When skiing steep and exposed terrain, a skier needs to be 100% focused. A small slip of a ski edge, a milli-second loss of attention or even a simple misjudgment in terrain or snow conditions, can have very serious consequences and even lead to injury. Distractions can definitely be hazardous to oneâ€™s health in the mountains.
Yesterday, I had plans to ski a steep and classic couloir in the Tetons. The sky was blue, the snow was soft (at least the stuff not getting lots of sun) and the day started off with a cold and early morning skin under the hue of alpenglow on the surrounding mountains. By all accounts, the day should have been stellar. But, it wasnâ€™t even close.
I should have known the night before that my head was in no condition to ski extreme terrain the following day. Unable to sleep, I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling until the late hours of the nightâ€¦thinking about the tragic loss of fellow Jacksonite, Ray Shriver, just hours earlier. My mind was a mess, and my thoughts buzzed back and forth with so many questions that need to be answered as well as deep sorrow for the family and friends that Ray left behind.
I know there are no answers to many of the questions I have. Yet, they still lurk inside my head and beg for somethingâ€¦anything. I also know it is important to get back on the horse during troubling times, as sitting around and being depressed is no way to honor a fallen heroâ€™s life. But, when your mind is not clear, what one needs is simple, predictable terrain and snow conditions, not high intensity couloirs and survival skiing with question marks after every turn.
Needless to say, plans to ski the steeps were aborted an hour-or-so from the trailhead, and the skin track proceeded to follow a track with no real destination. One ski in front of the other, one thought of Ray after another, as the sun and wind acted like is was just another day. The only objective was to stay away from any hint of snow-pack instability or sketchy terrain. Boring? Maybe. Healing? Definitely.