One hour of pain, spread around

Yesterday morning, Mr. Fields and I arrived at the Boulder Rock Club at 8 a.m. for something dubbed Group Training. We didn’t know what it entailed; when I inquired, I was told to just show up, no sign up necessary.

It turns out that Group Training is a solid hour of spreading pain and exhaustion into every corner of your body, including — despite this being your body — corners you didn’t know existed. This experiment in masochism is hosted by the BRC’s head coach, Chris Wall, who somehow manages to seem perfectly nice even as he pushes you through plyometric leaps, plank poses, and violent overhead throws of a medicine ball.

Today, I can’t raise my right arm above my shoulder without being reminded of the smiling bald man who put us through a climbing-inspired wringer. Nor can I straighten my left arm. Or walk without my calves seizing up.

In short, it was the best hour of conditioning I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to go back.

Media Elite, noun

I’m often amazed by the buzzwords and phrases the PR people create. They lend heavy connotation to words that lacked weight before. As a writer, I have to respect their cunning use of language. But “media elite” has always baffled me, so the recent bashing of the media elite sent me to my friend Merriam-Webster for help.

Elite, noun, 1a: the choice part 1b: the best of a class 1c: the socially superior part of society 1d: a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence 1e: a member of such an elite — usually used in plural.

The choice part? Hey, that’s not so bad. Who wouldn’t want to get their news from the choicest of journalists? The best of a class? Well, that might depend on which class we’re talking about. The socially superior part of a society? A group that exercises much power or influence? Now we’re getting into dangerous territory.

We can appreciate the choice part. When you order fillet mignon, you want to eat the choice part of the cow. We can appreciate the best of a class — the brainiac who aces every test in school. But the rest is too much. It’s undemocratic. Besides, we independently minded Americans don’t like to think anyone could really influence us that much anyway, right?

If you don’t like the media elite, dissent all you want — they can take it, it’s what they signed on for. Choose not to be influenced by them, and use the democracy of the web to choose a non-elite media for yourself.

Here’s the rub: In your search for non-elite media, did you find the choice part, or the best?

Chamonix Diary: Waiting to Climb

When we arrived in Chamonix in June, I peered up from under my umbrella in search of the mountains. I knew they were there. I sought out breaks in the clouds up the valley, or a window up above, where the Aiguilles (needles) should have been poking at blue sky. But there were only clouds and drizzle.

This daily search in the sky became our waiting game.

On our first morning there, we hiked despite the weather, just to walk out the jet lag. We returned to the hotel soggy but feeling human again, rather than like cattle packed for export to France via three airplanes and two trains.

On day two, after a morning of futzing around between hopeful gazes at the gray skies, we met Michael, our mountain guide. Michael is calm and quiet, and he bears a resemblance to Pierce Brosnan — if Pierce Brosnan were a thin, strong, guide-type who couldn’t be bothered with a perfectly sculpted hairdo and therefore sported a shorter cut. We wanted a one-day mixed (snow or ice and rock) route — preferably high above the low-hanging drip of the valley clouds, something we couldn’t do on our own. Michael said the Arete des Cosmiques would be fun. We caught him at a rare break in his schedule, so agreed to guide us on the route as soon as the weather allowed.

As we sat peering out a window of one of Chamonix’s less savory bistros that night, I spotted a familiar face squinting against the drizzle as he moved quickly down Rue Joseph Vallot. He recognized me, too, and did a quick about-face to come inside and find us.

“Tim! What are you doing in Cham?” I asked as I wrapped my arms around his wet jacket.

Tim and I had worked together in an outdoor store in St. Louis years ago.

“I work for Patagonia now, and we have meetings here every year.”

Before he headed back out into the rain, he invited us to an American climber’s slide show at the Patagonia store the next evening.

“Well,” I said to my husband, “At least we have something to do besides waiting out the rain tomorrow.”

Although it threatened rain the next morning, no drops fell, so we geared up and walked to the Aiguille du Midi cable car. Our goal: Go up the mountain to find snow and practice our self-arrest technique.

