There’s nothing like signing discharge papers to make you rethink your plan. Add to that conflicting information from the front desk staff of the resort and you’ve got a case of swarming butterflies in the belly. And to top it all off, being the only one going up the hill, getting pointed at and smiled at by the downhill skiers, is a sure way to make you feel à contre-sens, literally and figuratively.
The birth of the plan
Ever since I moved back out east, I wanted to recreate the adventure-style skiing experiences I had out west. This is a little naive, probably, but this is what pushed me up Mont-Tremblant a few weekends ago.
Out west, I was blessed with an adventurous boyfriend who applied himself to show me a good time. We went on an adventure every single weekend. Within two months of moving there, I was AST-1 certified, despite the fact that I hadn’t been alpine skiing for more than 15 years. Good times ahead, indeed!
For my first back country ski tour I gathered a bunch of avy-savvy friends around my plan to go in the Kananaskis. It was not the best experience of my life. I got hurt, scared, and met my limits. It has left some scars on my self-esteem and confidence but I went touring again, in the hope to desensitize myself to the bad experience. I was in love with the back country, with it’s utter wilderness.
This accessibility to the back country was not something I had experienced in Quebec, when my limited adventurous heart combined with the density of the population and scarcity of wild places, made for rather civilized outings.
Setting the plan in motion
This winter, the second since my return to the Belle Province, I set out to earn my turns. I have tried and failed to rally friends around my plan but luck finally struck. I stumbled upon an ad: Mont-Tremblant newly opened their mountain to Alpine Touring. This was the opportunity I was waiting for: to try it out by myself, sheltered in a very structured environment, but offering the semi-quietness and challenge I was looking for. Luck struck a second time when I received an invitation from a group of friends to rent a chalet at Mont-Tremblant for the weekend. Their plan was to snowshoe and cross-country ski. I told them my plan and said “Qui m’aime me suive (or Let he who loves me follow me)”.
[Insert cricket sound].
Out west, I had bought an old pair of beaten up touring boots. That was before I understood how to choose ski boots and didn’t want to spend too much money on something I didn’t know anything about. I’ll get back to this seemingly small detail later. I still needed to rent the skis and skins and it turned out to be quite the expedition. Touring has gained greatly in popularity in Quebec and rentals must be done two weeks in advance. However, the costs are about half the price of those in Alberta. I got a pair with Dynafinicky bindings and the morning of, in the living room of the chalet, before my friends got up and got a chance to laugh at me, I set out to practice how to put them on and off. You see, I had the pleasure of using them before and, as I remembered, they well deserve their name, in my newbie opinion.
As I climbed up in the crowded shuttle bus, I felt 40 pairs of eyes looking at me. I had a big back pack and my powder skis and bindings were attracting attention. Across the central aisle of the shuttle sat a smiling sixty-something woman with a similar attire. She was taking a friendly and giddy sixty-something man up his first touring experience. We chatted and discussed our respective plans. Arriving at the resort, we said good bye and I looked up at the top of the mountain, looming 590 meters above me, sighed and started skinning up the ski slopes.
Thank goodness, the up track only partially followed the green run of the resort. After half an hour, I finally entered the safety haven of the woods. I could still see the downhill skiers through the branches but I wasn’t scared anymore that one of them would loose control and ram into me. Also, their sound was buffered, which was a great relief. I felt like a wild animal looking at the civilization, hiding in a protective forest.
For the first half of the up track, the slope was gentle enough and I only met one snowshoer coming down, another fifty-something woman who warned me of people coming down the up track closer to the summit.
About half-way up, it did get a little bit steeper. But more importantly, I startled many snowboarders and skiers coming down. A group of them fell one on top of the other when they saw me and tried to stop before ramming into me. I was glad nobody got hurt, and snickered at the silliness of the show: 5 guys pilled up on top of the other.
Beside the obvious security problem rogue skiers and snowboarders poses, it also ices up the up track and my skins (or was it my technique) became insufficient. I had to step out of the trail to zigzag my way up steeper parts or hook my arms around trees and pull my sorry ass up. It’s hard to blame these people because the snow near the top became super fluffy and powdery. I can understand the appeal of a less skied path.
The up track joined the downhill run again at the top. Millions of people (I’m not exagerating much) zoomed past me, excited to pass the crowd and get down their favorite run. One of them missed his turn and stumbled right toward me. I got annoyed. There is definitely room for improvement here.
I looked at my watch: it took me 2 h 55 min to get up. I stretched my sore hip flexors and took my skis off with wobbly legs. I was too tired to take my lunch out of my back pack so I simply walked to the cafeteria, perched at the top of the mountain, ordered a hot chocolate and a brownie, and contemplated the run down. Given the state of fatigue I was in, I decided to go down the easiest run.
That’s when I realized that I had no control on my turns. The boots are so ill fitted and painful, that in retrospect, I think they might have been the reason why I had such a hard time out west. I can now appreciate the value of well fitted boots because I bought some new ones recently for downhill skiing. And the comparison is striking. Fast-forward a few hours, marinating with my friends in the hot tub, I convinced them to follow me to the mid-mountain on their snowshoes the next day. We would part at the chairlift. They would take the chair lift down and I would once again go down a green run, not confident enough with my boots to go through the glades we went up. Next time I go, I’ll do this trail instead. The glades were more open and the powder was still au rendez-vous. But most importantly, I wasn’t as tired as the previous day. Next time, with new gear.