Well, I guess it’s time to accept the end of the ski season. Sure, we’re all antsy and wanting to get outside. There are plenty of turns to be had, but it’s far from the time to be getting after it as we all love to do. For now, it’s time for space, a step back, and a bit of reflection.
This winter was nothing less than a rush. It began quite quickly, with finishing up a semester of graduate school and knowing the travels January would bring. My head was all over the place. I decided it would be best to have my base be my hometown of Taos, New Mexico, where my family still lives. This way, my dog Bodhi would have a place to stay while I was traveling, and I could spend my downtime skiing my home resort of Taos Ski Valley. In December, I packed up my things, myself, and Bodhi and hit the road headed south.
We spent Christmas with the family and good friends. My brother, JC, and I went up to Jackson for a few days to play in the backcountry with an old coach and good friend of ours. We took some sleds out to explore, built a jump, and found some dreamy turns. It was a perfect little trip to end the holidays, and a great way to start what would be a whirlwind of competition season.
My parents and I flew out of Denver, CO, en route to Hakuba Valley, Japan on January 13th. Their season was just getting started as their legendary ‘japow’ was a little late to the party.
Being a rookie, I really wasn’t sure what to expect as far as the down days went so the first day on snow exceeded my expectations by a long shot. A crew of riders walked out of the hotel and we explored Hakuba Happo-One, where the first stop of the Freeride World Tour would take place a few days later. The snow was variable, but the views were breathtaking. It was a great start to the tour.
As the first stop on tour, I was extremely nervous that my skiing may not be up to par, or that I would be in the wrong headspace coming out of the start gate. Really, I was nervous because it’s freeride. Anything can happen on any given day – snow conditions, avalanche danger, start order, weather, visibility, etc. I’ve learned not to have any expectations of myself or any factors that are out of my control.
Inspection day was a whole different game than I was used to. Competing on the Freeride World Qualifiers in the Americas is a bit different when it comes to inspecting a face. In the Americas we get on snow inspections the day of the competition, and sometimes the day before as well. That means we get to see every turn, our in-runs and out-runs, how big the drops really are, and how much space is between each feature. For the Freeride World Tour, and the European qualifying circuit, visual inspection is all we get. This means we're given a place where the entire face can be seen, most often on a ridge across from the face, or sometimes from the finish line. Binoculars can be used, and forerunners are sent to assess the snow conditions and give drops a relative size.
Hakuba was my first visual inspection. I stood on the ridge for hours, creating multiple different lines in different zones of the venue. The snow looked rock hard in some places, and cream-cheesy in others. I returned to the hotel on inspection day having decided on a fast run with a few small hits. I was excited to see how my skiing compared to everyone, but I hadn't decided to get too crazy.
Things changed come competition day. First light riding solo up the gondola, music blaring and having my own little dance session, I knew it was going to be a good day. There were some clouds early morning creating a bit of a weather hold. An upside to this, though, was that I was able to watch a couple of snowboarders before I made my way to the start gate. The snow had changed since inspection – it got softer and dang, those boarders made it look really, really fun. That’s when I decided that I wasn’t there to take it easy and ski a safe line… rather, I was there to ski an untracked face and step out of my comfort zone. Last minute, I chose one of the most burly lines on the face. Not because it was the most burly, but because it was something I wanted to ski no matter the outcome. It got my nerves pumping (which, fun fact, results in the same adrenaline release as excitement), and turned on a whole new headspace for what was to come.
To most people’s surprise, choosing a line that scares me actually results in being more calm for me. I took a deep breath, a long trace of the surrounding ridgelines, and put one foot in front of the other until I reached the start gate. Funny thing, I wasn’t even thinking about the rest of my run while standing in the start gate. I was so wrapped up in inspecting the bigger features that I had forgotten to inspect where I would go right out of the start gate!
“3, 2, 1… droppin’,” the starter said, I pushed out of the gate and hoped for the best. Skied over a few rocks, but made it out of the gate! Wohoo! The rest of the run was a blur. I know my landmarks so well, I really didn’t need to think about much. As I approached the bigger feature at the bottom, the only thing I could think of was “no hesitation.” I pointed ‘em and suddenly felt my legs back on the ground. I stomped. That was rad. Then… had a little more heat than anticipated as the snow was extremely variable. On my second turn on, I lost my balance and went for a spin… or a few.
Getting to the finish line after gathering my gear I was far from bummed. The stoke was high to have sent a sizeable feature like that. Luck wasn’t on my side that day, and I decided that I wanted the rest of my season to be about skiing lines that excited me. I didn’t want to dial back my skiing and stay on my feet if that meant avoiding the thrilling lines. Hakuba was just the start of an amazing season.
I had a few days at home prior to making my way to Kicking Horse, BC for the second stop. Skiing in Taos Ski Valley with some of my favorite people was exactly what I needed to decompress (literally, after that crash!) and get back to sending some local hits. I drove from New Mexico to Golden, BC, and was greeted with some of the best snow yet.
Ozone, the competition face, was something I had dreamed of skiing since I first competed in Kicking Horse in 2017. I had my eye on a few different lines, both enticing with creamy snow. I opted for the biggest drop I had ever done in competition before. Ski women were the second category to drop, following snowboard women, so we would have fresh tracks on most of our drops.
Competition day rolled around and I was a little more nervous than I was for Japan. I dropped second to last, so I wouldn’t get to watch any of the other skiers (which is one of the best parts!). The women’s ski field was quick to run, meaning we were absolutely slaying the face and I was dropping earlier than expected. The snow conditions were all-time. Coming out of the start gate, all I could think of was my bottom air. The rest of the run flew by, I really can’t say I remember much of it, but every second of the bottom part is quite vivid. I took one left footer around my landmarked tree, shut down speed until a small bush on my left hand side, and point ‘em from there. I knew I had to pop off the takeoff as hard as I could, and I still remember coming close to the rocks below the takeoff. Falling quickly towards my landing, I didn’t think there were any chance of me skiing out of it. It was a big air for a small girl! I was pushed backseat a little, but my quads fired up and kept me upright.