The cable car climbed straight up out of Chamonix into the clouds. Water beaded on the car’s windows as the jade forest gave way to scrub and rock, and finally, patches of filthy old snow. We stopped at the Plan de l’Aiguille, which at 2354 meters is about halfway to the cable’s final destination (and our eventual climbing destination), the Aiguille du Midi.

The snow line was about 500 meters above us, so it was raining. Again. Across the valley, the Aiguilles Rouge were invisible under the gray blanket.

We exchanged c’est la vie looks as we pulled our hoods overhead and wandered away from the cable car station. Within minutes, clouds obscured the station. This is how people get lost mere minutes from safety in the mountains, I thought.

Not far from the station, we found a perfect snow slope with a safe run-out. We repeatedly climbed up and flung ourselves down, shouldering our ice axes into the crusty snow to stop. The rain continued, but laughter crept into the dreary day, because practicing self-arrest is as much fun as sledding, and like a kid sledding on a snow day, I didn’t care that my gloves were wet, or that I was out of breath from climbing up to do it again, head first now, on my back next, pretending to slip, each time wielding my axe with glee.

We eventually grew tired and cold and shuffled back to the cable car and our return to Chamonix. After a hot lunch and even hotter showers, we called Michael and learned that the forecast called for a break in the rain overnight. Our climb was on for tomorrow. The wait was almost over.

Excited and nervous about our climb the next day, we made our way through the rain to the Patagonia store. A professional climber and fellow Boulderite — climbing is a small world — greeted us at the door with beer and we settled in for a stunning slideshow while the rain continued outside.

Climbers wait out the weather perched on high ledges and in tiny tents on snowfields. While tentbound, they dig out of snowstorms, boil water, read and play cards. We ended our wait indoors with beer and the perfect pre-climb entertainment. Waiting to climb is trying, but in Chamonix, it’s as easy as waiting for your morning cafe au lait.

Want attention? Go naked.

Employees at Lush, a handmade and natural cosmetics store, worked in their usual black aprons yesterday, but nothing else. The stunt was intended to call attention to the massive amounts of waste produced by packaging for consumer goods.

In this case, the packaging was clothes, the metaphor goes.

The first time I went in Lush, a snotty salesman talked down to my sister-in-law after she didn’t immediately reply to what type of skin she had. “Oily, dry, comb-o?” he said to her sing-song, like she was a 5-year-old. I haven’t been a fan since. But after seeing pictures in the paper (not online yet, sorry) of the Boulder store’s employees standing on Pearl Street in nothing but an apron and their underwear for the sake of reducing waste, well, maybe they deserve another shot.

Media Bashing

Journalists need thick skin. Even if your journalistic goal is to write about eye shadow for Glamour, you’ll still be labeled as a member of that enigmatic, anger-inducing “media.” That means you’ll be subject to an occasional old-fashioned media bashing by complete strangers, and even your friends and family.

I was chatting up a brand-new acquaintance at the climbing gym recently when this happened. I blame the typical small talk we engage in when meeting someone new: So, what do you do?

Joe, it turned out, was a climate scientist. (Between NOAA and NCAR, Boulder has no dearth of climate scientists.) And he is baffled by the media’s coverage of climate change.

“If you go to a conference of climate scientists, there isn’t a single scientist there who disagrees with global warming,” he said. “It’s happening. Why is CNN giving equal time to these people — they’re not even scientists, I saw an economist they had on to debate that global warming is a myth!”

Joe was clearly exasperated.

So was I. I’m frustrated every time I see this supposed attempt at balance and objectivity on the news. People outside of the media can see that this isn’t a balanced way to examine the issue. Why can’t the journalists see it themselves?

I think they do see it, and some of them get it. But the worst offenders, like the ones Joe saw? Perhaps they just don’t know how else to do it without being accused of, well, everything the media is accused of: liberal bias, tree hugging, elitism. But that doesn’t excuse them for giving 50-50 time to both sides of an issue when, as Joe pointed out, you’d be hard pressed to find a single real climate scientist to argue against climate change.

I tried to explain to Joe (who I like quite a bit, and I didn’t mind his well-intentioned bashing at all, because I agree) that this is actually a modern example used in journalism schools to discuss the inherent problems with some definitions of objectivity. But it doesn’t bring me much comfort. By covering contentious issues this way, isn’t the media — whose job is to expose the truth and shed light in dark places — perpetuating many myths on many issues?

