How did we get here?

I was digging through old files last night and stumbled across an unpublished article I wrote a few years back. As Tenders & Trails will be turning three fairly soon (July), now seemed like a good time to share (with some minor edits). In essence, this is how it all started. What a ride it has been.

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The very beginning. Mere minutes before clinging to a tree on a green run. And what a fashion statement!

The very beginning. Mere minutes before clinging to a tree on a green run. And what a fashion statement!

“Nope. Not happening. Too steep. I’m staying right here. If you want me to move, you’ll need a chainsaw for the tree I’m clinging to.” Those would be my first words uttered at the top of a ski slope, and no – I wasn’t a little kid. That was six years ago now. I was a terrified, quiet, boring, and very reserved twenty-year old at the top of a beginner trail. I had one heck of a beat up Craigslist snowboard attached to my feet and I was about to be ditched with zero knowledge on how to snowboard. We all have to start somewhere, right?

At some point between that failed attempt at snowboarding and now, I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to be quiet and reserved any longer. The problem was, I didn’t know how to become the active and outgoing person I wanted to be. So, I came up with two ideas. The first of which was to say ‘yes’ to every relatively safe and sane opportunity that came my way, and the second was to do everything that anyone said I couldn’t. It was ideas and motivation all rolled into one. I figured it would get me to branch out a little and maybe, just maybe, sneak out of my comfort zone.

Somewhere in the chaos of things to follow, I learnt to swing dance, took a bartending course, went caving in Arkansas, white water rafting in Maine, taught myself to snowboard, and did about a million other things so far out of my comfort zone that I didn’t even recognize myself. Slowly but surely, the old me started vanishing and began the process of being replaced.

So when the opportunity to take a sabbatical from work came up last summer, it only seemed natural to push myself even further. What does someone do with sixty days off from work and a really strict budget? After much consideration, I decided to have an adventure in my own backyard of sorts. I’m fortunate enough to live in New Hampshire where a mountain of some size is almost always within view and no matter where you are; some type of adventure is no more than an hour away. But what would I do on sabbatical? Hike? Climb? Kayak?

Everyone I talked to kept telling me to make sure that whatever I did, make it memorable, make it count, and find a way to share it with others. And then it hit me like a ton of snow: snowboarding. I’d snowboard every ski area I could in Northern New England in 60 days. To make it a little more interesting and a bit more challenging, I’d write a review about each ski area and start a travel blog. Why not?

The premise of the trip was pretty simple. I lived in Southern New Hampshire and that put me within 3 hours of about seventy-five percent of the ski areas in Northern New England. Every day I would drive to a different ski area, complete as many runs as time allowed, take a ton of photographs, talk to random strangers about the ski area, and eat chicken fingers. I did mention the food critic part, right? I decided, regrettably, to review chicken tenders at every ski area I went to since it was my fall back food. My advice to future adventure seekers and travelers: Don’t. If you must review a food, pick an overall category like Italian or American – not one single entrée.

I’m one of those people that once I have an idea in my head, it’s stuck and life has a tendency to start revolving around it. I’m miserably stubborn as well. So when it came to planning, I started planning a trip dependent on snow in July even though everyone said to wait a little longer. For some crazy reason or another, I thought I could come up with a schedule that would give me the chance to check out as many ski areas as possible. I seem to have forgotten about scenarios such as winter showing up late or not at all, the flu, food poisoning, flat tires, wind holds, power outages, and whatever else just might happen to get thrown my way. Oh, did I have lessons to learn!

My brother and I shortly after I started getting the hang of this whole thing. Morgan of course picked it up like nothing!

My brother and I shortly after I started getting the hang of this whole thing. Morgan of course picked it up like nothing!

One of the first was to just go with the flow. Usually by the middle of December, northern New England has snow or is cold enough to make some. This particular year, December was warm and rainy. I learnt quickly that staring at an online weather forecast won’t change anything, much like staring at paint won’t make it dry any faster, so the concept of just rolling with the punches started early. “So what if the ski area only has a fifth of the trails open? Just go!” started being my mentality.

