Words by: Keree Smith | Photograph by: Megan Perra
Words by: Keree Smith | Photograph by: Megan Perra
"Having worked minimum wage as a ski bum for a portion of my life, my philosophy on work now emanates with a resounding 'quality over quantity' clause."
Perhaps every person enamored with the white dress of winter, experiences a sense of temporary loss. As a season approaches completion we face the uncertainty of what lies ahead. For me, namely the months of September, October and November. I never quite know what to do in these months. Accepting a nomadic life of sorts, with no real base to call home in the off-season, I typically find myself wandering between side projects like the further construction on a co-owned cabin in Alaska or a 6-week sailing trip off the islands of Croatia, in order to complete my Skippers license. Distracting myself through autumn, I slowly taxi the track I know will eventually lead me back around to winter.
Photograph by: Megan Perra
At some point in November the systematic review of a series of checklists begins. Ski's? Poles? Skins? Beacon, shovel, probe? Boots? ...Oooh... Yeah, they'll make it another year. I stay with my family in Government Camp on Mt. Hood, Oregon over the holidays, pick up some shifts at the local schnitzel restaurant (The Glacier Haus), pay my dues to the gym and get back on my skis with some chair laps at Ski Bowl.
Slowly compressing the gas pedal on my burgundy 1988 Toyota Van (which typically brings me up to a smoking 55mph), I shed ties to my home mountain and venture out into... well... who knows where! In January and February I blindly chase chairs, snow and friends. The 2017 season brought me to Japan then to Chamonix. Here, I met some locals on the skin track and found myself roped up, nose pressed to the side of a 65+ degree slope on a modified version of the Haute Route. In 2018 I took a small jaunt up to Revelstoke and toured the western half of the states visiting friends, chasing powder, and waiting to see how the rest of the winter would unfold.
And in the next instance I am flying. It does seem to occur suddenly, that moment when you look around and realize that you are in it. Fully immersed in some foreign world with your ski's lashed to the side of a mule on a 2-day trek to the snow line at 11,000 - 15,000ft, across a remote valley in northwestern Nepal. I got the call in February and booked a flight 3 weeks later to Kathmandu to meet up with Luke Smithwick, owner and guide at Himalaya Alpine Guides. A small team of us attempted to climb and ski 5846m (19,180ft) peak Naya Kanga in the Langtang region of Nepal. Our route took us along the ridge extending from the lookers left side of the upper most hanging glacier. We turned around half way up the upper ice dome due to encroaching weather, but I remain hopeful for another chance with Naya Kanga.
Having worked minimum wage as a ski bum for a portion of my life, my philosophy on work now emanates with a resounding "quality over quantity" clause. I stumbled into Iceland almost 5 years ago now. After hitchhiking to a cafe in the Westfjords I managed to secure an "internship" (which lead to a guiding position) with Borea Adventures. I currently work as a guide and trip manager for The Empire Expeditions and Logistics in both Iceland and Svalbard, generally from March until the end of May. Between trips I try to ski as many couloirs as possible with my local boot-pack buddy Camilla Edwards. I find myself continually drawn to the arctic and sub-arctic, exploring creative means of accessing some of the worlds most wild and remote landscapes. Something exists that draws me to the barren features of the mountains that protrude vertically from the ocean, the ever so frequent gale winds that whip through glaciated valleys and rip your skins from your hands, the variability in conditions from ice sheet to perfect corn, the wildlife, the peaks and ridges that rarely receive visitors and the accompanying sensation of dream-like exploration and adventure.
Photograph by: Jordan Rosen
And then I am descending rapidly. I return to the sea and enter into the mad rush of hauling up thousands and thousands of pounds of sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska. And suddenly it is over. August's stride into September somehow sequences an end. In my minds eye, I am in the pilots seat of a small Cessna 172-C plane. As the ground begins to rush past I pull back on the yoke, smoothly sinking onto my wheels as they skirt into contact with the tarmac. In some ways I breathe a sigh of relief to have touched down safely, to taxi off the runway with all of my limbs attached. In other ways, I dread the tedious yet necessary procession of checklists and preparation I know all too well. Thus in autumn, I slowly taxi the track I know will eventually lead me back around to winter..
*all photos by Keree Smith unless stated otherwise
Special Thanks To:
The Empire Expeditions (@theempireexpeditions)
Borea Adventures (@boreaadventures)
Himalaya Alpine Guides (@luke_smithwick)
Megan Perra (@feral5creativeco)
Jordan Rosen (@jordanrosenphotography)
Beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing.
Great piece. More like this, please 🙌