A love letter to Girdwood.

Where do I even begin.

Your charm isn’t simply the fruit of your streets being named after ski resorts or your abundance of precipitation. It isn’t even down to your line caught salmon or your inescapable alpenglow. Your magic is from something much more.

Your assets are the responses you provoke. That manifests itself in numerous ways, but the most wonderful are the friendships you’ve allowed me to form. I had a bitter parting with a ski last year, and had a morsel of anguish in my system when I trudged over to Powderhound to get a new set up. Eric is at the helm(brecht) of gear advisory and helped me acquire suitable tools for my quest: wide skis which I could float, navigate and tour with, and all the essentials I managed to lose somewhere in Italy last year. I should admit I have ski width vertigo thanks to things I have witnessed on chair lifts. It was here, in this wonderful store, that I got to meet someone very special.

Brooke Edwards is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her neon effervescence is every shade of love for the great outdoors. It is refreshing to meet someone who is genuinely humble and supportive of others relishing their relationship with the outdoors. She is an unbelievable skier, with or without her telemark heels (or actual heels for that matter), and has this extensive knowledge and understanding approach to skiing which is utterly remarkable and wholly individual. By pure chance, she was in the store when I picked up my skis, overheard my qualms about my beacon and invited me to a snow safety clinic. Her  unfeigned kindness shattered a certain armour as I had not felt it in a VERY long time. The connection with Brooke is one of the things that ultimately made my trip. It was her who put the goodness in the salmon and brought warmth to my cheeks by introducing me to exceptionally talented company over a wild west board game, which, I still don’t really know how to play.

Another relationship I made was with the mountain. She knows when to help you out, boot you off, and exercise your demons. She purged riders who didn’t turn up until two feet of fresh hit her faces. The temperature hindered pack  gave ski patrol a field day with casualties who couldn’t quite hang on to their edges, and separated the riders from the terrain masters. The buzz of the powder day blitz left the next day for the locals; those who were exhausted and ill prepared left to ice their bruises, leaving the locals to come out and play for some unbelievable chalky pow once the sky started to dust a little more. Alyeska knows how to crowd bust. The mountain knows when to rough you up and send you home. The terrain difficulty is concentrated and the snow texture is beguilingly variable. In truth and with no exaggeration, I completely relearned how to ski here.

The mountain also knows when to send back up.

On the 16th of February I ended up hiking up the Headwall. This area is a gorgeous canvas of chute skiing, and when the conditions are pristine, the skiing is out of this world.

I froze on the top of my line, and had a heavy full body flashback of my accident and lost it for a few minutes.

Once my vision cottoned back to my brain I saw my friend Matt Elliott to my right, above me was the beautiful ski patroller I got to speak to a few times on the chair lift (she also rips), and somewhere on my left was Brooke. Above me was a web of safety, and that got some electrical impulses to my legs that made some awful, awful, turns, and got me down to the bottom of the mountain. It was an ugly run on a beautiful face, and I dislike admitting to the happenings of such a convulsive attack. I eventually had to go and start grounding myself (‘I am sat on a blue bench, my hands are on a table, I’m looking out towards the north face’) and ended up lapping the resort in an attempt to lose lot of nervous energy. I would have continued to do so until the last chair where it not for Brooke who got me down to debrief the situation to me outside the Sitz. A hug and tears and angry truthful declarations of frustration and fears was the medicine for that line, and I ended up getting a band aid in the form of a taco where the tortilla was beef brisket and with an inspiring bunch of incredible mountain people. Your company that evening was invaluable.

I was also reminded of why I love to ski in the first place, and that was thanks to an opportunity to teach young children how to ski. Nothing compares to sitting with someone on the chair lift for their first time and hearing them to tell you that they want to be skiers. Pure, relentless elation ensued, fall after fall, pizza slice after pizza slice. I know that feeling and I like to know that those kids got to feel it too. I got to meet someone I really looked up to and someone who deserves an apology because my introduction was not respectful in the slightest (thank you for the hug! Sorry for not being a cool cucumber; I was flaked). Taking kids outside is the best. I’m so glad there’s an organisation like SheJumps doing things like that and I hope to be involved with things similar on my side of the atlantic.

Going to Turnagain Pass was like going to the moon. Now this is my first time in the backcountry after getting socked in Italy last year, so I was feeling hesitant, but it took  Scotty, one of the most charismatic people on earth to take words out of my head and before I knew it my host, Matt Elliott, was taking me up this area, up some steep sled tracks where I was thinking ‘we cannot physically get up there OH WOW WE’RE GOING UP THERE’ and a little more screaming and more shock in terms of what on earth have I got myself into. Despite rag dolling down my runs a bunch, and getting one run in without falling, it was an ultimate day. I am grateful beyond measure that I was trusted and provided with the means to come out to this area, let alone be put on a snow machine, and really enjoy the snow I had only ever dreamed about.

When all is said and done, your magic comes from a spectrum of moments. Be it the acceptance I had from park rats that gave me a high chew, pointed to a hip in the distance and told me that ‘it will be sent’, the feeling of your laughter when you gave me a crush on a chair lift only to feel like an idiot when that same ski patroller is the one who is  assessing your highly questionable concussion. It’s the feeling of reassurance when Pat helped me loosen up my turns through cement powder, and looking up from a flashback to see friends essentially suck the fear out of the air so you could get down a mountain. It’s the butterflies you induced in the morning when I would ice skate through the parking lot in my ski boots and look up at the mountain and think ‘well what’s it going to be today, Alyeska’. It’s the sound of the Java Haus making coffee whilst I tried to take my goggles off without getting them drenched, or when a friend of a friend brought you soup because they heard you were sick. It’s the dogs I got to meet.

It is the love of the mountains that is shared, amplified and is found within the tacos after a day of having the lights beaten out of you. It’s having your mind blown by all the wonderful people to congregate and share the thing you’re there for, winter. The nurses, the firefighters, the freeride world tour riders, the mountain guides, the people that are on their way to becoming mountain guides, the helicopter pilots, the baristas, the fisherwomen, the authors, the non-profit ski teachers in remote alaskan villages, the ski bums, and all of their dogs.

The emergent properties of this hive of entropy is like that of which puts a cell into a body and accomplishes marvels that are often restricted to the domain of dreams, except here they are manifested into reality. Girdwood you have instilled gifts of confidence, clarity and confirmation: skiing is my passion and I will do everything to ensure that my life is built around it. Thank you for this humbling catharsis and I will be back for you soon.

 

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