And despite what the media bashers say, perpetuating myth is not part of the job.

Woman chases down attacker. On bike.

A story appeared on the front page of my paper today that I have to share.

A woman was riding her bike back from the post office with her baby in a carrier on her back when a man rode up next to her and grabbed her breast. Completely shocked, she wanted to kick him, but thought better of it. Instead, she followed him.

This is Boulder. If you violate a female cyclist in a ride-by-groping, you’d better be prepared to ride away fast, because she could be a pro racer or triathlete, or in this case, a woman who has ridden across America twice and can chase you down. With a baby on her back.

The woman pulled out her cell phone, dialed 911 and directed police to the groper. He was arrested.

The woman told the Daily Camera that chasing down her attacker was “empowering.”

Skywalker Couloir

The rock was rotten. Each time I grasped a hold, I wondered if it would pull away when I cranked on it.

Ben, Jeremy and I were clustered around the bottom of an exit chute near the top of our snow climb up Skywalker Couloir on Sunday. The chute, a snow-collecting break in the band of cliffs at the top of the couloir, was a variation on the normal route, and according to the guidebooks, this variation — named Princess Leia — is only in for a week or two every year. We’d seen three other climbers head between the cliffs into this steep ribbon of snow that morning, but what we didn’t catch from below was how they crossed the gap between the couloir’s main snowfield and snow in the chute above. It seemed we were precariously close to the end of that Leia window.

Jeremy and I approached the top of the couloir ahead of Ben.

“You know, that ‘easy’ exit route doesn’t look so easy,” I said to Jeremy as we kicked our crampons into increasingly steeper snow and examined the route’s standard exit, to our left.

“Yeah, I don’t like it either,” he said. “Princess Leia almost looks easier.”

“Let’s go for Princess Leia,” I yelled to both of them as I followed the steps to the base that were kicked by the morning climbers. Itching to do the direct finish all along, Ben agreed from below.

It was late. I’d wanted to be off the snow by 10 a.m., and it was approaching 11. And I was tired. We’d gotten up at 4 a.m. and started the hike to the couloir at 6. Plus, the sun was coming out in very short spurts — good for the snow conditions, which remained stable instead of turning to a sun-baked slush, but a bad sign weather-wise. If lightning rolled in, tree line was far away. I wanted to get off the mountain.

Ben climbed up behind us, and we all deemed the 5-foot gap in the snow too dangerous to cross. Jeremy and Ben were discussing what to do while I eyed the rock to the right of the gap. Will it go in crampons? I pulled off my gloves, stashed my ice axe and tested a foothold. Maybe. The first looked too crumbly; I tried another. My crampons grated on the rock with that steel-on-stone sound that scrapes at my mind regardless of the quality of my foothold. But I wanted to be done, and we were close. I moved onto the rock with all of my weight and grabbed a crumbly hold with my hand.

“Jenn.” There was a tone of caution-too-late in Jeremy’s voice.

“I know.”

“I wish I could spot you.”

I moved further up the rock, because that was the only way to go. It was rotten, but going down was not an option, especially soloing in crampons. “I wish you could, too,” I said. “And I really wish I’d taken the rope with me.” I’m not terribly experienced as an alpine climber, so I’m sure it was much scarier for me to climb this than it would have been for a veteran alpinist. But I was committed to the route at that point, and there was no room for fear, only a focus on completing the task at hand safely. My left hand felt around for a stable hold until, voila. I tested it. It held. I moved a foot and pulled with my left hand.

The rock came away from the wall in my left hand.

In hindsight, this was the first of many times fortune smiled on us that day. If I’d gone flying backward, nothing would have stopped me from tumbling down the 1,000-foot snowfield we’d just climbed — self-arrest would have been difficult to impossible on snow that steep at any velocity created by a fall on the rock above. Luckily, I was stable on my feet, so I leaned in, pushed the rock back into place (bad to drop it on my fellow climbers, obviously) and said: “Shit.” Nervous laugh. “You guys should not do what I’m doing.”

