When I was a child growing up in Minnesota, I would take road trips out west with my family twice a year. We would get in the car and drive in a single push to visit some of the most iconic alpine areas in the Rocky Mountains – to camp, ski, hike, backpack and explore. I remember looking up at the high peaks of the alpine through the eyes of someone who was accustomed to seeing flatlands. I longed to stand in those high places.
My entire adult life has been devoted to answering that call because I still feel that same sense of childlike wonder when I look at big mountains. As COVID restrictions eased, my partner, Rob Lea, and I loaded up the car from our home in Park City, UT bound for Estes Park, our first road trip after quarantine. We took precautions as we traveled, wore masks at businesses and practiced good hygiene.
Our first day there, we woke up for sunrise. Looking out over the vista as the sun turned the sky pink and purple, I got that familiar feeling of joy and euphoria that I felt as a kid. These are challenging times, but a morning of movement outdoors and the sight of a sunrise in the mountains brought me a moment of happiness and peace.
This was my second year visiting Estes Park as #athleteinresidence. Last spring, I went shortly after tearing my ACL and a few weeks before leaving for Everest/Chomolungma. I went to Estes Park to find peace, to heal my injury, and continue training for that expedition however I could.
Going back this year with my skis was a way to find further healing and a sense of redemption. On our second day, Rob Lea and I scouted some possible ski objectives and we found the perfect early summer bike-to-ski mission. Carving turns down a slushy chute helped me regain a sense of personal power and sense of identity that was lost for some time after the injury. There’s a lifetime worth of ski lines and adventures around Estes Park and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface! I can’t wait to go back for more.
As a professional athlete and activist, something I struggle with is finding the balance of adventure and activism. How much time should I devote to my craft of ski mountaineering relative to causes that I care deeply about, like environmental and social justice?
Between the threats to the environment and equality, I’ve been getting swept away in digital communications, trying as hard as I can to understand what’s happening and advocate for change. Sometimes, when I spend too much time away from the mountains, I forget what I’m taking action for.
I recognize that being able to go outside for recreation is a privilege. I also recognize that we need access to nature to find healing and for our mental and physical well-being. Going to Estes Park was a powerful way for me to reconnect with nature and go deeper into the mountains to explore and adventure, while practicing physical distancing.
I return home recharged and more focused than ever. Everyone needs access to the outdoors for self-care and healing, and I will continue to work as hard as I can for that goal.