When you ski by yourself, you often ride up the lift with people you don’t know. I make it a point to say hello to every person I meet, if they don’t do so first.
This is an example of how traveling alone keeps my inner introvert flexible. It’s kind of like those singles parties you may have heard of, where you have about 5 minutes to talk to a stranger before you move on. Ski Lift speed dating, sans the romance.
This past month at Whitefish Mountain Resort, my favorite convo was with a little boy in a dinosaur decorated snowsuit and floppy polar fleece moose ears on his helmet. I had seen him zipping down the hill earlier on his snowboard, his small body as loose as a ragdoll as he effortlessly made tiny shifts in his balance to change directions.
At one point he zoomed into the ski lift area a little fast and used a controlled wipe out to stop, clanking into the metal gates that form the ski lanes. As he hopped up, his dad, a tall lanky 30 something version of his son, said, “Whoa dude, we’re just out here having fun, remember it’s not a race.”
“Yes it is! Yes it is!” said Little Dude.
A bit later, I happen to ride up on the ski lift with them. I am on one side, his dad is in the middle, and he’s sitting on the other side.
I say, “I sure like those moose ears!”
He immediately peeks at me around his dad, a small face with green goggles and a toothy smile still intact with baby teeth.
He is about 5 years old, the best year in the human lifespan, in my opinion.
I say, “I’ve seen you zipping down the hill! You’re good on that snowboard!”
His dad says “Yeah, but you gotta slow down a little bit, I think you kinda freaked out that other lady on the last run. Her eyes got real big”.
Little Dude says with a laugh, “I know! Her eyes bugged out like monster eyes!” Curls his hands to make big monster eyes around his goggles for extra effect.
You can tell by his laugh that the idea of slowing down, or being remorseful about spooking another skier on the slopes, has not occurred to him yet.
His dad says to him, “Do you want the bar down?”
He is referring to the metal bar on most ski chairs that can be lowered as a safety measure after loading the chair. Without it, there is nothing except sitting still on the narrow vinyl covered metal seat to keep you from tumbling out of the chair onto the ground.
My inner Mom is yelling, “YES OF COURSE HE WANTS THE SAFETY BAR DOWN. WHY ARE YOU EVEN ASKING?”
Little Dude says, “Nah, I’m OK.”
Dad says “Well, OK, just don’t tell your mom or she’ll kill me.”
Little Dude chortles again and says ”Let’s take a picture! “
Dad says ”No way, that’s evidence!”
They laugh and then Dad pulls up some pics of snowboard gear on his phone and they start looking at them.
All the sudden Little Dude says, “Hey Dad, can we put the bar down? “
Dad says, “Sure”, reaches up and nonchalantly pulls the bar down, without looking up from his phone. No big deal.
I’m impressed at this example of the power of Dad parenting.
Let him take a risk, let him tell you when he’s had enough, and don’t comment either way.
Don’t say, “Wow, isn’t that better with the bar down? Don’t you feel so much safer?”
Moms could learn from this.
Even so, I'm not a dad, so when I rode up with another little boy, about 8 years old, I was a little nervous.
When you rent skis, they put a piece of tape with your name on it so you can find them quickly (and avoid inadvertently stealing someone else’s) in the jumbled rows of similar skis outside the lodge. According to his skis, this boy’s name is Cody.
I say hello and then start to ask, “Shall we put the bar dow...”
I didn’t even have the sentence out and he said.
I don’t pull adult rank, but I am really uncomfortable riding with the bar up on the chairlift, with a young boy and no parent in sight. I shift both poles into the opposite hand so at least I can grab him more easily if need be.
I asked him how his morning had been. He thinks about it carefully for a minute and says “Pretty good.”
“When did you learn to ski?”
“Oh, about 3 years old.”
I point out a little kid down below us on the slope and say, “Oh, like that little guy?”
He sighs and says “Yeah, that’s my brother, he’s like 3 or 4 or something. And that’s my dad”.
So, it turns out there is a parent in sight, more or less.
His dad, on the slope below us, is teaching his little brother how to ski and has sent Cody up the lift by himself. This might explain why Cody’s morning is “pretty good” rather than excellent.
It also explains his nonchalant dissing of the safety bar, mandatory use of which would have been guaranteed by a pact signed in blood if Mom had been involved.
I honestly admire Dad energy, I see the empowering result in letting kids choose risk, provided they don’t fall, or at least survive, a tumble off ski lifts, swing sets, boats, barn roofs or cliffs.
My parental energy is more Mama Bear - I was protective but not a hovering mom when my kids were young, I allowed them to fail and make mistakes, but I can’t say I could ever be relaxed enough to have sent their younger versions up on this ski lift alone. And that’s what makes Dad energy so great.
