Way back when, I was learning the basics of ski touring (randonnée skiing as they say over here) - not that it was so long ago, but it just wasn’t yet such a popular sport - I had switched to telemark skiing, mainly for the fact that you could use the same skis for climbing up as skiing down. The super-light and efficient Dynafit system wasn’t widely available, and let’s be honest, Fritschi touring bindings ski horribly.
I sharpened my skills on Teton Pass, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lapping untracked powder on runs named for turn-of-the-century trappers and by hippy pioneers that made first descents in the Tetons on very basic equipment - who definitely did not complain, or brag, for that matter. My doctor at the time, a tall cowboy who sported Wrangler’s and the epitome of the handle-bar mustache, was a local legend known for his adventures in the Tetons – both on snow and in whitewater. He never talked much about it, but his name is everywhere in the record books; it has also been said that he was one of the inspirations for a character in Edward Abbey’sMonkey Wrench Gang. Oh, to have an alter ego that secretly skied the lines that we all admired from afar, and fought for the American West long before environmentalism was even an concept in the rest of our minds.
Back to skinning… I can’t deny that had the trend then been to don spandex, run up a mountain with ultralight skis, and ride the lift back down, I would not have been interested. I consider myself more of a Dr. Bruce Hayse than a Florent Troillet.
Skinning in the Alps is a different game than in the Tetons (or at least how I remember them – I have heard it has since become very crowded). Long climbs above tree line, which at times can be seem a bit monotonous, or at the very least tiring, as the summit is all the while lingering 1000m+ above you. And then there are the people that like to skin right up the groomed piste, in the most crowded parts of the resort, which I cannot understand. The snow is typically more affected by wind and sun, and not to mention thearmies of endurance racers (and even sometimes armies of the more traditional sense, dressed in camo) packing down a highway with a double fall line, in their ultralight gear.
Our chalet / office in the Mayens de Bruson is about as close as I get to Teton Pass over here - not that I want the Alps to be any less themselves, but sometimes I just long for that meandering day in the forest, with pillow-covered trees and wood nymphs giggling in the powder. Luckily this year, that has not been a problem in our backyard. In the afternoons, I escape the computer and head out the door, making my own skin track on the chemin pedestre that climbs from Le Châble in the summertime. I spend the first 20 minutes thinking about work and struggling to break trail and get in the rhythm of the climb. I contemplate heading home and getting back to my list of tasks, and then I realize I have gone for another 20 minutes and the magic has happened. The rhythmic motion, slow and steady, silent in the forest…left, right, left, right. I stop and look behind me - how did I get here? Where has the past hour gone? Unintentionally, I was transported to a state of deep meditation, dreaming up ideas for travel and artistic endeavors, thinking about old friends and writing letters, far from the daily routine and stress of work.
Years ago, on a plane to Italy, I sat next to an Indian Sikh. I don’t normally seek (no pun intended) out conversation with my neighbors on a plane, but I could not say no to this man, he was in retrospect, the most calm and wise person I have ever met, and so it turns out he is also one of the leading psychic healers on the planet. He read my palm and aura, and told me that skiing was my religion; high in the mountains, I was closer to my God, and the graceful dance on the snow brought me closer to enlightenment. I was glad to be reminded of this while skinning in the back yard just last week.
See where breaking trail can take you, literally and spiritually.