It’s been a couple of years since I last blogged about cross-country skiing in which I wrote a recap of completing my 14th Birkie. Last year, just a week before the big race, I suffered a medical emergency that not only ended my season, but also required months of healing. Now, nine months later, my recovery is done, and I’ve been getting stronger and fitter through roller skiing, cycling, and strength training. I’m back on track to ski the Birkie once again in February.
To kick off this ski season, I traveled to Montana over Thanksgiving to attend the West Yellowstone Ski Festival. For years I’ve heard from my friends that it’s an event they loved and that I should someday experience, too.
And were they right!
There were at least three thousand skiers from around the world who enjoyed the perfect conditions that week — plenty of well-groomed snow on over 35 kilometers of rolling, pristine trails that wound through lodgepole forests laden with snow. The daytime sky was cobalt blue and the temps rose from below 0 into the pleasant 20s and 30s each day.
There were races to watch, lots of friends to meet and ski with, plenty of lung-busting altitude to adapt to, and gorgeous mountain views to stop and photograph. It seemed that everyone was in heaven, skiing at least twice a day, in the morning and afternoon.
The evening ski expo was a place to see new equipment from major ski companies, to hear lectures, to see films, and even enjoy a ski-clothing fashion show. And for Thanksgiving, people made sure everyone had a place to go for a holiday meal.
One afternoon at dusk, my friend Matt decided he needed an easy ski to end the day, so we went to the Riverside trail on the edge of town. From there, we double-poled through ungroomed snow and came to an opening that overlooked the rushing Madison River in Yellowstone Park. After a brief stop to enjoy the Madison Range to the north, Matt headed off along the river, and I scrambled to keep up as we went deeper into the park. As the sun was setting, Matt took off and, realizing that I couldn’t keep up with him, I stopped to wait for his return after he finished exploring. The stillness, the darkening sky, the wildness of Yellowstone Park was at once breathtaking and also scary. When Matt finally returned, we double-poled like mad back to town. It was exhilarating, and I have to admit I was relieved to be safe again.
What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving and good health than by starting my ski season in the mountains of Montana.
(Look for more about my trip to West Yellowstone in a future issue of Experience Life.)