure. As we made our way back to the frontside you couldn’t erase the smiles from our faces. What we had just experienced was so rare and amazing! Did we have time for one more? Yes indeed! The perma smiles lasted another 24 hours. The dreaminess of those hours were reflected upon fondly many times for the next few weeks, the craving to experience it again lives on now more than a month later.

I returned to the base to run into the former mountain owner’s daughter and exclaimed, “Now I get it! I get what makes CB such a unique mountain!” I now get why people chase powder stashes and tempt fate sometimes. The natural high that I experienced cannot be replicated easily. It’s a blessing that was given to me by God in experiencing his creativity and unique design of this earth.

A week later I skied the Teocalli Bowl again with my husband. It was a powder day, but the experience wasn’t the same. I thought I’d be able to replicate what I had felt and experienced in that opening day. Would I ever get to feel that euphoria again? And the answer came just two weeks later as I skied with my husband and friends in Vail taking run after run on a deep powder day and ending the day on a pristine and untouched Minturn Mile (backcountry skiing accessed via Vail mountain). We whooped and hollered the entire day. We laughed and reminisced that evening about the exuberant joy we felt as we took our final turns down “The Mile”. Those days are rare, but they are out there. Their scarceness is what makes them even more special when they happen. I won’t be putting myself in too many risky situations trying to chase that natural high (I still have young kids at home that need their mama) but I’ll be overjoyed when the next ski day high comes. Who knows, maybe that’s today!

We really didn’t have time for pics on the ski day referenced above, but this was another day skiing out in Third Bowl with my husband, who made me stop for a pic...
Look closely... my front and end tips are suspended!
Always fun to get in a precarious spot that makes you pause!




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