The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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Outsmarted by Skiing Seven-Year-Olds

Over the “rush” season at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, I once again returned to teaching 7-14 year-olds how to ski. This is a source of endless amusement and wonderment, especially in the private lesson sector. At a fantastic $600 a day for a full-day private less0n, these kids (and their parents) occupy a higher tax bracket than I knew as a child. This became glaringly apparent when I entered the gondola with two children and they began arguing whether the gondola box was bigger or smaller than the little girl’s closet. “Your closet is NOT this big”, scolded the big brother.

“Yes it is, yes it is. My closet at the Cape House is really big” she taunted back. “The Cape House.” Right. Some instructors turn this into a game. The level of bluntness depends on the age of the child, but a favorite question when I taught skiing at Beaver Creek was, “did the plane you took here have just your family or other people too?”.

While the younger children unquestioningly volunteer information, those persnickety tweens offer up unsolicited chatter like, “my dad drives a Porche-Audi-BMW. What do you drive?”, to which I responded (years ago) with, “a Sonoma. Does he have one of those?”. Confused, the child would usually drop the subject, and with this sort of child this is a good thing.

Last week I was skiing with a beautiful feisty Venezuelan girl who asked to see my phone while we were on a hot chocolate break. “How do you know I have one?” I questioned. Rolling her eyes, she let me know that her seven-years was far beyond that sort of naivety and said “I just want to see it.” Quickly locating my pictures, she asked, “Who’s that?” at a snapshot of my boyfriend cooking eggs. I answered honestly, which was my first mistake.

“Where does he live?”. When I responded “five hours away,” she asked where I stayed when I visited him. Uh-oh. And for that matter, why was he in pajamas? Did we sleep in the same bed? Realizing that I was in way, way over my head, I decided now would be the perfect time to change the conversation to English and speak with the other, more naive seven-year-old in my class. I can only hope that when I have kids, I’ll be smart enough to invent a fictitious older brother.

I Only Go Up To Go Down

After years of living in athletic towns like Vail and Boulder, Colorado as well as Jackson, Wyoming, I have noticed two distinct camps of athletes which I have affectionately named “cardio freaks” and “adrenaline junkies”. In case you’re new to this blog, I belong in the later category.

“Cardio freaks” were often on the triathlon team in college. These heart-rate-monitor wearing, leg-shaving guys and gals get their high from breathing hard and harder. Drugs of choice include road bikes with impossibly skinny tires, any running race with a “K” on the end, and little itty-bitty skinny skate-skis. Often eschewing motorized travel in favor of their own two legs, this rare breed of mammal appears to actually enjoy discomfort and is loathe to long days on the couch.

“Adrenaline junkies” breathe hard for one reason- it gets us somewhere cool. We skin up the mountain ridge because we get to ski untracked snow on the way down. We peddle up the gigantic hill because the single track on the other side is oh-so-sweet. In truth, I have the most fun mountain biking when I’m on the edge of crashing. I know there is a science behind all of this, but I’ve experimented enough on myself to know that I respond very favorable to adrenaline. It’s either my chemistry or practice, but in an emergency situation such as swimming Class V whitewater (read: very, very big swirly water), I am calm. Sound is suppressed and I have the mental space to think through my current situation and respond accordingly. The trick is not getting addicted to my calm (or finding other ways to access it), like Dean Potter in this photo.

Dean Potter solo at Taft Point, Yosemite.

Dean Potter solo at Taft Point, Yosemite.

There are some athletes who take the adrenaline too far, most of which I have encountered in the climbing community. Often running from a divorce, death or other significant life event, these athletes become addicted to the singular focus that high-intensity athletic endeavors demand. When life is quite literally on the line (pun intended), there is no space in ones mind for the nasty breakup last month, unpaid bills or where dinner is going to come from. Body and mind have a singular purpose, and that is perpetuating life. As athletic skill increases, these situations must get more severe to have the same consequence, hence Mr. Potter slack-lining (tight-rope walking), leashless high above the Yosemite valley floor. As with everything in life, moderation would appear to be key once again.

