There are a lot more men than women who ski, but on the most difficult terrain, I want to make sure to represent my sex. That’s not always an easy feat.
At Breckenridge Ski Resort, the T-bar takes you to some of the best and steepest skiing in the area. Since only one or two go up at a time, the lift lines can be long. It can be challenging to hang on and embarrassing to fall off. Wipeouts are most common when people sit on the springy bar in the beginning or drop off when facing the headwall at the top. Many times, I’ve called out, “Are you okay?” after watching equipment become a yard sale. It can be cheap entertainment. Hey. I’ve been there too.
But riding up the T-bar can be tricky — for snowboarders, even more perilous. I’ve seen the most successful boarders ride sideways with the bar between their legs. It’s different for skiers. Instead of straddling the T, two skiers hold the middle bar while the bottom of the T tucks under their rear ends. It’s a lot harder while skiing single, especially when you don’t have much of a butt and wear slippery ski pants.
Two seasons ago, I skied solo when my husband went on a ski trip with his buddies. Breck got a massive snowstorm. I was up and out early to hit the T-bar when it opened. I yelled, “Single!” to find someone to ride up with me. On top of the ridge, I skied past the first wind-packed run, Pika and then Ptarmigan to White Crown and the runs beyond.
By the end of the day, the storm kicked up again. Wind blasted the top. No one waited in the T-bar line. But the snow was heavenly. Deep. Fresh powder measured in feet.
I went for it and rode up alone.
I hung on tight while the crosswind forced me off the hard-pack. I quickly realized my mistake. Although I’m right-handed and usually sit on the left side, it made me more vulnerable. My arm clutched the bar as my butt threatened to slide off the T.
As I approached the headwall, the wind became fierce. I lost my grip and tumbled down the steep slope. While free-falling, I braced for pain. My shoulder and hips took the impact. I landed in a heap.
A lady ski patroller rode single behind me and called out, “Are you okay?”
I imagined that my flailing body had become comic relief. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
I pulled myself to standing and skied down the worst run of all. The powder had blown away. Exposed rocks snagged the edges of my skis. All that effort wasted.
On subsequent trips that year and the next, I always waited for a partner. Even then, I gripped the bar as if my life depended on it.
This weekend, I skied solo again. The northern mountains finally received some decent snow. I hit the slopes and skied to the T-bar to check it out. With COVID restrictions in place, I’d have to ski up alone.
Did I dare?
Falling snow reduced visibility. I couldn’t see the top.
I considered my body’s condition. My knees and legs are much stronger than last year, but my upper body? Not so much. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Even the groomers had fresh powder. I could ski the lower runs and still have a blast.
I gazed back up the mountain. Powder formed in the wake of happy skiers and boarders as they carved back down to the T-bar. There was a lot more snow up there. I headed to the longest line and watched.
Even though the wind was non-existent, many skiers and boarders fell after attempting to start their ride up. They had to start over again at the back of the line. I watched the liftie to see what was happening. She handed the bar to them way too low.
I tried not to overthink it. The line behind me grew.
Then it was my turn.
You can do this, I said to myself. I’ve ridden it a hundred times. And yet, my ridiculous tumble came to mind. I didn’t want to hurt myself with two ski trips coming up.
I grabbed the bar with my right hand and started up the mountain. It wasn’t hard at all. Without the wind to blow me off, I relaxed.
Then, the snowboarder ahead of me fell off and rode down Pika. While watching him, I wonked off balance, quickly corrected my skis, and kept my eyes on the prize. The lift disappeared in the snow ahead. Two skiers fell off. Luckily, they scooted out of the way in time.
The headwall appeared in the final stretch. The bar lowered with the trajectory. I hung on tight. My forearms burned. Once at the top, I held on until I was well beyond the cliff. Then I released the T-bar, sending it spazzing out away from me.
I made it.
The snow fence still hadn’t been assembled along the ridge. We need more snow. As I skied past Pika and Ptarmigan, I watched for White Crown, but couldn’t see the sign. A man in ski patrol gear adjusted his boots ahead of me.
“Is this White Crown?” I asked. I was almost positive but didn’t want to waste a run if I was wrong.
“Yeah, the sign keeps blowing down. I’m up here to fix it.”
“That’s great. It’s one of my favorite runs.” I studied the lay of the land. There were the usual fences and exposed rocks, but the swale appeared full of snow. That’s what I love about it. The run is pretty easy and protected from the wind. I would make fresh tracks.
I started down. The snow was deep. Soft. Easy to carve. Without the wind, the two feet of snow over the last week covered everything.
“Be careful!” shouted the ski patroller from behind me.
I flinched. Would he have said that to me if I were a guy?
He could be watching, waiting for the yard sale.
Instead, I represented.
Skiing is dangerous, but I would never judge anyone’s ability. It would have been different had he pointed out a rocky area. I expected this particular run — always protected and filled with powder — to be full of hidden obstacles. It wasn’t. Even when heli-skiing, no one singled me out. The guides were supposed to warn the whole group. Somehow, I survived to blog about that wild adventure!
Do you think women are treated equally when it comes to sports? Have you ever felt pressure to represent your sex? Are you ready for more winter or do you wish it were summer?
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