I kept going for just a few more feet until I was far enough above the gap to climb safely back onto the snow in the narrow chute. After a deep breath, I looked down to see Jeremy pulling the rope out of his pack. I was glad to see they weren’t following in my foolish footsteps.

There’s a rhythm to climbing snow, even if you’re hauling ass to get off of it (I was). Punch axe into snow, then kick-kick. Repeat. The snow steepened to 70 degrees or so. Punch, push up with free hand in already-cut step, kick-kick. Thunder rumbled far away behind me, but I didn’t dare look. I just needed to concentrate and finish the climb.

Punch, push, kick-kick.

I topped out the snow onto scree in a brief moment of sunshine. Gravel glued onto my wet crampons and axe as I battled for a grip on the moving ground. This is worse than that solo below, I thought. I clawed my way onto a stable rock and looked behind me for the first time in hundreds of feet of climbing.

Dark clouds dripping rain streaks were rolling in from the southwest. They rumbled again. Our escape route was a 300-foot scramble above, over the top of S. Arapaho Peak, then a scramble down a ridge on the other side to a trail that would take us the remaining 3.5 miles to our car at the trailhead.

To calm my nerves while I waited for Jeremy and Ben, I sang to myself and shooed marmots away from my pack. (When we were climbing in Chamonix, I noticed some of the guides and climbers would whistle, hum and sing through their climbs. I realized it was probably a good trick for keeping your head in the game, and I embraced it.) I couldn’t hear anything from where I sat with the marmots, and I couldn’t see down the climb.

Finally, Jeremy came over the lip of the snow.

“Hey!” I yelled.

“Hey,” he said. “You scared me.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I definitely win the prize for stupidest move of the day, soloing that rock.”

Ben wasn’t far behind. The weather already looked worse than it did when I topped out — the sun had disappeared, and the rain was closer.

“We need to get the eff off this mountain,” I said as both of the guys pulled off their backpacks to stash their crampons and ice axes. We were all perched on rocks looking right at the dark clouds.

“Seriously,” Ben said.

We scrambled for the top of the peak. It wasn’t far, but we were all so exhausted from the climb up the couloir that we kept pausing to gasp for air. Poor unacclimatized Ben had just moved to Colorado the week before. He had to be in a state of mixed misery and euphoria when we saw the turquoise lake in the jagged cirque on the other side of the summit.

A handful of hikers were on the summit and heading up the other side. (They should have been heading down.) We could see our trail; it crossed a high plain before switchbacking down to treeline far below. Thunder continued as we moved as quickly as we could down the ridge to the trail. I tried not to think about the metal ice axes we all carried on the backs of our packs.

The hail started in earnest as we crossed the open plain. So did the lightning. We paused to throw our rain jackets on and kept running for the trees far below. Rain poured and lightning crashed around us as we hit the switchbacks. Ben’s long legs carried him ahead of me and Jeremy, and when he reached the first patches of bushes, he yelled up to us:

“Should we stop here? We can ditch the packs and get under these bushes.”

We dropped our packs, ran 50 more feet down the trail and ducked deep into the bushes. Panting and soaked, we tried to breathe and count between the lightning and thunder. At first, we could count from three to five, but the flash and the following boom quickly became simultaneous. We were starting to soak through and shiver; we all knew we could easily become hypothermic if we stayed too long.

After a few minutes, Ben said: “Should we just make a run for it?”

Boom! No time to count between. “Not yet,” I said. “It’s right on top of us.”

After running more than a mile down the exposed trail, hiding in the bushes felt safe. It wasn’t much of a shelter, but we were safer there, without our axe-toting packs, without our heads poking above the low brush and rocks along the trail. I wasn’t anxious to leave. But the storm continued to beat down on us, and the cold rain was seeping into every opening of our jackets, pants and boots. Ben said he was praying hard. I thought of his wedding next week and hoped Genny, his fiancee, couldn’t see the storm from home in Boulder.

“It’s not letting up,” Ben said. “Should we go?”

We peered through the bushes at the gray skies to our south and west. Crash above.

“No.” I said.

