One lone tree standing tall in an open field of untouched snow. I would have loved to say, “untouched powder,” but the snow conditions were worse than they looked that day. That seemingly fluffy white layer, upon closer inspection, was more like a crunchy ice layer, though there was still some nice fluffy stuff just below the surface.

I took this photo the first time I ever tried backcountry skiing, a couple weeks ago. The mountains you see across the valley are part of Alta ski resort, so while we were technically in backcountry terrain, we weren’t too far out there. But I’m not complaining. Easy backcountry access is one of the reasons I moved to Utah in the first place.

The thing about skiing out of bounds is that there are no lifts. So unless you pay for a helicopter or cat service to take you on runs, the only way up is the old fashioned way: step by step. And it’s free (once you have the right equipment)!

It works like this: with a ski touring setup, the toes of your boots are attached to the skis but your heels lift up freely, allowing you to walk semi-comfortably. Then, you put skins on the bottom of your skis, which add directional friction, making it easy to slide uphill without slipping backwards. Pair that with an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel for emergencies, and you’ve got everything you need. When you get to the top you take your skins off, fix your heels to your skis, and send it when ready.

At first glance, it seems like a lot of work for a little bit of skiing. That’s accurate, but there’s more to the story. I watched a short film recently about some backcountry skiers, and as they approached the top, one of them said something like, “It’s worth it just for the climb. I don’t even have to ski down.” Seems hard to believe, but it made so much sense to me, and it was confirmed after my first time trying it. You fall into a pattern. Right foot, left pole. Left foot, right pole. Breathe. Time disappears with the rhythmic sound of your breath, the deep beating of your heart, and the slow burn in your calves and quads.

And before you know it, your body is satisfactorily worked, and you’re alone on top of a mountain amidst acres and acres of silky untouched snow. It’s hard to find a more peaceful activity. The run on the way down is just a bonus.

I find that I’m most present and alive in nature, moving my body in the mountains. It makes me wonder about all the things I choose to do with my time. I know that we spend most of our lives working, so years ago I made a commitment to myself that I would build my “work” around the way I wanted to live my life. The society that raised me has different priorities, meaning this decision came with plenty of unshakeable financial stress, self-doubt, and failure and setbacks. But I can’t justify spending most of my life doing one thing only so that I can spend the rest of my time doing what actually fits me. The first thing has to fit, too.

Every decision requires a degree of sacrifice. You can’t have everything, and in order to seize one thing, you must sacrifice another. So what is it that you’re seizing? And what is it that you’re sacrificing? Questions like this find their way into my mind as I breathe the fresh mountain air with each step.

This week’s edition seems to have morphed into a philosophical inquisition more quickly than I could keep it contained. Well, that must be where my head is at today. I hope you got something out of it. Thanks for reading.

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