As the rain pounds down in the Alps putting paid to any hopes of outdoor fun and games, I find myself reflecting on the fantastic winter just gone and the people who helped to make it so.
It’s been a season overflowing with memories of peaks and powder but it has also been one where existing connections were taken to deeper and more meaningful levels (see previous post!) and new friendships established.
Over the past six months I have become increasingly aware that being a girl who likes to play in the mountains puts you in a relatively small club. Whilst loving crampons and ice axes is not exactly tantamount to having a tattoo on your face, it is definitely not for everyone and so sometimes you do feel like you stand out.
It can be hard to find like minded souls to play with, even when you live in the Alps. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love spending casual days on the hill with other girlies followed by coffees and wine and great chat but I also like going a bit harder, steeper and higher and I have noticed that it is at this point, that female companions often seem to fall away. Completely understandable yes, but such a shame as I love going out into the mountains with other girls – it’s always about laughter and looking after each other and less about ego and competition.
With girls you can laugh about the merits of having gear that is functional yet extremely pretty and with girls there is a recognition of the integral role that good ‘chat’ has to play in a good day out!
Stand out experiences for me this winter were trips to Oregon and Icelandand in both places I met some stand out females. In Oregon it was the wild, whacky, utterly memorable Carol Mergenthaler and in Iceland the sweet, hilarious and stupidly talented telemarker Sarah Hopkins.
Both girls were completely different characters and my time with each was spent in totally different ways but what they both had in common was what they had in common with me – a love of mountains, and an easygoing approach to what life in the outdoors is about. We shared a passion and in so doing became kindred spirits and hopefully will remain so. It never fails to surprise me that when you’re doing something you love, in a place that you are passionate about, that people and things that you like seem to come easily towards you.
I met Carol on our best night out in Bend, OR with a whole bunch of mountain lovers and some of the guys from Timberline Mountain Guides in the fab 10 Barrel Brewing Company just over the river from downtown. You couldn’t fail to notice Carol as soon as she entered the room, yes she was blonde and gorgeous but moreover it was her huge energy that was impossible to ignore. She may have been an artist and a mother – and I’m sure that she is fantastic at both – but it was clear from the off where her real passion lay and it was in the world of backcountry skiing. My busy schedule meant that we didn’t even get to ski together but her enthusiasm, attitude and massive personality have made an indelible impact on me.
There are very few people I have met who absolutely prioritise their outdoor passions whilst still doing the real life thing and doing it well. With someone like Carol there would be no excuses, she’d make it happen. It turns out that even if I wanted to I wouldn’t be able to forget this wonderful snowball of fun: upon arrival back in the Alps I started leafing through some magazines bought in the States and on the front cover of the winter edition of 1859 there she was in all her glory standing on the seat of a convertible VW Beetle with a pair of skis above her head, beaming like the glorious ray of sun she is. And the numberplate on the completely inappropriate winter vehicle? Ski Mum. Quality…
Sarah and I met in April, the only other girl on a ski touring trip with Bergmenn Mountain Guides to the Troll Peninsula in Northern Iceland. While Carol was as vibrant as an Icelandic geyser, my friendship with Sarah was more like the landscape that we spent the week touring within: quiet and calm yet unforgettable and with a sense of permanence. It is with Sarah that I bootpacked up spectacular sunbathed summits and skied 45 degree powder laden couloirs and it was also with her that I shared a secret enthusiasm for pretty girl skins, big trucks, Nalgenes with stickers, and bearded mountain men.
This was a friendship formed in a far off land and one which looks set to continue on a similar vein: Sarah lives in Colorado, I live in the French Alps and we are currently concocting a plan to meet in Chile to join pro-skier Ingrid Backstrom’s female specific freeride clinic this August!
I am incredibly fortunate to have journeyed in these two wonderful places and to have had these experiences made even richer by these two fab girls. So to Carol and Sarah, my women of winter, I thank you and look forward to our next snowy adventures together. In the meantime, if anyone out there fancies a day out on some warm Italian rock followed by an afternoon of creamy gelato and an evening punctuated by huge amounts of Prosecco… you know where to find me. Always happy to be led astray!