As the morning progresses, the lift line swells to a good-natured jumble of families, students in ski classes, instructors, and experienced skiers impatient to get up the mountain. Next up, I’m paired up with a young woman in line.
We chat as we inch toward the loading point. Her name is Ariel, she is very friendly and I learn within about 3 minutes she’s working as a “liftie” at the resort and this is her first day off. It is also her first day on skis in 4 years, and, she’s also from Austin! Small world.
As you may know, when you approach the loading point of the chair lift, you have to pause and wait your turn as the people in front of you get scooped up by a chair. Then you hurriedly scoot up a few feet to the white line to position your bum in front of the chair that is rounding the corner and coming for you.
You put your poles in one hand and look behind you to grab the chair. If you do it right, you sit down as the chair comes in under you and voila! You are on the lift. (If you don't do it right, there is an embarrassing outcome that includes you in a heap in the snow a few feet out, the chair lift stopping and everyone in line a witness as you flounder to get out of the way.)
Ariel from Austin and I shuffle up to the white line and look back to get ready to meet the chair. Much to our surprise, instead of seeing the oncoming chair, we are face to face with two young men who have jumped the gun, or rather chair, in this case. They had been talking and not paying attention, shuffling on auto-pilot onto the boarding area. They look as surprised as we are.
In the meantime, the chair keeps coming. The liftie on duty says “OK guys, slow down” and then pauses the lift so we can rearrange to sit side by side instead of landing on each other’s lap - or in a proverbial heap in the snow in front of the lift.
It turns out the guys are locals, about 15 or 16 years old. Like the boys I met earlier, they have been skiing since they were 4 or so. This is their first day skiing for this season.
I love the fact that they are so excited to be on the mountain that even after growing up on skis, they literally could not wait and gaffed the lift line protocol like beginners.
This lower lift only is only a first step to getting to the second lift that goes up to the summit and to the black diamond runs on the other side of the mountain. Skiing those runs makes the relative risk of not using the safety bar sort of quaint. In fact, on this ride, the question of lowering it doesn’t even come up.
I ask one of them about the other side of the mountain. By this time in the ski lift speed convo they know I’m a visitor and barely off the green slopes. My ski instructor classified me as teal, a combination of green, the easiest, and blue intermediate runs.
The young man pauses politely, not sure if I’m asking because I’m thinking about trying a run on the back of the mountain or not.
He must have sisters because he’s learned the value of choosing his words carefully. He comes up with, “Um, some of those runs can be kinda tricky. You want to be kinda careful back there.”
I couldn’t agree more. I have no intention of going all the way down the mountain in a pizza wedge, on my backside, or worst case, on a stretcher with ski patrol, even though some of those ski patrol guys are super attractive.
Ski patrol has a mix of ages, skewed more toward 20 somethings, male and female older versions of the kids I met on the lifts today, who have been skiing every winter that they can remember, developing a relationship with the mountain that visitors and beginners can't hope to replicate.
However, there are some men in their 40 or 50s who still work ski patrol and...well, let's just say they are in great shape and it shows, even with all the snow gear layers.
Ariel has more confidence than I do, even after not skiing for 4 years, and she takes off on what I would call a dark blue run. Not teal.
It is freezing this high up, so I decide to go for a cocoa in the summit restaurant. I sit down and, seeing some ski patrol off duty at the bar, contemplate what minimum injury I could fake to warrant an escort down the hill.
It's cloudy and you can't see much out the window, but doesn’t matter, it’s just nice to be part of the scene, even if I’m more of an observer than participant at this altitude on the mountain, far above the hubbub of the lower lodge, family vibe and beginner slopes.
It is very unlikely I’ll ever be a black slope skier, but I’m OK with that. Skiing is work, and every workout you skip (and extra adult beverage) will come back to haunt you on the mountain.
These precious trips give me a lot of motivation to stay fit the other 51 weeks of the year when I’m not here, trying to mix a little more blue into my teal with every trip.
I only fell twice this trip, didn’t wipe out exiting the ski chairs, didn’t plow into any other skiers, and my skiing is finally more parallel than pizza.
I cocoa toast these short 2 days as a success, and resolve to prioritize a month or two per year of slow travel living in the mountains for me and my Meximan, who, for a Mexico City native, looks pretty good bellying up to the bar in his snow gear, too! <3
Opening weekend. Whitefish Mountain.
