There’s something about places of magnitude that have the ability to make you feel insignificant. I crave those places and that humbling feeling of being so small in comparison. Growing up in small-town Michigan, where the local mountains had a whopping 300 feet of vertical, the place that made me feel smallest was the night sky in my backyard. Fast forward 20 years and I’m looking up at that same night sky, this time in the High Sierra backcountry. The same Big Dipper and Orion, and the same breathtaking magnitude.
I wholeheartedly believe that snowboarding and skiing for some is not a sport, but a journey. Some people strap or click in for that first time and everything is changed, whether it’s before the age of 2 or at 32. My journey started before my second birthday on skis at Alpine Valley Michigan. My dad, a second-generation instructor, and me in my hot pink onesie (obvi before I had control over my wardrobe), out cruising the groomers. And from that moment, there hasn’t been a winter where I haven't slid on snow.
I switched to snowboarding when I was 8 and my dad was desperate to keep me active in both disciplines. But after a season, he gave up trying to make me ski. There was nothing I cared about the same way I cared about snowboarding, and then when I was old enough to understand the teaching side of things, I was consumed by that too. I passed my first instructor certification exam at 18 before my journey took me to the next destination. My first winter in Vermont kicked my ass. I was pretty good in the Midwest hills, but the East Coast was no joke. I took my Level 2 exam, and failed, almost quit but didn’t, took it again and passed it two years later. By the time my journey took me across the country at 25, I had seven years of ice, steeps, bumps, and trees under my belt.
A week after my 31st birthday, I entered a new era of my journey: the backcountry. Now this was an arena I’ve been cautious but curious to enter. Despite my vibrant confidence on in-bound snow and playful flow through pow trees, the backcountry was a wild and unpredictable place that could give or take with indifference. It’s also incredibly intimidating to be a novice at something. Like many things in life, it’s a necessary discomfort. It’s an opportunity to show yourself grace for not knowing what you don’t know.
High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt took six of us—myself and the Coalition Snow crew—into the Eastern Sierra Nevada for 36 hours of shenanigans. I was on a demo Sojourner Split, with skins borrowed from Jen, and poles borrowed from Coral’s husband, and an avy kit rented from HSS. I was talked through setting up the bindings and how to slide them into each position. Then hosed down with all sorts of instruction from uphilling tips, to content direction, to necessary safety and risk information.
My biggest fear was being the person that held the rest of the group back—especially on the skin track. I hiked frequently in the summer, and hiked the beginner hill in my snowboard lessons at 6,000 feet in the winter; but I was a huffer and puffer and bitcher and moaner, happy to put the onus of being winded on the elevation. My biggest regret on the first skin was overestimating my temperature. I did not layer correctly. Long underwear, then knit blend, then black puffy—I was a dutch oven. But to my surprise, I was not huffing and puffing as much as I thought I would. The second skin up, I got my temperature right, but I could definitely feel the muscles I had used earlier.
Lucky for me, my first time into the backcountry was with an amazing and supportive group of women who offered tips every step of the way. They were patient and also didn’t laugh when, to my embarrassment, realized I had my splitboard halves on the wrong feet. They waited when I needed to rest, and answered all my questions, and made me feel like I was a backcountry veteran like the rest of them.
I’ve had many, many powder days on my journey, but nothing was quite like dropping into thigh-deep powder after that same body took you there. Powder has a way of making us tap into our inner child with every yip, yew, and backside slash. You’d never ask someone to just chuck a snowball at your face, but in powder, you’ll take any opportunity to blast snow into your face. Suddenly you’re not thinking about anything except the turn you just made and the next three turns you see in front of you—time is both too fast and lasts forever. While I had the utmost confidence in my ability to manage any terrain, I still made sure to lower my expectations of myself. My only goal was to find flow state, to seek joy. I didn’t care if I fell over for a silly reason, or missed a good turn because I didn’t want to get too close to a tree, or if I overflexed in my hips instead of using my knees—I just wanted to soak in every last moment of this part of my journey.
I don’t know if my dad knew everything I would accomplish on my journey when he let me choose snowboarding. But I hope he knows that he gave me a gift that would shape me for the rest of my life. Snowboarding has given me everything that I love about myself. It has brought me to people who embrace me and celebrate the person that I am. It has made me proud of what I can accomplish when I set out to achieve, whether that’s passing my Level 3 certification, or living out my dream of working for a snowboarding company. It has brought me to beautiful, breathtaking places that make me feel small, like standing under the night sky with an amazing group of women outside of a yurt in the High Sierra backcountry.