As my stride steadies and warmth chases out the predawn chill, thoughts wander through my mind on our morning tour through Montana’s Big Belt Mountains. Yesterday, in the living room, my 10-month old daughter Clover and I watched our favorite movie, Blizzard of Ahhh’s. Her giant blue eyes stared at the screen while Mike Hattrup floated another effortless turn. Clover pointed, squeaked “Da-da,” and giggled, her smile validating my obsession with the snow and mountains. I nuzzled my nose into her chubby cheek. She gracelessly clapped in approval.
As I funneled through the snow-laden ponderosa pines on the edge of Mt. Baldy’s west ridge, my thoughts shift. It’s amazing how the birth of a child can modify life’s priorities. Consecutive powder days are replaced by consecutive diaper changes. Touring partners don’t call as often. Time in the skintrack becomes more difficult to schedule. Escaping into the mountains at a moment’s notice feels selfish and irresponsible, as does the harsh consequence of a poor decision.
A break in the tree line thrusts me back into the present. My partner and I scan the slope above, which is blistered with a heavy coat of rime and interspersed with gullies of deep, fresh snow. The wind pulsates aggressively from the northwest. An occasional juniper speckles the grade, tormented by winter’s indiscriminating harshness. The sky is a profound blue, not unlike Clover’s eyes. Montana’s mountains saturate my view in every direction.
After a healthy gulp of water and handful of elk jerky, I’m breaking trail again, navigating slowly through the next section of our journey on this pile of snow and life. There is still 1,000 feet of climbing before the top. I settle back into a comfortable rhythm.
The way I reason it, the balance between time in the backcountry and child rearing is more than a fair one. I discovered with the birth of Clover that you will never know love like the love you have for your child. The thrills of deep powder descents and perfect turns are replaced with the thrills of first words, steps and each experience of the newness of life. I eagerly await the day I can strap skis on her feet, witnessing elation and freedom similar to my own when I learned this passion. At least that’s how it pans out in this daydream.
Whoomph! The gut-wrenching sound of hollow snow below my skis tears me out of my reflections. I stand feet below the ridge that will take us to the summit. My partner and I discuss the wind, the sound of the snow and the merits of pushing forward. A dug pit yields mixed results.
Before Clover, there would have been little debate, and we would have suffered through to ski our objective for the day. Now things are different. My childless partner listens as I plead my case to abandon the summit and pick our way down the ascent route. He agrees, though his posture and tone reek of disappointment.
While we change over, donning extra layers to begin the descent, I close my eyes and ruminate on how fortunate I am to have a happy, healthy, beautiful child. I am grateful for the woman who loves me, the roof over our heads and steady employment. I reflect on how thankful I am to be standing here with opportunity and ability.
I push off into the knee-deep snow, each turn more satisfying than the next. I make my way down the 30-degree grade, safe and elated. At the bottom I am refreshed, equipped to greet that infectious little giggle and those gigantic blue eyes.
Upon entering the front door of my house, Clover and her mama are on the couch watching, you guessed it, Blizzard of Ahhh’s.