Word of the Day: Flibbertigibbet –  a silly, flighty, or excessively talkative person. Use it in a sentence.

24 Below and No Water

GettySnowflakeSometime I go looking for an adventure. Sometimes it finds me. Yesterday, it found me bright and early at 6:30am.

My sister was getting ready for work and said, “Michelle, there’s no water.” Bolting out of bed and cursing all the way, I wondered why I had stopped just shy of pencil thick when I left the water running the night before (standard practice in a log cabin during a Wyoming winter). I should have gone for the full pencil width, but that didn’t matter now. We were officially frozen. When the neighbor knocked on my door at 7am (having seen the lights on) to ask if I had water, he commented that it was currently negative twenty-four outside. I began to worry if the problem was a little bigger than a pencil width and briefly contemplated moving to Miami or Phoenix. By 9am I had confirmed that all four cabins were frozen and had began texting the landlord. Meanwhile, I talked to a sympathetic friend who asked if I was going to get water from the creek. “Yes,” I responded, “I’m going to fill a bucket so I can flush the toilet. The drains aren’t frozen and ice on the banks of the creek looks new and not very thick, so I think I can break it.” His reply was a serious sounding, “I was joking”. Oh. I wasn’t.

The landlord suspected that with all of us running water and all of us frozen, the problem might be at the well house. Blasting a small heater on the pipes exiting the ground, he had us thawed out by 11am. Still, it was enough time to appreciate the marvel that is modern plumbing. When the water froze, I adapted the mind-set that I was on a posh camping trip and knew that I could happily camp for months on end (because I’ve done it). This is a liberating feeling.  While it was true that this camping trip had the added benefit of a warm(ish) house, a stove and drains, I began seriously eying my water consumption. When your water is measure out in actual gallon jugs, you get a real sense for how much you consume. Some sources say the average American uses 80-200 gallons per day. Why the large discrepancy? A large bathtub is 50 gallons alone, so consider the water suck of a nice green lawn in the aforementioned Phoenix.

So for now, I’m trying to appreciate the frugality of water consumption that my no-bathtub cabin forces upon me and start to look at my water consumption on a gallon basis. As for the freeze, the positive spin would be that a gentle environmental awareness reminder is never a bad thing.

Book of the Day: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. An NPR correspondentt travels the world over measuring the happiness/location correlation. Funny and interesting.

The White Strip of Death

The White Strip of Death at JHMR

The White Strip of Death at JHMR

Today I received my very own, unrestricted ski pass to (trumpet fanfare) “The White Strip of Death” at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. “The White Strip of Death” is not unique to Jackson, but a technical skiing term to describe man’s attempt to open a ski resort on a predetermined date come hell or high water. In our schedule loving society, this is accomplished with numerous artificial snow machines directed along one trail. Skiers, jonsesing after nearly four months of snowlessness, flock to this solitary rock-flecked trail in droves. This is where the death part comes in.

The never-ever skiers. The “honey, I’ll teach you to ski” couples. The nine-year-old straight-liners. The full-face helmet “I’m here to huck” shredders. All of these personalities converge and attempt to share one trail. Some of us refer to this as “the human slalom”, but that’s a desperate attempt to make lite of a sad situation. The situation being, of course, snowlessness. With a 24″ base and 0″ new in the last 144 hours, we optimistically report the mountain as “open” (as of yesterday) and skiing conditions are “packed powder”. Of course,  those paying $2,000 for a pass (and those working for it) would appreciate some “real powder”.

So did I pony up $’s for the privilege of a chair carting my happy self up the hill? Nope. For my pass, I’ll be skiing with those wonderful 7-14 year-olds during peak times. If you’re planning a ski vacation, make note. Peak times at a ski resort (any U.S. ski resort) are between Christmas and New Year’s, President’s weekend (February 13-15) and Spring Break (otherwise known as “March”). The rest of the season, us locals get the mountain to ourselves. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just the way we want it.

Bookmark of the Day: Bridger-Teton Backcountry Avalanche Hazard & Weather Forecast

Makin’ some Turns

Less than stellar coverage, but I was just happy to be out.