“But there’s more on the way, and what if it doesn’t let up?”

“Maybe we should go at the next break,” Jeremy said.

When we could count to four or five again between the flashes and thunder, we went for it. (This was not safe, but we felt it was the best window we would get.) We ran. The trail was flooded, so to my worry over carrying a metal axe, I added my worry over standing in water in a storm. Full knowledge of the danger we were in had been pushing my body down the trail faster than my legs could actually carry me for an hour. I was wasted. I simply could not move fast enough to satisfy my fear.

Finally, we reached treeline, and of course, the storm faded, but not entirely. The drizzle and thunder continued as we headed down the trail at a walk instead of a run. I wrung water out of my gloves and put them back on, because fleece really does keep you warm(ish) even when it’s wet. My feet squished in my watery Gore-Tex boots. The rain stopped entirely about a half a mile from the trailhead, but by the time we reached the car, the rain and thunder began anew as another storm blew in from the southwest.

As I stripped off my wet clothes — even my pants, which were completely soaked and had been clinging to my clammy legs for miles — and chucked them into the back of the car, I made a vow to stay indoors and not climb the next day. Maybe do yoga.

Tuesday, however, is another day.

Tougher than me

I spent the better part of this weekend with women who are tougher than me.

Today, I went on my club (Title 9) ride with my friend Kim. I’ve been riding for a while, but Kim is a new cyclist. We both joined the club this spring, and when we went to the sign-up, Kim didn’t even own a bike. She’s green.

On today’s ride, a group of the T9ers wanted to head up to Jamestown, which is a climb of 2,000 feet or more. Kim had recently expressed a fear of climbing, which is crazy for a person who telemark skis and hikes so fast it’s what most people would call trail running. As my husband put it: Kim should be worried about ripping the cranks off of her bike, not climbing.

“Kim, how you feeling?” I asked when we regrouped near the bottom of the climb.


“Then let’s go to Jamestown with them.”

Of course, Kim climbed like Marco Pantani in his doping days. She took strong pulls at the front and stayed on the wheels of much more experienced girls for all 12 miles of the ride up the hill. For an encore, she fearlessly dipped through the sandy curves on the downhill.

Did I mention how green she is?

Yesterday was even more wussifying for me. Our band of climbing buddies had taken its first steps up a climber’s trail to a crag in Boulder Canyon when Genny took a spill on a loose rock underfoot. She caught herself with her hands, but when she stood up, she discovered that she’d peeled back most of the skin on the print of one of her fingers.

This is what climbers call a “flapper.” And it was big — the size of a penny or more.

We were still so close to the car that I suggested we go back to it and take a good look at Genny’s flapper. Our friend Jeff took charge of the first aid.

“First we need to irrigate the wound,” Jeff instructed. I pinched my Camelbak above Genny’s finger and winced (wincing again as I write this) as she pulled the flap back so the water would pour right onto it.

“Is this a stitch-it-up situation?” I asked. “It looks like a stitch-it-up situation.”

“I think it’s okay,” Genny said. (Genny’s quiet, calm demeanor is such that if she’d lost the entire finger she might have said the same thing, except that she would have innocently asked whether anyone had ice, too.) I didn’t believe her, but Jeff agreed. Jeremy and I exchanged a look that said he wanted to take her to a doctor, too.

Jeremy produced our first aid kit, and Jeff taped gauze to her finger like a pro. When he was done, Genny’s finger looked like it belonged to Mickey Mouse.

Genny said she wanted to go up to the crag with us and watch us climb. Jeremy and I exchanged looks again. But she was already standing up and adjusting her backpack.

We set up a toprope, and Jeff, Jeremy and I climbed…and then Genny decided to climb, too. She proceeded to climb everything we did with panache. And a Mickey Mouse finger.

That night, Genny called a cousin who is a nurse. She told her to clean under the flap again (wincing) and try to put it back in the right place. It didn’t want to go back quite right, Genny said, so it must have stretched (really wincing now!), either when she did it, or while she was climbing on it.

Now we’re just waiting to see what happens to Genny’s fingerprint. I have a feeling it’s going to heal into the swirled phrase: “Tough Mickey.”