The gear, the skis, the boots that make you walk like a zombie. If you are a beginner, the awkward first few runs with your ski instructor on the bunny slope. You feel like a toddler learning to walk once again. If you give into it and stop insisting you should be "better" at this, it's like remembering something wonderful your body forgot. Your teacher gets you the point where you are (in theory) less of a risk to yourself and others, and sends you off to the grown-up runs to practice.
The lift chairs at those runs come around much faster, and then it happens. You take that leap of faith and sit back into the air, a moving strip of frozen metal and vinyl scoops you up up up beyond the hubub, past the treetops, into a silent cold world, a puffy bird perched on a moving branch with no safety bar.
Up here you can see the mountain's proud profile, the summit hidden by clouds, you know the highest face of the mountain is smiling at the sun as they bless these strange 2 legged animals with bright polarfleece instead of fur, defying weather, gravity, sore knees and common sense to shuffle, sashay and shoot down the mountain on skis, chasing joy for it's own sake.
December Greetings from gorgeous Montana!
I’m sitting here with every crossable body part crossed, hoping for snow next week so I can ski in Whitefish. I must have an inner Gambler in my personality, because I splurged and booked a ski-in ski-out condo for a few days, with no guarantee of snow.
Even if we don’t get snow, I can’t find the energy to complain too much. The mountains are amazing in any weather, and I’m here!
My gambling winning streak got off to a good start earlier last week as I had postcard perfect driving weather from Bozeman, where I flew in, to Missoula. Making plans to drive across Montana in November is definitely a roll of the dice. I got lucky and had no problems, but I could just have easily been stuck in a blizzard at the Bozeman Hampton Inn on Thanksgiving Day.
Why start out in Bozeman, you might ask? I know some of my family did when they heard about that part of my plan.
I flew into Bozeman for a bucket list item: The Montana Grizzly Encounter. No, not a life-threatening bear meetup on a backcountry trail, but a safe viewing of rescued bears at a location outside of Bozeman. Grizzly bears cannot survive in the wild if they are orphaned or raised in captivity, and the MGE takes in rescue bears that otherwise would have to be killed.
I have identified with bears probably from before I was born, and definitely for as long as I can remember. My favorite animal is the Grizzly bear. Wild Grizzlies prefer to avoid people, and several years ago I was privileged to see a male Grizzly in the wild, far away on the side of a mountain.
We were in Glacier Park. People had stopped on the road below to watch him. A couple of enthusiasts who had set up powerful viewing scopes were generously sharing peeks.
I’ll never forget looking at that bear through the scope. He was huge and honey colored, sitting in the sun, munching on late fall grubs and greens. The scope was so clear I could see insects flitting about his round fuzzy ears. It was the perfect teddy bear viewing moment, so easy to forget this animal is at the top of the food chain and can easily kill with a strong paw swat or crunch of its powerful jaw.
He was quite a distance up a steep hillside, so the two-leggeds (humans) below were not tempted to get closer, especially as a park ranger had arrived on scene to monitor the situation.
The second time I saw Grizzly bears was a mother with two cubs in Yellowstone. That viewing was much more stressful for the bears. She was crossing the highway that runs out of the park on the east side. The road was being repaired a few miles in and construction trucks had been hauling ass around a blind curve where she and her cubs appeared out of the woods.
A Bear Jam of lookie-lous quickly gathered, our car included.
Bear Jams, where people stop their cars by the side of the road to catch a glimpse of a bear in the woods, do not bring out the best in some humans. There are always one or two selfish people who insist on getting too close. I’ve seen them edge forward, double park, try to cut in, get in the wrong lane, and generally act like children insisting on their turn at the expense of everyone’s safety, including the bear.
In this Bear Jam, we were far enough behind to observe two cars that had stopped directly in front of the mother bear, one idiot had gotten out to take better pictures. He and and a couple of other cars were blocking her safe exit to the woods on the other side of the highway.
She was confused and running along the road, in the middle of the traffic lane with one cub, while the other stayed behind.
All I could think was how I wished she and her cubs had stayed up in the mountains, far away from the road. I knew that if a logging or construction truck came around the corner, it would kill the bears in an instant, leaving the other as an orphan.
Not to mention the people in the cars lining the road were at risk as well, should a large truck try to swerve to miss a bear. This is the kind of scenario that must keep park rangers up at night.
Fortunately, no trucks came and the mother bear and one cub made it across, they paused while the second cub joined them after a frantic scrambly sprint across the road. In a true Wild Kingdom happy ending moment (my favorite kind), all three disappeared into the relative safety of the woods.
I thought about those Yellowstone bears as I viewed Brutus, the biggest bear they have at the Grizzly Encounter. Raised by people from a very young age, he was an “inside bear” until he got too big and destructive to stay indoors. He has been trained to appear in movies and photo shoots.