Less than stellar coverage, but happy to be out.

As previously discussed in “The Sicky Sick Gnar Gnar Vocab of J-Hole”, most anything specialized come with its own unique vocabulary terms, and skiing is no exception. We skiers often employ the term “making turns” to denote that we are skiing, because turns is really what the sport is about. As many a nine-year-old in Michigan can attest, going straight on skis isn’t hugely difficult. Although there is some amount of strength and balance involved, straight lining an entire run is typically a fair helping of stupidity coupled with disillusions of invisibility. Straight lining anything in the Rockies is ill-advised as one usually ends up careening off a mountain rather than hitting a car in the parking lot (my sister was just the nine-year-old who would forgo turns in favor of stopping via impact with cars/buildings/adults). So in my desperation to do something, ANYTHING in the off-season I decided to make some turns. Two, to be exact.

The ‘off-season’ in Jackson (fall and spring) forces residents to become increasingly creative with their outdoor endeavors and I attribute the first day of my 09-10 ski season directly to this fact. The snow line was high enough to make Teton Pass, at 8,431 feet, marginally acceptable. We parked the car at the top with another dozen wishful thinkers and started skinning south. For those of you who don’t backcountry ski (and I wouldn’t recommend it without avalanche safety classes and a good group of backcountry friends), “skinning” involves attaching synthetic skins to backcountry skis to make purchase when going uphill. Along the ascent, we passed bowl after beautiful bowl. Like a siren call, these sections tempted me with their illusions of white, fluffy coverage, but a thorough love of my intact knees and face told me to wait until those logs were buried under a solid snow pack. But not everyone up there thought the same.

Another couple had veered off the skin track and were waiting, contemplating a partial downhill descent. Wishing them luck, we wondered if we weren’t being overly cautious but quickly dismissed it as wisdom and experience. On the way back, however, we stopped and chatted with them skinning back for lap two. “There’s a good 10 inches of faceted snow off the ground and a nice light fluffy layer off of that. It’s pretty good!” was the report. It was enough to make me seriously consider following them, but I wondered how much sheer luck was involved with their line. So feeling wiser than lucky, we removed our skins and glided back towards the car. I only made two turns in the skin track on the way back, but man did they feel good.

Pro Deal of the Day: up to 60% off Horny Toad. If you want the details, send me an email by filling out form here and I’ll email you the goods.

Animal Planet – In My House

So it’s not a conventional house – it’s a real-deal old log cabin. And it hasn’t been updated a whole lot since its inception in 1920 (aside from electricity and my high-speed wireless). As such, there is an appropriate flow of what I’d like to think of as “wildlife”.


Snowflake, the weasel.

It all started with the weasel. I was sitting at the kitchen table, reading, when I heard a noise coming from the bathroom. Looking over, I saw a small white face peeking out from behind the toilet. Like any rational being, I promptly jumped on top of the chair (because a weasel couldn’t possibly climb a chair) and started yelling at my boyfriend that there was “something” in the bathroom. He froze on the couch for a moment and the weasel cocked his head as they both wondered, “what’s wrong with her?”.

The boyfriend was beyond excited saying nonsensical things like “that’s why there’s no mice!” and “we can feed him- he’ll be like a pet”. I warmed to the idea that this was the reason there were no mice and we were careful not to startle him when he showed up every few weeks. Sadly, we never saw Snowflake past that winter, but he was only the first in a long line of critters that have acclimated me to life in a log cabin.