Ironically, not being picky worked out in a way that I never expected. When conditions aren’t ideal, you see a different type of visitors hit the slopes. These are the hardcore New Englanders. They can rip through ice, rack up the vertical mileage faster than I thought possible, and make moguls look like piles of powder. Most are intimidating and keep to themselves, but if you can get them talking it is well worth it. The knowledge they possess is incredible and endless.

I talked for a while with a skier at Ragged Mountain in Danbury, New Hampshire one mid-week day. In an hour, he recapped his twenty-seven years of skiing complete with the most insane places to go skiing in all of New England, Colorado, and Utah. Oh, and all the places to avoid. I suddenly felt really compelled to someday attempt to snowboard Arapahoe Basin’s East Wall. At other areas, I learnt about hidden trails, histories, best food, best beer, and just about every other random thing possible.

After a while, I started learning a new skill I’ve never been that great at either: patience. Whether it’s the waiting on a storm to hit or being stuck behind the slowest driver on the roads I started learning to just relax. As one fellow winter enthusiast pointed out, we are always in a such rush that we never take a moment to soak it in. It’s kind of mind blowing what you start noticing when you’re stuck on a chairlift for example: old hidden trails, people doing tricks, animals in the woods, breathtaking views, and this incomparable peaceful silence.

There was finally enough snow to really have some fun sometime around mid-January. One of my favorite aspects of the entire trip was getting to explore a new place every day. I made a point of trying to get lost on the trails, which was actually fairly impossible but still made for some interesting days. I also went in search of my favorite trail at every ski area I went to and left the season with some new favorites such as “Tuckered Out” at Okemo in Ludlow, Vermont, “Jester” at Jay Peak in Jay, Vermont, and generally all of Cannon Mountain in Franconia, New Hampshire.

Far too much enthusiasm after realizing that I *did* know how to snowboard for real!

Far too much enthusiasm after realizing that I *did* know how to snowboard for real (after 2 winters – doh)!

As the end of the sabbatical started to near, I started trying to think about going back to the “real world” as my family and co-workers referred to it. Somewhere along the way while I was tackling trails I had been nervous about of, chatting it up with regulars, and dreaming of my next adventure, I changed again. Instead of just perfecting my snowboarding skills and the art of distance driving, I had learnt some massive life lessons.

I learnt that fear, hesitation, and reservations are all in my mind. I am capable of almost anything that I put my mind to. As long as I tell the audience (and potentially gravity) to shush it, I can achieve my goal. So the next time I’m all freaked out about something like public speaking, I’m just going to imagine myself back on top of that fun icy black diamond mogul trail I made it down at Jay Peak. I conquered fear there, so I can conquer it anywhere.

And finally this winter. Far up on the slopes of a big steep mountain in Colorado. Success.

And finally this winter. Far up on the slopes of a big steep mountain in Colorado. Success.

I further learnt to dream big and don’t stop. This snowboarding dream was born out of someone telling me that I would never get grasp snowboarding or stick with it, so I took a huge leap of faith, tackled that, and dreamed huge. I’m not the best snowboarder out there, nor the best rock climber, kayaker, hiker, or anything really – but I’m not going to let my lack of mastery stop me from pursuing something big.

A guy with dreadlocks, a backpack full of PBR, and the stench of weed inspired the final lesson. While I’m not aiming to be him per say, oddly wise are his ways. All too often, we live to work. We wake up, sit in a cubicle under fluorescent light and stare at a computer screen for eight hours, go back home, eat a microwaved dinner while staring at the television, and go to bed. All to do it again in the morning for years and years on end. If you are doing this, you are wasting your life away. Don’t just put your time in and regret it later. Live a little.

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About Jillian Bejtlich

Hey! I'm Jillian Bejtlich. I’m a lifelong New Englander with a serious love of the outdoors, adventure, and a pretty serious inability to sit still. I’m plagued by the travel bug, and it seems I’ll try any relatively sane and safe thing once. My big goal in life: Get people outside!