Big ice

I was hooking my way up a picked-out and crowded frozen waterfall at Wild Basin on Sunday when the climber next to me yelled:

“Ice ice ice ICE!”

You yell “ice!” a lot when you’re ice climbing. It’s usually a fairly casual warning for the folks around you: I am swinging an ice axe into this frozen cascade and knocking down everything from fine shavings to dinner plates. For your own safety, please take notice and avoid the dinner plates. Thank you.

But when this guy yelled “ice!” it had urgency. It was not the casual yell for quarter-to-golf-ball-sized ice chunks easily deflected by a climbing helmet. This “ice!” had danger behind it.

I looked over to see dinner platter ice coming down from him. It was glancing away from me and my husband, who was belaying me below, and away from the climber’s own belayer. But the dinner platter ice (think of what your grandma serves the Thanksgiving turkey on) was heading for a young woman further west along the bottom of the cliff.

She glanced up and dodged one big chunk. Her head was still ducked when another dinner platter crashed into the side of her helmet.

She stumbled backward and crumpled to the ground.

The other climber and I were stunned. We hung motionless from our ice tools, crampons clinging to the ice in silence, waiting. Everyone on the ground (except our belayers) ran to the girl.

The guy who had knocked the ice down was still a bit above me, so I climbed up next to him to avoid being the next victim, just in case, and waited. I looked at my husband. Is she okay? I mouthed. He shrugged uncertainty. The other climber didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to — I knew we were both wondering whether he’d just caused massive head trauma with the flick of an ice axe.

One of the women on the ground came into sight and gave us a thumbs up and a big smile.

“Can you move her to the side?” the climber yelled down. (Just what we needed was another dinner platter of ice coming down on her again, or on someone else.)

By the time I came back down, the poor girl and her climbing partner were perfectly cheerful. Her friend even took a picture of her holding the offending chunk of ice next to her head as she wore a huge death-cheating smile.

“You know,” said the guy who’d knocked the ice down, “It was much bigger than that, but it broke on your helmet.”

“Really? Sweet!”

And she kept climbing.

Norwegian Kool-Aid

One of the reasons I haven’t written much here this winter is that I’ve taken up two new winter sports.

I’m from Missouri, a land that sees more ice and freezing rain than snow. We stay inside in the winter. The only sliding around on the white stuff we do is on a saucer sled (or in our cars). But even if skiing had been part of my region’s cultural identity, my scrawny, uncoordinated childhood physique wouldn’t have accepted the sport as a viable pastime.

Not that well-meaning family members didn’t try. When I was 11, my mom took me to visit our more sporty relatives in San Jose, who for years had spent winter weekends blasting through bowls at Heavenly. They wanted us to experience the joy of skiing and thus carted us up to Lake Tahoe in winter.

Aunt Ethel took Mom high up the mountain, and Mom, being adventurous (and stuck after taking the lift to a no-woman’s land of steep black-diamond snow), somehow followed Aunt Ethel without killing herself or anyone else. Uncle Bruce, a kindly soul who deserves a sainthood for his patience, took me to the bunny slope.

What happened there was one of those traumatic experiences of total childhood humiliation that we later tell ourselves was good for us. I don’t remember much, but I’m sure it was good for me. There was a lot of coaxing, crying, and falling, then some more crying, more falling, and guilt over hating the sport that was the sole reason for wearing the cute bubblegum pink snowsuit Uncle Bruce had bought me. My young mind raced for a way to make this all better as Uncle Bruce moved me down from the bunny slope, where I was pink Missouri carnage to be avoided by hot-dog toddlers from Cupertino, to a tiny slope off to the side — of the bunny slope — out of view of the rope tow, or, as I like to call it, the undertow of athletic inadequacy.

There were more attempts at pizza, french fries, but all attempts at skiing left me feeling like I’d been food poisoned. Just let me go back to the cabin to read a book, I remember thinking before I blotted the rest of the day from my memory.

Poor Uncle Bruce.

Years later, as an adult, I moved to Colorado (the first time) and tried cross-country skiing a few times. I stayed upright for the most part and didn’t cry. Teenage Boulderites passed me on the nordic trails, and this was more tolerable than toddlers, but I still wasn’t enjoying myself.

