This new mama has her heels locked. For you non-skiers, this means I’ve put away my telemark skis (free heel) in our basement ski room and brought out the alpine boards. While my lifelong love affair with skiing began before I was three years old, telemark skiing was a fairly recent endeavor for me. I learned to tele in 2008 and committed myself thoroughly to lunging down the mountain, and a year later, learned how to race telemark. In 2010, while training for the US National Championships, held at Whitefish Mountain Resort, I met Cole. And in the following years, we fell in love, raced around the world, got married, and raced some more. I suffered multiple injuries during my tele race career, from a partial shoulder dislocation to a season-ending neck injury in Steamboat Springs. Then the winter following, after I decided to stop racing, I broke my arm.
I gave up my skinny race skis in 2013 after said neck injury, shifting my focus from red and blue gates to building a brewery. But I didn’t give up telemark skiing, and instead of training gates, Cole and I ventured into the backcountry, skied powder, and even participated in a local ski mountaineering race where the objective is to be the fasted person climbing up the mountain. I’ve been racing the clock down a slope since a child, so racing uphill was completely foreign to me. While I enjoy the leg burn exercise of skinning, I’m no ski mountaineer racer. I’ll go down fast, but not up.
When I found out I was pregnant last winter, I quickly decided that given my damned accident prone luck combined with the balance needed to telemark, it’d be in the best interest for all parties involved for me to switch back to alpine skis. I didn’t ski much last year, even after shifting back to alpine skis, fearing the worst with the growing “Figgy” inside of me. I stuck to safer activities like cross-country skiing and dashing through the snow. Oh wait, nope, no dashing. Just walking and trying not to succumb to the exhaustion and nausea of the first trimester.
This winter, after giving birth to Charlie, I realized, for many reasons that it’d be best to give my tele skis another winter off and on the few precious days I got to ski, stick to alpine. For one, I’m not in the best shape and am quite certain my post-childbirth body needs to regain strength and balance before I unlock the heel. Also, I’m a mom now. Which means I’m responsible for this bright little light in my life, and any injury would be devastating. Can you imagine trying to breastfeed with a broken arm? Or carry an infant around with a torn ACL? When I ride up the chairlift, knowing my ski time is limited to an hour and a half while Charlie hangs with dad at the base, I remind myself that the beautifully taut line between freedom and control, that intoxicating feeling I get sliding on snow, is one that I must maintain. No longer just for my health but also for Charlie. So I try and take it slower, am more careful on my lines and decisions I make in the trees and chutes. A not so little voice yanks on my ear as I navigate the socked in days atop Big Mountain, be careful. Be there for Charlie.
Those on the mountain who knew me as a tele skier give me a fair bit of grief when they see my on my alpine gear. I explain the whole: I-just-gave-birth-and-am-not-strong-yet spiel, plus I add that to telemark ski and love it, one must be able to practice it frequently. The truth is, alpine skiing is much easier. Especially for this new mom who maybe gets to ski one day per week, and average just for four to six runs. With locked heels, I can make the most of my precious skis runs, from flexing the skis and carving turns on groomers to hop turning through North Bowl Chute into an apron of fluffy powder and still feel like a badass.
See, here’s the thing with skiing and me: since I was a little girl the physicality of the sport has given me confidence. Confidence in my body’s strength and power, especially as someone built with large thighs. Pure joy: in the connection between body and nature, the rush and exhilaration of speed and turn. And in some of life’s low moments, skiing is what keeps me buoyant and happy. Motherhood is a domain where my confidence hasn’t always been stable. I don’t know how many 3am Google searches I’ve logged, typing “is this normal for an infant to…?” The countless texts to my mom, asking questions. The long walks with my friend Jen, a new mother herself, and our endless discussions about how our bodies are healing, diaper changes, crying, nursing and more. Filled with so much damn love and joy, I’ve also encountered those many moments where mothering has left me shaken and raw, wondering if I can do it (nurse, soothe, put to sleep the “right” way, raise a child to not be an asshole, etc). Thankfully my life is surrounded my the many women, mothers, who offer their support, a good joke, and well-timed advice. And then, there’s skiing. A terrain where I feel a little more powerful, a little more settled with myself. Floating down the mountain in a body that’s a little heavier in weight than normal, that’s been stretched and pulled, and ultimately re-created in creation of itself, skiing has helped me embrace motherhood.
While I’m venturing into completely new territory as a mom, it feels damn good to return to my skiing roots.