Ebbs and flows

A few years ago, Gerhard Gross wrote the best article I’ve ever read in a snowboard magazine, The Science of Stoke, digging in to explain what one of the most over-used word in our mountain culture actually means, endocrinologically-speaking.

His revelations about the ebb and flow of the chemical high that keeps us so addicted to our pursuits stuck with me, and as I sat down to write a feature for SBC Skier magazine about a girls’ trip to Revelstoke, my brain kept insisting on connecting the dots.

Because that trip, the ebb was at a low.

Avalanche conditions were sketchy, half the crew had just come out of a storm-soaked dude-dominated photo shoot, while Tessa Treadway and Laura Ogden were taking their first turns together since a fatal avalanche in 2010 that had killed Laura’s husband Jack.

Small talk, Kodak moments and powder turns were constantly butting up against some serious shit. Jim Jack, Johnny Brennan and Chris Rudolph had just been killed in an avalanche, and other friends passed while were were skiing in Revelstoke that week – Nik Zoricic and Jackson Hole’s Steve Romeo and Chris Onufer. The truth was, every single one of our crew was skiing with a kernel of loss sitting on their shoulder.

As one of our athletes, who’s ridden her own highs and lows (brilliantly captured by Tess Weaver in this Powder mag story), Izzy Lynch, founder of the Live it. Love it Foundation, said:

This trip had a big impact on all of us- Tessa Treadway, Laura Ogden, Tatum Monod, Lynsey Dyer and Leah Evans and myself. We  battled avalanche conditions and light – trying to make the most of the opportunity to ski and shoot together, and got to know ourselves a little bit better in the process. Lynsey and Tatum and I had just finished a week of shooting together, making fun of ourselves with #shitskiergirlssay video… and as Tessa and Laura traveled to Revelstoke from Pemberton, they realized this was the first time they would ski together since Jack’s accident in 2010 (see article for more details). As a result the pendulum swung from silly to heavy, and back again, as we spent time together shredding lines and hitting dongers, cautiously tiptoeing around a heavy avalanche cycle in the Selkirks, laughing till we cried, and working to capture the essence of Revelstoke in the rain. The result of the trip was this — an article in the latest SBC SKIER by Lisa Richardson with photos by Robin O’Neill... an awareness of the multiple dimensions of our skiing universe and a strengthened bond between all of us “skier girls”

It was an amazing opportunity to get to know 7 incredible women who I’d never met before – pro athletes who have also created things like the Rad Boob calendar, Girls Do Ski clinics, and SheJumps, women whose default mode is brave, whether they be on or off the hill.

And I drove home thinking: can I really write about this?

Can I write about loss like a living thing? Can I write about the opposite of Stoke in a ski magazine?

I warned my editor : This might be darker than you’re expecting.

There was nothing I could to do to warn Laura and Tessa.

“Hey,” I had said to them one morning, riding the chair. “I think the story here is you.”

“Tell the story you feel drawn to tell,” they said. So, I had to trust that they meant that.

(Brave or naive? I wondered.)

As it turns out, the answer is brave. Straight up.

Laura emailed me a week ago, after the article ran. “I love it,” the email started, and an immense weight lifted off my shoulder and flew off into the woods. It’s an email I’ll treasure and it’s meant for me, but I’ll share this one small part of it…

Thank you for telling a piece of the story – a big one. I am so glad that it is out there that yes, people survive this shit, and the surviving continues on for their whole life. It is not a static thing.

Here’s the truth about skiing. It can be one of the most joyful, stoke-filled things we ever do. But it can also be heavy. It complicates and deepens as we develop scar tissue, and the experience isn’t always just pure stoke. But the show must go on, as Laura says. We all have to learn to transform the meaning of skiing for ourselves, to evolve past the days when it’s no longer just light-filled innocent fun.

Laura added a post-script to the email:

I am HAPPY, just so you know.

Which gave me a little burst of pure stoke. There’s no one I know who deserves it more.

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