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Words and art by Claire Giordano
Photos by Patrick Mauro
As the first cobalt shadows stretched across the snow I skied slowly up a gentle slope. A year before I traveled to the same area in the Methow Valley on cross country skis with mixed success and a high ratio of falls to forward progress. In the spirit of trying something new for a second year in a row (and if I’m honest with myself because I like edges and stiff boots) this year I rented backcountry (AT) skis, skins, and boots from Ascent Outdoors. Within minutes of strapping watercolor paper to my pack, clicking into my bindings in the parking lot and setting out I was immediately hooked.
In January I was invited on a trip to the coveted Rendezvous huts in the Methow Valley. Reserved at least a year in advance, the system of backcountry huts and groomed trails is the perfect place to retreat from the daily grind and to try new snow activities in a low risk area. I grew up downhill skiing and going to my local ski area was always the best part of winter. In the last few years, however, the resorts became increasingly crowded and many of my friends invested in backcountry gear and avalanche courses instead of lift tickets. Unsure if I was ready to invest in a whole new ski setup and skillset, renting allowed me to try a new sport.
For most of my life skiing was about going down- the pursuit of perfect turns in powder or carving railroad tracks at high speed in the spring. The anticipation of sliding downhill quickly on fancy sticks made the grey winters in Seattle bearable; when it rained in the city, it was snowing in the mountains. In the Methow valley, however, I experienced a new side of skiing. It was skiing characterized by time to visit with friends, to notice the weak winter sun filtering through charred pine trees, to appreciate the effort it took to move uphill. Rather than hurriedly stuffing cold snacks in my face on a chairlift and zooming to the next run, we were forced to slow down and be present to each other and the beautiful place.
The details I noticed while moving deliberately through the hills made their way into each painting I created at the hut. I found myself with the luxury of time to imagine which colors I would blend to match the deep blue of snowy shadows and how I would paint the low clouds that hung in the valley below us. The AT skis opened a new way to appreciate, observe, and travel through the winter landscape. And the few descents we enjoyed were that much better, highlighted by the effort it took to earn them.
After four days on backcountry skis exploring in rare winter sun and painting, I have found my new favorite winter sport. In two weeks, I will complete my first avalanche class, and I am already scheming with friends to plan our next trip.
For more information on Claire Giordano, visit her website HERE
For more information on the Ascent Outdoors AT Ski set up she used click HERE.