Fast forward to Friday morning, when I was laying in the place halfway between asleep and awake. I vaguely recognized a gnawing noise and thought I had a mouse. Forcing my brain towards alertness, I tried to identify the source of the gnawing from bed. Was he on the food shelves? The floor? The gnawing seemed to turn to a fluttering and I began to think perhaps I had a bat. Grabbing my phone and tentatively stepping into the kitchen, I dialed my boyfriend and said, “something is in my house.” He replied that if it was a bat, I would need to put on gloves and get a towel to capture him. My weak response was, “I don’t think I can do that.” He responded that since he was about 6 hours away, I would have to do it. I now have a new appreciation for pioneering women. It’s not that they were inherently fearless and courageous- it’s that they had no choice. So as a women with no choice, I approached the rustling area to discover a field mouse in the bottom of the trash. I covered the trash and brought it outside, where I spied my neighbor’s cat on their porch. Grabbing the cat and placing it directly in front of the garbage bin, I tipped it over and let the cat sniff. She smelled nothing and ambled away as the mouse ran the other direction, probably looping back towards my cabin.

Anyone know the type of spider?

Anyone know the type of spider?

The very next morning I was washing breakfast dishes and became aware of a buzzing happening in the kitchen window a few feet from my face. A crazy black and orange spider had just caught a common fly and was moving to wrap him up. I snapped a few pictures, and while I was reviewing them she disappeared with her kill to somewhere unbeknownst to me.

This is the wild Wyoming world I live in, but I’m feeling like my cabin could be portrayed in a pretty negative light. When my computer maladies are over, I pledge to post pictures of the fabulous views I share with rodents and bugs large and small. At the end of the day, there’s no place I’d rather be.

Hiking Death Canyon in a Morbid Mood

Looking across Phelps Lake into Death Canyon

Looking across Phelps Lake into Death Canyon

A week after the autumnal equinox, I also found myself in a transition. Repeating what is proving to be a pattern in my life, I coped with my emotions through physical activity.

I decided to hike in Death Canyon inside Grand Teton National Park. Though I felt some guilt at leaving the dog at home, I’d given him  great 7.5 mile bike ride the day before. Besides, this was about me. I choose Death Canyon for several reasons:

1) An intermediate trail, there was likely to be a few less tourists than other trail heads on a beautiful Sunday,

2) The name seemed fitting,

3) A character by the name of Black George lives in the Grassy Lake Ranger Station and dispenses free root beer floats while he hits on you.

I borrowed my sister’s Jeep for the 1 mile of potholes that lead to the trail head. I was in no mood to be hiking along a dirt road while tourists kicked up dirt in their rented SUV’s. I was on a mission to get away from humanity as quickly as possible. I optimistically pulled into the parking area closest to the trail head to watch four people unload from an SUV with rental plates. They were parked like idiots. If they had moved 3 feet to either side, I would have been able to fit. Fighting the urge to roll down the window and ask them why the hell they parked like dumb asses, I reminded myself I was there to walk and drove back about a quarter of a mile to the next available dirt plod. Getting out of the car, I noticed a pretty stream that I had missed while driving over the bridge twice. Trying to change my mood, I silently thanked the dumb ass parking people for making me walk by the stream. The effort was half-hearted.  My overwhelming feeling was that they were still dumb asses and I still resented them. I turned the corner to find a mule deer just 10 yards away, looking at me with mild interest. I quietly said, “hey buddy, you’re okay” as I continued down the road. Slowly continue along his grazing path, we half-circled each other and I finally let go of my resentment towards the dumb asses.

Still, I tore down the trail like a woman possessed. I had invited several people to accompany me, but everyone had plans. Now, in my solitude, I realized I was glad to be going my own pace and I had only invited others to avoid being alone with my thoughts. I set a brisk, unmaintainable pace with the goal of driving myself into exhaustion. Sleep, usually a sweet refuge in stressful times, had been elusive. I wanted tonight to be easier. I didn’t slow down for the steep uphills and adopted the style of passing I’d seen my mountaineering friends employ. When people approached heading the opposite direction, I resolutely started at the ground and didn’t move in inch, shoulder-ramming several ignorant tourists who assumed I would yield. With an “f-them” mentality for not learning the rules of the trail (the uphill hiker has the right-of-way), I pounded down the trail as if distance from the car would create emotional space as well.

Cursing my endurance, I started to relax four miles in. However, a glance up the steep canyon walls showed that I was almost at the top. With a “why quit now”, I resolved to go to the top. At the saddle,  I enjoyed a homemade brownie I’d packed and enjoyed some well-earned exercise endorphins.