Perhaps I just needed a cute pink snowsuit to experience the joy?

In November, I was showshoeing near Fraser, Colorado, on one of the first days of the winter that was cold enough to cause snot to freeze inside my nose. The sun dipped behind a ridge around 2:30 p.m., and we had three miles to hike back to the car. Trudging back down, a skiier, quiet and smooth, slipped past us, effortlessly gliding down the hill to the trailhead.

I hated him instantly. My mouth fell open, I looked at my husband and said:

“I’m learning how to ski this year.”

I wasn’t sure just how I wanted to ski — so many ways! — but the answer fell into my lap when the Colorado Mountain Club’s winter course schedule arrived at our house: backcountry cross-country skiing, or ski touring. We both signed up.

With the childhood ski trauma in mind and my adult cross-country experience a 6-year-old memory, I scrawled across my application, “no skiing experience.” I was placed in a small group with beginner skiers and a nice older woman carrying a backpack twice her size.

“Do you have mittens?” she asked me, surveying my gloves like a school teacher. “Because I have down mitts in my pack.”

Jan said she was 72 and had just had two knee replacements. She must have taken lessons on cheerful patience from Uncle Bruce, and fortunately, I wasn’t the one causing the need for patience this time — our group had a drama queen who cried for help every time she fell, which was often, and yelled at us to slow down between telling us, “oh, I’m a fit lady .” But Jan’s drills were helping me catch on, finally. She had me skiing up and down a trail by the end of the day, which felt like a major coup to the little girl in the pink snowsuit crashing all over the hill below the bunny hill.

At the next lesson, I actually figured out that whole pizza and french fries thing. I was moved into a higher group with Pete, who wore wool knickers and colorful knee socks.

“We’ve got a group of guys, and we need a woman to keep us in line,” Pete said. “You can do that, right?”

I liked Pete instantly.

Pete took us on a trail. He taught us how to cross dips in the trail on our long skis and look out for moose.

“If we see a moose, we’re going to find out just how fast you can ski,” he said.

Pete kept haranguing us to glide, not shuffle, and I started to glide. It was a revelation. I could glide several feet in one kick, and it was a glorious feeling. I remembered something a friend of ours told us:

“Snowshoeing is for people who haven’t discovered skiing yet.”

Joy was bubbling. When we got back to the trailhead, we skied back and forth to stay warm in the high winds that batter the Indian Peaks.

“How long have you been skiing, Pete?” I asked.

“Well, let’s see,” he said. “I’ve been skiing 71 years.”


“Well, my father is Norwegian, and when you’re Norwegian, you learn how to ski when you’re two,” Pete said. “I’m 73 now, so I’ve been skiing for 71 years.”

Though I was a Missourian, not a Norwegian, I was inspired. Pete and Jan took me from zero to skiing in two Saturdays. Now that I suddenly knew how to ski (not well, of course), I didn’t want to forget. A few of us girls at the office started doing Saturday ski tours up the hill at Brainard Lake — we start at a reasonable sleeping-in hour, so we’ve dubbed them the Civilized Ski Tours for Civilized Ladies — and, though I can’t keep up with them, I’m finally experiencing the joy of skiing.

Last weekend, I bought my first pair of skis. The CMC instructors are into these old-school, old-country skis that they sell down at Neptune Mountaineering. Gary Neptune is the ultimate old-school cross-country skier. He came out for our classes decked out in a red parka with fur that made him resemble Santa Claus. He has a store full of the latest and greatest gear, but he carries a rucksack that looks at least 60 years old. A fellow student who asked him about the rucksack said he replied:

“When I find something that works better, I’ll carry it.”

I went into Neptune to rent skis (again) for a Civilized Ladies ski tour, but they were out of my size boots. Nonplussed, I ended up buying a pair of gorgeous, smooth Norwegian touring skis that I’ll have to learn how to wax if I have any hope of traveling uphill in them. It’s all quite new and exciting, and the little girl in the pink snowsuit with pink, tear-streaked cheeks can hardly believe it.

And Uncle Bruce would be proud.