Learning to ski (human-powered) in Oregon at Subaru WinterFest

Editor’s note: Today on the blog, a first–a guest post, by my partner Brody Leven. As you know from my escapades on IG stories, he’s teaching me how to ski entirely by human power, and it’s been one of the best experiences of our relationship. He shared his perspective on it all, and I hope you love reading it as much as I did:

My girlfriend Katie doesn’t know how to ski. I ski most days, for work or pleasure or the combination that is my career.

My girlfriend Katie is from Miami. I’m from Ohio, which is actually a much better place to be a skier, because there is snow.

My girlfriend Katie hates the cold, cold fingers, cold toes, cold nose, being cold. So do I. It doesn’t matter how much one likes skiing; the cold still sucks.

“I’ve never seen a skier date a non-skier,” an Instagram follower messaged me, a response to my attempt to teach Katie to ski. When one’s identity is so inextricably tied to a single activity as mine is to skiing, it’s understandable why a successful relationship may seemingly warrant a partner interested in the same activity. And Katie had no interest in starting to ski.

Or so I thought.

After all the time we’ve spent together, I’d never asked Katie if she wanted to learn. I ignorantly assumed that if she wanted to ski, she’d ask. When our friend Caroline invited her on a lesson one day, I was amazed that she accepted. She wanted to learn but had been too timid to ask.

Katie isn’t learning to ski in the traditional way. By avoiding the crowds and lodges and lift lines, she’s choosing an unconventional way of learning to ski in today’s snow culture. Katie is learning to ski while learning to earn her turns. She’s climbing the hills that she is skiing down, using the power of her legs and whatever she ate for breakfast, which is usually spaghetti. This means that each turn isn’t wasted but cherished, because it takes hours for a run to be climbed and only minutes for it to be skied (unless you don’t know how to ski—then it takes almost as long to descend as to climb).

All of my skiing is leg-powered these days, but it hasn’t always been this way. I learned to ski at my local ski hill in Ohio, making thousands of lift-services laps over thousands of evenings. It’s 210 feet tall, and I was able to ski top-to-bottom in mere seconds. It allowed me to perfect my turns: rising into the traverse and sinking into the apex; orienting my upper body downhill; pole planting before each initiation. The chairlift rides were cold, but it was the only type of skiing I knew. Climbing up to ski down wasn’t even in my imagination.

Katie and I met at a very different stage in my skiing. These days, I climb everything that I ski. I spend the majority of my days walking uphill just to savor a few special, solitary moments on the way down. It also means that I spend most of my days away from her, returning with powder in every crease of clothing and a smile on my face. She wanted in on the action.

A mid-March trip to Bend, Oregon for the Subaru WinterFest offered Katie her first chance to ski two consecutive days. With a soundtrack provided by Harman Kardon, we affixed directional climbing skins to the bottoms of our skis and walked up a hill near Mt. Bachelor. After removing the skins and attaching her heel to the ski binding, she hesitantly dropped into the steepest slope of her life. Not until that evening did she realize that the backcountry terrain on which she’s learning to ski would be black diamond (difficult) terrain in the ski area.

She skied through variable snow conditions and frequently fell at the end of her turn. Katie struggled to link two turns together, so I offered advice sparingly and at her request. At the bottom of our first run, she asked if she could bootpack back up the lower portion of it. She not only wanted to practice more turns, but to learn a different style of ascent. She buckled her skis to her backpack like a pro and we were soon making a few more turns before returning to our Subaru, some hot tea, and some calm music.

Katie’s ski equipment isn’t perfect for her, but she doesn’t complain about its deficiencies, only about her own. She always skis with a helmet and is generally receptive to my advice. Considering how much unsolicited advice she receives from her social media followers, suggesting it’s easier to learn at the ski resort, Katie’s staying stedfast. She doesn’t want to learn at the ski resort precisely because it’s easier. She wants to embrace the challenge. And I’m here to support her.

It hasn’t been hard getting her out on the snow. Like when I was learning to ski, Katie wants to ski all the time, even when it’s unreasonable. She arrived to Bend sick and exhausted, but all she wanted to do was ski. On our drive to the mountain each day, she blasted music on our 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, dancing in the passenger’s seat. The soundtrack was happy and uptempo, music I’d only heard her play on her best days, and definitely not when she was sick. But a sickness wasn’t going to keep her off her hand-me-down skis when there was free hot chocolate being served at the Subaru WinterFest outside the lodge and an evening full of activities before we’d retire to our cozy cabin’s hot tub and fireplace.

Because that relaxation is exactly what you need when you’re skiing black diamonds in the backcountry during your first week on snow. I guess I’m not a skier dating a non-skier after all, because Katie is more excited to go skiing than any other skier I know. And that’s just the kind of (ski) partner I want.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored blog post for Harman / Kardon, but as always, all thoughts, opinions, and words are my own. (Well, Brody’s.) 

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3 thoughts on “Learning to ski (human-powered) in Oregon at Subaru WinterFest

  1. Josh says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey on learning to Ski. This year I purchased my first pair of skis (which were touring skis), and set out to learn how to ski. The previous year I skied only twice but fell in love with each turn. Although it was on the resort, I new instantly that touring is what I eventually wanted to do. So this year I have been learning to ski with a mix of backcountry and in the resort. I admire your motivation and strength learning to ski ONLY in the backcountry. I also wanted to thank both you and Brody for your outdoor advocacy. I am hoping to get more involved with this soon.

  2. Peter Donner says:

    You two are fabulous. Your romance is inspiring.

    Katie you know there is always the Porter Fork road, but seeing it in black and white may be a helpful reminder. Once the road comes in during fall until it melts out in spring, Porter Fork is the only place I ski, w occasional forays to Neff’s and Bowman. The nice thing about the road is it is a gentle grade but steep enough to maintain speed so you can do laps and get lots of practice. Also, as your skills improve you can venture off the road (that would be “off-road”) a bit to sharpen your talent. Seems like Solitude and Brighton allow strictly limited uphill travel, at least they do on skimo Tuesday nights–the advantage here is groomed trails, easier to refine technique. I haven’t ridden a lift since the 2nd Millenium, I like to say hiking is the only way to ski in the 3rd Millenium. It seems we are kindred spirits! No doubt you’ve discovered staying warm is easy, when cold add a layer and hike faster.

    A while back, you asked for requests on your Instagram account. Your feed is basically perfect except it would be more perfect if you posted more pictures of you on skis. Borrow Brody’s gopro helmet cam and post a point of view vid skiing down Porter Fork, w the audio on so we can experience the fright and glee.

    Also I appreciate your comments on gender and queer issues. I particularly enjoyed the “womxn” post as I thought the “x” was a typo until I googled it. Very educational for older and out of touch people like me.

    Thanks again you two, keep up the good work, PRAY FOR MORE SNOW and LESS WIND for next year

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