Only a handful of people actually understand why I left work early, seemingly abandoning my day-to-day responsibilities, to fly to Seattle. Truth be told, it wasn’t an impulsive desire to chase winter storms (although as luck would have it there were plenty of those throughout the trip), and while I imagine myself still being brazen enough to throw fiscal responsibility and work obligations to the wind, the reality is that I have slowed down a lot. Now I regularly engage in a process known as “planning.”
The actual reason for the trip was to complete my AIARE ITC1. After a productive winter apprenticing for Acadia Mountain Guides, I decided to take the next professional steps needed to strengthen my qualifications and abilities as an avalanche educator. The time and financial resources required to realize this goal are in short supply, but intrinsic motivation and blind passion are stronger motivators than objective reality.
The ITC was a great course, put on by some of the most accomplished snow professionals there are. Moreover, the location at The Mountaineers Lodge at Stevens Pass afforded the opportunity to work in close proximity with fellow students and course leaders throughout standard classroom sessions, as well as during unstructured evening time. Ultimately, it was a full immersion in avalanche education for seventy-two hours. Leaving the course I felt humbled and inspired, confident in some abilities, while simultaneously understanding that I have years of training and work ahead. Fortunately, I also left the course with three free days before flying back East.
Innate talent and hard work account for a lot in life; however, pure dumb luck is often the variable that makes something really good become uniquely special. This was the case on my trip to the Cascades. Over the course of three days I was able to ski Mt. Baker, Stevens Pass, Alpental, and Crystal Mountain. Each place provided phenomenal skiing, but Crystal was “all time;” providing incredible terrain uniformly blanketed in deep light density snow, with minimal crowds. By the time I reached The Snorting Elk late Sunday afternoon my quad muscles were spent, high fives were plentiful, and smiles were impossible to erase. Luck was on my side.
Yet, the truth is “steep and deep” is simply the siren call to which likeminded groups of winter enthusiasts flock. Each alpine region has it’s own unique variation of these individuals, but the passion is identical regardless of the geographical range one skis and climbs in. Thus, the best part of this trip wasn’t the snow (it was a close second), the best part of the trip was that I was able to ski with the mentors and friends who a decade ago gave me the inspiration and permission to spend my life in the mountains. Interestingly, not all of these people are skiers or climbers. Some are musicians, some are doctors, some work in tall buildings, and others are relatively new to skiing. However, each individual possesses the kindness, generosity, joy, and compassion that make traveling across the country to sleep on floors, in bunkhouses, and in cars feel like returning home.
As I wait in an airport restaurant for a cancelled and then delayed flight (the ole one-two punch of the airline industry), I am looking forward to taking the knowledge and inspiration I gleaned from my ITC to help people travel safely in the backcountry. More importantly though, I am looking forward to taking the sum total of my experiences as a reminder to keep the couch ready, gas tank filled, and rock skis on hand for others who are looking for a home.