He is fun to watch, but he is not wild.
He’s missing his wildbear edge, and I’m not referring to any lack of definition beneath his well-fed girth. His gaze is absent as he lumbers about like a domesticated dog looking for his next treat.
I’ve started observing nature as a teacher in the past few years, (more on that in a sec). Humans could learn a lot about the perils of too much food and comfort from observing animals who have been stripped of their wildness and live in “captivity”.
So while I loved seeing him for the sheer fun of seeing a big Grizzly bear relatively close, I didn’t feel the same subsurface connection I get from visiting the Redwoods, hiking in the desert outside of Todos Santos, or in general, seeing wild animals in the wild.
Do you have a spirit animal? It doesn’t have to be a woo-woo thing, it can be as simple as thinking about why your favorite animal is your favorite. It’s actually a very practical exercise because Nature is our ultimate teacher. I turn to what is happening “out there” all the time now for answers to life or even business questions.
It wasn’t always that way. I’m not an experienced outdoorsy guru type - I grew up in a Houston suburb, sitting as close to the AC as possible for most of my life. In my 20s and 30s I craved urban experiences much more than nature. I moved to Los Angeles after college and loved it.
I still love big cities, especially Mexico City!
But in my 40s, when I had been living in Austin for many years, I began to have an inexplicable craving for the woods and green space. I have since heard and read of many women they experienced the same thing in midlife. You know that saying, if it’s too loud, you’re too old? Maybe another perspective is, if it’s too loud, you’ve outgrown the music.
Austin was (and is) a fun city that was (and is) getting more crowded every year.
I remember thinking, “Wow, li’l ol’ Austin is LOUD”.
Busy coffee shops where you almost had to yell to be heard, the lines at stores, the traffic everywhere, all the time.
I started planning hikes in the green spaces that make Austin famous, yet I had to get in my car to get there. I gave up yoga class because it was expensive and the studio was a 20 minute drive away. I felt trapped in my car and we weren’t even living in the suburbs at that time.
It was about this time, early December one year, when I began to rebel against the “typical” holiday hubbub. As the pace around me seemed to rev up, all I wanted was more quiet time and staying home.
I finally realized that I was not the Grinch incarnate, I was simply obeying an inner instinct that comes from our animal side, or at least from my Bear side! Think about it - the way we “celebrate” the holidays is the opposite of what nature (and a bear) is doing in winter - dormant, tucked in and resting.
After a few years of angst and juggling desire for connection vs. a desire to hide away, what I’ve come to realize is I don’t want to be a hermit and live off the grid, but I don’t want to spend hours a week in my car, either.
In fact, I don’t even want a car, period. We use one because Sergio drives for Uber, but if that were not the case, we would sell it.
By the way, selling your car, or downsizing a 2 car family to sharing one, is a Power Move if you are working to transition to a more flexible lifestyle. You immediately save a bunch of money, and also will buy less stuff because its not as easy to haul it home. Try doing a Costco run on your bike and see what I mean. Or better yet, skip Costco and ride your bike to the park.
So, because I don’t like being tied to driving for daily doses of nature, community, exercise and caffeine, Sergio and I have made it a baseline to live within walking distance of natural spaces and a decent coffee shop or two.
We chose our locations in Mexico City based on proximity to parks. Now that we will be in La Paz for a few months, we can bike to the boardwalk or walk to a nearby park from our new apartment.
In this part of western Montana, figuring out how to be near some woods is not a problem. The communities around Flathead Lake offer an irresistible balance of access to wild nature and great coffee shops, too.
Yesterday morning I walked down a wooded trail in a light snowfall just steps from the shores of Flathead Lake. I felt like a B list movie star in one of the Hallmark Holiday movies I’ve been binge watching with my mom during my stay. Don’t laugh, I told you I love guaranteed happy endings!
I see Bald Eagles almost every time I walk down the road here, and a pair of them stopped off in a treetop for several minutes, right across the street from the local library when I was coworking there.
I feel very lucky to have family in this area where I am working and playing for a couple of weeks after celebrating my dad and older brother’s birthday near Houston.
It was my Dad’s 80th and we had a great time partying in a 100 year old farmhouse near Brenham, Texas. May you always find a house older than you are to host your birthday celebration!
I am missing Sergio and wish he could have come with me, so that led me to look at some things we had done together the first year we were in Mexico City.
If you would like a peek into two of my favorite traditions in Mexico City - Posadas and Piñatas, here is a link to a post I did shortly after we moved to Mexico.
Read here about how this half-bear-hibernation-lovin’ gringa partied until 4 AM at her first CDMX Posada and caught the last Uber home.
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