Backstory: The Elegant Path

My eyes open, and it’s dark. I guess the time at 6 a.m., but it’s winter and hard to tell for sure. What I do know is that today is Saturday, and I’m here by myself in my mountain cabin on the edge of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Most importantly, I know that today, I will go skiing. I’ve always been a firm believer that altitude improves attitude. I need to regain both today. Shaking the cobwebs from my head, I roll out of bed and stretch.

The project I’m involved in at work has been rugged—the client, half a world away, is demanding and aggressive. Every day seems to involve a barrage of accusations that my team is holding up the project or missing details. After another weary week of faceless telephone and e-mail battles, I take sanctuary at this cabin.

My career in engineering is rewarding. But pressing deadlines, challenging clients and worries about schedules and budgets take their toll. In times like these, life requires a step back to gain perspective and readjust course. This is why I’m at the cabin today—to regroup and to seek an elegant path upward.


Kat Darling ascending an elegant path. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

I’m fully awake with a fire crackling in the fireplace, coffee brewing and eggs frying. The little cabin begins to warm. I turn on the porch light and look outside. Snow falls with insistence. There are already 12 new inches on the deck. The temperature hovers at 12°.

Like my robe, the burdens of work, onerous clients and destructive attitudes fall silently to the floor. I pull on my ski clothes, eat my breakfast and load my pack.

Outside, the snowflakes swirl around me, tickling my cheeks and nose. As I’ve done countless times before, I put my skins on, kneel down and flip my telemark bindings in place. Thoughts of work fade as the light comes up, and the falling snow absorbs me into its quiet fold.

I head upward into the heavier timbered slope, and the snow is deep but light. I know I will spend today breaking trail. There will be no one else to rely on to help pave my way, to make it easier. I accept this because I need this. Sometimes I need to go alone—to find again my path through life and regroup.

As I skin, I think of hiking in the summer and of all the game trails I’ve followed, the trails that seem to find the natural path through the dense forest, the path slowly upward, the path of accord with nature. I am like those paths.

I break trail and realize that harmony only comes if you’re able to keep life in perspective, to focus on what matters and consider all solutions—but most importantly to keep moving forward. I skin upward.

Alone in thought, I travel slowly through the deep snow, finding my way up, keeping the momentum steady, finding the hidden lanes through the trees, changing direction when necessary to avoid becoming hemmed in by deadfall, and staying away from exposed, avalanche-prone terrain.

As I slowly ascend, setting my skintrack, yesterday’s phone call and the accusations of project delay hovers at the edge of my thoughts. My subconscious will have to navigate through that mental terrain, seeking a solution, a path forward. I skin upward.

The trees thin as I reach the final ridge to the summit. There is no wind, and the snow falls silently on the boughs of scattered spruce trees. Through the course of my climb, I played out my work problems and settled on a resolution. Skintrack therapy.

Head clear, I prep for the ride down. I know that back in the office there will be more battles, more challenges and more difficult clients. Life goes on, and I accept that. I push off, and powder billows around me, supporting me, cleansing me and absorbing me as I find my elegant path downward.


This story first appeared in the January 14 issue of Backcountry Magazine 

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