The other day Tim and I did a ski tour through Beehive Basin, one of the most well-known and beautiful backcountry areas in Big Sky. With 11,000+ ft Lone Peak as its backdrop, we looked forward to gorgeous views, a peaceful few hours with no one around, a heart-pumping hike up to the ridge, and hopefully some fresh turns on the way down.
Given that this area is unpatrolled, we checked the avi forecast (it was low, perfect for beginner ski touristas like us) and geared up for the hike. We even decided to bring Enzo along, which just about drove him crazy with excitement.
We set out on what turned out to be another unseasonably warm, sunny day. The popular trail had lots of skin, snowshoe and boot tracks, so it was easy to figure out where we were going.
The beginning section is one that I’ve done before. Relatively flat, cutting across several moderate slopes, it’s a nice warm up. Then, about an hour in, we approached the ridge we planned to hike up to. The skin track was a switch back through the trees straight up the steep face.
OK, I thought, here comes the cardio!
And cardio it was. Within 10 minutes, my thighs were burning and I was breathing hard. But it felt great and I was happy to discover that I was able to keep (relative) pace with my Speedy Gonzalez husband and even speedier dog.
But then, as the slope got steeper, I approached the first switch-back — a sharp 45-degree turn to the left. When I got there, I realized I had no idea how to make the turn on my skis and skins. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t manage to step though the turn without my skins sliding backward or to the side. And if I tried to lift my ski to just place it on the new track, the tail got all floppy because the heel was released for hiking.
I found myself getting frustrated, then pissed, then a little panicky. I looked up and saw that there were many, many more of these steep, sharp turns ahead … all the way to the ridge. Shit.
And here’s what started going through my mind:
If I can’t do this first turn, how on earth will I make it all the way up to the ridge?
Ugh, I just wanted a good workout. Why does it have to be all technical?
What if I fall on one of these steep turns and go tumbling down the face, or worse, into a tree?
Why is this seemingly so easy for Tim? He’s no more experienced with skinning than I am! Grrrrr.
What if I can’t figure this out? I’m going to be so disappointed in myself if I have to turn back.
Not exactly productive self-talk when you’re stuck on the side of a mountain. Plus, it’s time-consuming. I was quickly going from sweating to shivering as I stood there fuming.
Finally, I conceded — reluctantly — that this was a perfect grit-building opportunity. Was I going to get flustered and panic, or would I chill the hell out and work this problem?
Long story short, I chillaxed and slowly worked through it. It was a little painful, and there was a lot of swearing and grunting. But once I stopped being all emotional and popped myself into problem-solving mode, I slowly figured out — via some trial and error — how to manage the skins and maneuver the turns. They still weren’t easy, but I did it, and learned something useful along the way. Plus, focusing on one baby step at a time distracted me from any anxiety I had been feeling.
Feeling all proud of myself, I reached the final slope to the ridge, about 40 feet of the steepest section yet. Looking up, I was relieved to see it was a straight line to the top — no dreaded turns, which I thought should be easy-peasy. Until I got halfway up and realized it was so steep that my skins would slide no matter what. I didn’t know what to do and I was getting tired. As I slipped and slided, and started to get a little frightened on the exposed slope, Tim eventually skied down next to me and helped position my skis so that I could sidestep my way up.
So, as life tends to go, this story doesn’t have a neat & tidy triumphant ending. I wish I had figured out the top section on my own, but this is why you ski this stuff in pairs. And overall, the experience was a great lesson in digging deep and staying calm(ish) and productive in the face of frustration, anger and anxiety. Whether you’re on the side of a mountain, or facing a tough situation at work or otherwise in life!
And, the view from the top and the feeling of “f-yeah, I did it” was well worth it.
P.S. If you are looking for actual skinning tips from the pros, this guide from Backcountry.com is a great place to start. I could have benefitted from the section on kick-turn initiation!