BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I flail for the snooze. Feeling for my tiny family, I land on fur first. Our yellow lab, Nala, sprawled out in her version of dead bug pose, takes up half the bed. Rubbing her belly, I send my other hand in search of Ryan. Amid a mountain of covers, I trace shoulder, arm, hand. Our fingers entwine; he gives a gentle squeeze. Touching both my loves, I close the circle. From this magical place between yesterday and today, I pause — inhale Ryan’s stinky morning breath (mine isn’t any better), exhale peace. Inhale even worse puppy breath, exhale gratitude. This moment alone will carry me through whatever the day brings.
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. Zen moment broken. 4:30 a.m. Rub the crusty sleep out of my eyes. Crank heater. Kettle on. Peak out window. New snow? Brew coffee. Gently wake my sleepy husband. We savor our hot brew with few words. Put on tunes. Feed Nala. Dress in the exact same clothes as yesterday. Put skins on skis. Load up the car and head up the hill to Monarch, our hometown mountain, anticipating what’s to come like little kids on Christmas. Never knowing what awaits, but certain it will be magic.
Upon arrival to the deserted parking lot where huge flakes float to the ground, we are a flurry of activity. Bundle up. Gulp coffee. Packs on. Click into skis. And we are off.
Nala runs full speed, weaving and darting with so much excitement to be on the snow again that she can barely contain it.
Guided only by the tiny glow of our headlamps, Ryan and I glide next to each other, feeling like Nala, but taking a more conservative approach as we break trail through a foot of fresh pow. As always, my first steps are awkward, my breath labored.
Inhale. Right pole reaches. Left leg slides forward. Exhale. Pole. Glide. Cold air in. Glide. Warm breath out. Glide.
Settling into this rhythm, my mind, heart and soul all follow with ease. Some days I can’t see three feet in front of me. Others, I lose feeling in my toes, fingers, nose or all three. Yet, it is here that I can see and feel more clearly than anywhere.
Inhale. Glide. Amid the mountains rising with immense power as they reach to the heavens.
Exhale. Glide. Weathering each storm with unwavering grace and beauty.
Inhale. Glide. They shine with unending and unmatched light and hope.
Exhale. Glide. Effortlessly exuding strength and beauty. Bringing mindful awareness to each moment.
Inhale. Glide. Humbly demanding respect while giving love and compassion so easily and freely.
Exhale. Glide. Illuminating the answers that already lie within each of us.
Inhale. Glide. It is impossible to be anywhere but here. Now.
Much like the yoga class I will take later, I find stillness through movement. I lose myself, and find myself, in the cadence of breath and body linked. From the first snow until there is so much dirt showing that most people have long traded their skis for mountain bikes, our band of three journeys up here most mornings for sunrise. It’s not about the distance covered, the conditions or even the line skied, it’s about the gifts nature bestows on us and what happens inside. Much like the snow filling in our tracks before we are barely out of them, each step brings a newness to the earth, and to us.
I tune into the vibrations of the trees, the mountains, the ravens, the rocks, rather than just passing through. As I explore the terrain before me — exposed ridges, gentle curves, welcoming powdery slopes — I am allowed, and at times forced, to explore the shadows and highlights, the pinnacles and valleys, the rugged and smooth edges of my own inner terrain. I climb thousands of feet, covering miles and miles, only to discover truths I already know. Transformation within is not immediate or even noticeable. It seeps in, moment by moment, like the explosion of colors at sunset or the transition from winter to spring.
The snow stops falling as if the angels hit the “off” button.
Pole plant. Giant step up.
Pole reaches. Bigger step up.
My choppy huffing and puffing is the only thing breaking the silence as our route steepens.
The sky reveals brilliant pink whispers as the three of us, all breathless, crest the ridge known as the Continental Divide. At almost 12,000 feet, cotton candy clouds give way to tangerine dreams. Nature’s palette streaks across the sky. It’s our hundredth sunrise of the year on skis, and it’s as magical as the first.
We rip skins against a fiery gold sky, give the pup a well-deserved (and demanded) treat and share a quick snot-filled, frozen-lipped kiss.
Ryan plunges first, a vision of red down floating through the cold smoke. Nala on his heels bounding with delight. I snap a mental picture so I can return here often. Cozy in my puffy purple cocoon, I nod in gratitude to the giant peaks surrounding me and I follow. Like choreographed dancers, we weave in and out, hooting and hollering, making giggle-filled turns that are the closest thing to pure joy I know.
We return to the very spot where we started, but it is different. Or, are we?
You’re probably asking (as most do): why get up and do this every day? Sacrifice sleep? Suffer frigid temps? Work hard for a couple runs when you could ride chair lifts?
My answer: How can I not?
There’s nothing that raises my vibe, snaps me into alignment or makes me a better human more consistently or more quickly than gliding through the mountains powered by my muscles, fueled by my breath, guided by my inner being, while watching the world come alive (even if I may not be able to feel my fingers the entire time).
Which is why, before we’re even home, I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow when it will be exactly the same, and yet completely different.
Photos by Elk Raven Photography.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2021-22 issue.