While I was skiing with some friends in the solitude of the Utah backcountry the other day, I glanced over my shoulder to check their progress and saw something that awestruck me. It stirred my soul and I felt a connection! It reminded me of a statement made by Edward Abbey, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” This was the kind of panoramas that inspired poets and writers. The beauty of the colors and the contrasts in an environment where the air was crisp and clear culminated in a scene that was breathtaking. I had to take a picture and post it on social media. Few people, I thought, have the opportunity to enjoy such raw, pristine beauty. It needed to be shared.
As I gazed at the picture, however, I realized it did not capture what I saw and felt. A picture cannot capture the sounds or the smells, even the solitude. A picture cannot capture what the human eye can see, a panorama so beautiful, so spectacular, it was hard to describe. A depiction cannot produce the feeling of immersion in the splendor of such beauty. Frankly, most people will probably scroll past it and say, “Just another sunset picture.”
|Sunset skiing in Grizzly Gulch|
There is a reality, however, associated with the picture. It captured a moment which, when viewed, solicited all the sights and sounds and feelings I experienced as I stood there immersed in nature. I scroll through my own social media photos and videos from time to time in order to relive the moments and recall the effect it had on my “human spirit.” There are times when I wished I had taken more pictures. They are not only a record of activities I love, but they conjure feelings which can be lost with the expiration of time. A picture captures a story and recalls it to life, again.
For example, on the day I took this picture, I was skiing with a small group which include a friend whose name is Craig. He is a stout, middle-aged man who has a zest for life. He is a successful businessman who loves Mountain Dew. He is an amazing athlete who played college football and wrestling. And he has an insatiable appetite ……..for adventure. Despite his athletic prowess, his body bears the scars of time with two knee replacements and a fused ankle. Yet, he will not quit.
Last year, I exposed him to backcountry skiing. I took him to a spot called “Short Swing” in Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is an ideal run for a first-time experienced down hill skier. 1600 vertical feet at 30 degrees amidst interspersed quaking aspens. Once you ascend to a 9200’ unnamed peak, you glissade down the slope, weaving your way in and out of the trees. It is wonderful exhilaration.
It was interesting to observe Craig’s exuberance and excitement. He was sweating profusely early into our tour! I was amused that his gushing perspiration might create an ice hazard for those behind him. Despite the fact he was experiencing a ‘sufferfest,’ with great energy, he bounded forward with gusto, enjoying every minute of his adventure.
|Aaron backountry skiing in 3 pin bindings and leather boots (1995)|
To put things in perspective, backcountry skiing requires a certain level of fitness. Because I am a fitness trainer, I don’t really think about the stress and distress physical activities might create for someone else. I have been backcountry touring for years and, even when I feel out of shape, I can comfortably endure 5,000 vertical feet and feel pretty good. I forget what may be easy for me as a result of years of physical and mental conditioning could be an excruciating reality for others, such as Craig.
Even though Craig was physically willing and mentally prepared, after a couple of hours of climbing and losing 10lbs of water weight, he was spent. 200-feet from reaching top he had to throw in the towel. There wasn’t much energy left in his tank for the down hill return. Yet, as a result of his skiing expertise, he gracefully carved his way through the Aspen trees and, despite his weariness, he could not keep from smiling.
For some, this might have been labeled as horrible experience, e.g. to work yourself into exhaustion, not reaching the majestic view from the top of the summit. For Craig, however, it was the impetus for a new obsession, backcountry skiing. He and his wife purchased backcountry skiing equipment, learned the fundamentals of backcountry touring, worked on their conditioning, took an avalanche class, and started touring in the solitude and beauty of the Utah wilderness.
Shortly after the experience with Craig, I went to Moab area with some other friends to ski in the La Sal range at the Geyser Pass Yurt near the base of Haystack mountain. We skied for three days until our legs had become like puddy. There was nothing left to hold us up. Yet, these are the experiences for which I live. I would be happy to survive on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to enjoy the majestic beauty of Haystack Peak, Mount Mellenthin, Mount Peale,and Mount Tukuhnikivatz. There is simply nothing that compares to the raw beauty of nature in all seasons of the year!
Upon my return from the La Sal mountains, I told Craig what we had done with so much excitement that he wanted to experience it, too. Which brings me back to the picture mentioned above. It has become one of my missions in life to expose as many people as I can to things that, perhaps, would currently not be on their radar. Or, in other words, get people off the ‘freeway’ of life, have them slow down, and take a two-lane road to some of the most gorgeous country God has created, the backcountry of Utah. Hike, bike, ski, it does not make any difference. Rather than let National Geographic televise the wonders of our country, I want them to get out and enjoy it first-hand. I want to help people create their own memories and recall the elation as they witness the spectacular beauty of nature in a way they thought would never be possible.
Craig has committed himself to a training program that we hope will enable him to ski 10,000 vertical feet in a day. To put that into perspective that is like hiking from the base of Snowbird Resort to the top of the tram……… 3 times. He will follow an intense training program that encompasses high intensity weight training, hours on the stair master, and touring every weekend with me.
It’s like a scene from Rocky IV. The music starts as Craig walks into the gym. He screams with pain and agony as he finishes his squat, leg press, and lunge circuits. He reaches total exhaustion as he transitions from single step to double step intervals on the StairMaster, peaking his heart rate at 170 bpm each interval. And then listens to his incessant coach bark, “Technique,Technique, TECHNIQUE!” and “Keep your heart rate under threshold,” as we tour natures training ground.
Craig is so excited for this adventure. Every training session he expresses how he can barely wait to go to Moab. He is like a little boy on Christmas Eve enthralled with excitement to open his presents. He has trained hard for this event. I can't wait to see the hordes pictures that capture priceless memories, and remind me of why I love what I do.