GET OUT: Passion and Pain

By on February 23, 2016

Celebrating a mother’s militant love for cross-country skiing.

Left: A cross country newbie flails down the road. Top right: The merciless leader allows participants a quick break. Bottom right: Soaking in the views from Shadow Mountain. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Left: A cross country newbie flails down the road. Top right: The merciless leader allows participants a quick break. Bottom right: Soaking in the views from Shadow Mountain. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The essence of cross-country skiing can be, well, variable this time of year especially during spring melt. I carry the utmost respect for those lowland explorers and oftentimes have a hard time believing they are managing ever-changing conditions. The adventurer that I have developed the most respect for, possibly due to our blood connection, is my mother. When she’s here on vacation, she turns every day into an epic journey. Below are some of her classic cross-country ski places to which she consistently journeys despite the variable conditions of low-angle terrain.

Signal Mountain

If you can recall the day Teton Village blew down, perhaps it will help jog your memory on the epically windy conditions that day. I was mentally prepared to make breakfast and just hang with the folks but before I even cut the potatoes, they were out the door and raring to get outside in the pouring rain. Cautioning them of the “high wind” warning throughout the state, I was shocked at their motivation. In the comfort of my own home, I shivered as trees bent in half and the wind rattled the thin glass windows.

I called them and told them to be careful. They reported conditions were “great” and that the pouring rain had turned to snow and wind after rounding the bend. They apparently trekked the entire way up that 800-foot vertical road in that storm, wind and all.

“It was so beautiful. We didn’t see a soul,” reported my mother as she got back. I debated whether souls that want to stay living had that strong of a desire to go cross-country skiing in windstorms. My father was a bit more pragmatic when looking back at venturing into the eye of the storm, noting that the wind had put a damper on his ability to have a snack. He said he was glad he brought a good raincoat and that he was happy for the day to be done.

Granite Canyon to Phelps Lake

Now, one does not need to venture all the way to Phelps Lake, for Granite Canyon trailhead allows one to walk endlessly in circles in meadows. The journey to Phelps is only necessary if one tires of these meadows and allows the option of a new and exciting view that isn’t a flat meadow. The day after a large wind event, my mother skied around here and reported, “the most terrible conditions I’ve ever had.” The squall had blown off all of the snow, simulating conditions similar to an ice skating rink of infinite proportion.

I asked her why then had she stayed out that long, and how she survived that day. She replied that the thought of powder somewhere in those woods kept her going. “I just thought it would be soft somewhere,” she said. She even journeyed to the valley junction of Granite Canyon and attempted to ski down the large hill. While there seemed to be a light dusting of powder there, the proper hill line was unfortunately blocked by a few large, freshly fallen trees.

Shadow Mountain

After a week of venturing mostly solo, the cross-country ski hound successfully solicited a few other members of my family to join her on her last jaunt. Not everyone owned her specific expertise on the sport and there was some concern over everyone’s ability to survive the day, given the unpredictable conditions reported by the trusted guide. I tried to convince her to just ski the park road to which she recounted her distaste for the flats. She had her mind set on some vertical and she was going to drag anyone with her that wanted to go.

That sunny day I watched my beloved family members gear up, not knowing what they were getting into. While icy conditions persisted at the bottom of the road, packed powder varied with dust on crust made for perfect cross-country ski conditions. The warmth and sunlight aided our ability to maintain normal blood sugar levels (snack breaks), with my mother’s approval, of course. Plus, this ski offered great views of the peaks.

Final Note

Watching my mother enjoy this sport in rain, wind, snow and sun has been quite inspiring. But alas, I’m still not sure if I have that desire burning inside of me. The whole action of cross-country skiing is a full body workout and I’m not convinced the sacrifice is worth it. I choose the act of drinking coffee a little bit longer. For those looking for something more, why not explore the options of cross-country skiing? You may even grow to love it. PJH

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