Words by Scotty VerMerris - Join us in episode 2 of Icelantic's Return To Nature series as we take you to Alaska. Not just any Alaska but Haines Alaska, a true wild west.
Skiing in Alaska I’ve learned is a fickle beast. The mountains beckon from my dreams, always renting space in fascinated parts of my imagination where the naïve inner child meets the Jaded adult celebrating something they both love and can’t resist.
There are few things and places in my life that have been able to bring me both to my highest of highs and my lowest of lows. Skiing in Alaska is one of them.
Alaska is a place where dreams can truly come true if you are patient and focused. Alaska is also a place that can eat you alive, literally.
Sometimes you are rewarded for your hard work and sacrifice and sometimes it’s just plain luck.
It is a place of stark contrast. When the weather cooperates you are blessed, and when it does not you are cursed. Unfortunately these windows of glory are somewhat rare and limited. I’ll never forget the feeling first time being called off the bench after a week of down days. I hadn’t put on skis in over a week and it was time to step up to some of the biggest lines I had ever skied. There’s no choice but to snap into it.
The mountains don’t care about you, if you’re there or not, if you’re scared, ready or not ready. Skiing in Alaska requires a special focus, a firm grasp as much as a surrender. When you stand on top of peak with whole universe around you, landscape dropping drastically on all sides you may notice that the silence is deafening. The sound of my heart pounding like a war drum. Deep breaths. Beneath the chatter is clarity. Without clarity you aren’t safe here and the ego is dangerous.
A year ago I experienced great success in chasing my dreams in Haines, it came with lessons in patience and gratitude for things I cannot control.
This year I experienced the opposite, I almost lost it all.
We all know the rules, we know what it takes and yet the immensely humbling mistakes here can easily cost you your life.
I recall the feeling of confidence after my warm up run. I remember having apprehension about moving too quickly onto something too gnarly with out a little more time on the snow to get dialed. Nonetheless when the heli blades are spinning and the light is good you don’t pass up the opportunity to ski the line in front of you. Time is money and opportunity is limited in this arena.
I had a well thought out plan, it was somewhat conservative. When I diverted from this plan, my mistakes compounded themselves.
The first several turns were perfect. Negotiating the scattered rocks in my line was easier than expected, speed felt good. My exit was gonna be the hard part. My confidence got the best of me as I commited to making my way right across the slope to my exit without looking up, thinking I was well ahead of my slough and then total white darkness.
Spending time on end in a place like Haines can be tough especially when you are there for one thing and one thing only. The more you get attached to that one thing, desperately wishing you could control what you cannot control, the harder it gets. I have experienced such a roller coaster of emotions up in Haines America. It has humbled me and offered plenty of what I call the wisdom of wasted time. Is it wasted though?.. I guess not because I keep coming back.
Sitting around staring at those mountains larger than life there is a lot of time to think. After my crash I had a lot to think about. Thoughts of the incident playing on repeat in my mind. Listening to the messages of my soul, knowing all the simple ways I could have avoided this mistake, trying to practice self-forgiveness. So much gratitude and wisdom comes from hitting rock bottom.