The one and only Black George in front of his ranger station.

The one and only Black George in front of his ranger station.

On return, I ambled over to the ranger station with a “hello hello!” only to be greeted by snoring. Though the screen door was propped wide open (much like the photo), I didn’t have the heart to wake him up. Making note of the the mice fatalities Black George was tirelessly tracking (98) and root beer floats consumed (534), I left the park with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the powerful beauty and its calming power that lie just 30 minutes from my doorstep.


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Exercise makes you fat.

August 17, 2009 issue of Time Magazine

August 17, 2009 issue of Time Magazine

So I’m paraphrasing a little. What the August 17, 2009 issue of Time actually said is “The Myth about Exercise – Of course it’s good for you, but it won’t make you lose weight. Why it’s what you eat that really counts.” What the article goes on to say- and I’m not even pretending to be unbiased with my summary of this- is that if you exercise, you’ll get hungry. Hungrier than if you didn’t exercise at all. And the author (John Cloud) touts a fair amount of research arguing that you’re more likely to choose pizza than a salad after exercising. This is because you’ve weakened the self-control muscle by forcing yourself to exercise. If he’s right and “…self-control is like muscle…”, Jackson Hole has some big ones. (read entire article here)

Jackson is an extremely active community where “exercise” happens outside the great majority of the time. Surrounded by like-minded people, we think nothing of an 8 hour hike with significant elevation gain and loss. That’s called Saturday. And when we get home, we eat. But the difference is we’ve discover the great dieting secret that has managed to elude the majority of the American public for decades: If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll get fat. If you eat less calories that you burn, you’ll lose weight. Want to stay the same? A novel idea… just eat as many calories as you burn.

You don’t have to memorize caloric charts for your favorite foods to do this; just use your noggin. Blueberry muffins the size of your head with cinnamon and nuts on top have a lot more calories than an apple (250 more, to be exact). Both are a reasonable mid-morning snack. If all else fails, choose whole foods. Even if they’re calorie-rich like avocados, you’re body is getting plenty of healthy yummy nutrients and will thank you for it later.

If you’re in Jackson, take a look around the town square. Those big beer guts? Those are tourists from Michigan. The guy with the 6-pack behind the counter at the t-shirt shop? Yeah, he lives here.

Quote of the day: “In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.” -Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and prominent exercise researcher.

Ski Lake and the Perfect Man

Wendell sitting in front of the namesake, Ski Lake

Wendell sitting in front of the namesake, Ski Lake

Today’s adventure was a short day hike to Ski Lake. At 4.6 miles and 850 feet of elevation gain/loss, it’s not too strenuous (for more information, click here) but the payoff is fantastic.

Another plus for Ski Lake is that it’s only about 4 miles from my house and dog friendly, which links directly to the “perfect man” portion of this title. He eats whenever I want to. He goes wherever I want to. He’s an amazing listener and ever since the radio collar, never runs off. Naturally, this isn’t The Boyfriend. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t wear a radio collar. He’s my dog.

There are many documented cases of pets helping their owners with everything from depression to longevity but the main reason I choose dog-friendly hikes (which, alas, do not include the nearby national parks) is because it makes me happy to see him happy. When I change my clothes in the middle of the day, he runs in the room to sniff the fabric. He know that certain socks and shorts mean certain adventure. Even if my motivation was less than stellar, his unadulterated enthusiasm motivates me to get outside a little faster and enjoy it a little more. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Bar of the Day: WEIL by Nature’s Path (yes, it’s associated with Andrew Weil M.D. Who says celebrity endorsements don’t work?). The Chia Razz flavor is delicious as long as you don’t mind a few seeds. And the ingredients are stellar: organic dates, organic raisins, organic cashews, organic apples, organic raspberries, chia seeds, organic flavor, organic lemon juice concentrate.

Wendell’s Bar of the Day: POWER BONES by Zuke’s. Beef formula with protein and carbohydrates. Plus they have a cute how-they-came-to-be story on the back every dog lover can appreciate.

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