Remember that over-excited feeling you would get as a kid, the feeling that always resulted in not a wink of sleep that night? Place that feeling into an adult woman — an endurance enthusiast and passionate triathlete who lives and breathes anything that pushes the limits in strength and endurance — getting ready to skin up a mountain for her first time. That was me!
The idea of getting an alpine touring ski setup had been playing an itching role in my mind for some time now.
Downhill skiing has always been a great activity in the Adirondacks, but over the past few years a different crowd of skiers has emerged – my kind of people! The uphill skiers rise at 6 a.m. to get in a killer workout, whether it be for cross-training for another sport during the off season or simply because they, like myself, have that roaring flame blazing in their hearts to feel their legs burn and their bodies work. It's a chance to be out on a mountain with no one else around and to watch the sun rise over the surrounding peaks. Then, after working hard, it's time to enjoy the reward of one perfect run down the mountain — a run that will never feel like any other you’ve experienced from getting off a ski lift. The whole experience leaves you with a type of gratitude and sensation you’ve never felt before.
First things first, I had to get my gear. I was going into this as a blank slate, not knowing the first thing about skiing up a mountain, let alone having two skis strapped to my feet to get down.
Not to fear, Brain and his crew at High Peaks Cyclery are here! High Peaks is Lake Placid’s go-to ski shop. Thanks to Brian, I went from not knowing anything to standing at the bottom of the mountain that morning feeling totally confident.
Zander, the ski-boot-fitting extraordinaire, is the man to see when getting ready for such an endeavor. He is immensely knowledgeable in everything alpine touring and backcountry skiing, and he will be sure to take the time to get you properly fitted with exactly what you need. He'll also fill you in on all the nitty-gritty information necessary to ensure a great first time experience skinning up a mountain. This includes the utmost-important hints of advice on skiing fashion faux pas to avoid! Also, while your skis are getting put together, you can hop up the street to Bliss and Vinegar, where I had the best cappuccino I have ever had in town.
After leaving the ski shop meticulously educated on skis, boots, bindings, skins, and how they all work I was out the door with everything I needed to head up the mountain the next day at 6 a.m.
My coach, Patrick Carey, the man behind Speed Science Coaching here in the Adirondacks, was beyond excited to be joining me for an early skin up the mountain for my first time, an adventure I have since learned is called dawn patrol. Patrick has been an extremely vital aspect to my progression as an athlete and I was looking forward to being out in the Adirondack elements that we both love, doing something new, fun, and challenging. Something I knew was soon to become a part of my off-season training routine.
Finally, it was 5 a.m. Sunday morning. I was wide awake from a restless night’s sleep due to my anticipation of the adventure. The beautiful thing about living in the Adirondacks is you don’t have to travel far to ski up a mountain; it's a quick 15-minute drive from Lake Placid down Route 86 to Whiteface Mountain.
Note that there is protocol to skinning up the mountain. First you need an uphill pass. This is easy to get, all you do is go to the ticket counter at Whiteface Mountain. Then when you arrive that morning you must check in with ski patrol before starting your climb. You have from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to get to wherever you want to ski down from, the top being the usual and ideal place to get to. It is also important to know you cannot be skiing uphill after 8 a.m. on Little Whiteface and after 8:30 a.m. for the Summit Lift area.
It was dark, the sun still sleeping, the surroundings quiet, a peaceful winter calm. I watched as a few others with a similar mindset showed up. They headed up the mountain before us while I got into my bindings for the first time.
We headed up the mountain at a steady pace. It didn’t take long to get the heart rate up — I was in the zone and immediately loving it. Soon, with a little education on technique, I was in a steady rhythm of gliding those skis uphill while keeping my weight back so the skins could do their job. I picked it up very quickly and we happily cruised right up that mountain with the rising sun.
My favorite moments were finding myself looking behind me, realizing just how far up into the sky my very own two legs had taken me. After a lot of leg work, learning curves, and conversation interspersed with long moments of silence, we reached the top. We were pleasantly greeted with a beautiful sunrise and a view all the way to Vermont and across my hometown of Lake Placid. These views, even though I’ve seen them before, will always take my breath away, making the 3,700 feet of elevation gain more than worth it.
At the top it was time to de-layer and re-layer. The biggest hint of advice I was given and can give back is don’t wear a lot going up and bring dry layers and warmer layers to change into to go down. I was very pleased with my ability to judge how little to wear, and grateful the advice was given to me beforehand.
It was time to head down the mountain. Skins came off, bindings switched to downhill ski mode, and without knowing how to downhill ski, down the mountain I went! The first two to three minutes I didn’t know what to do with my skis, then in no time, like I had been doing it my whole life, I was cruising down that mountain. I knew the sensation I was looking for from snowboarding all my life, I just had to find out how to find that same feeling with skis. Grinning from ear to ear, with legs on fire all the way down, I was in heaven, truly loving every part of my morning adventure in the Adirondacks.
I was completely hooked, so much that I went straight back to High Peaks Cyclery to buy all the gear I needed to call my own. I was ready to make skinning up mountains a permanent part of my winter life of living and training as a triathlete in the Adirondacks. I can’t think of any better way to continue to enjoy the winter months here than to be able to ski up a mountain in the morning to watch the sunrise. The off-season for a triathlete in the Adirondacks is not like any other athlete's off-season. We are blessed with countless ways to cross train all winter long and I am beyond excited that I have found the joy of skinning up a mountain. It's the perfect addition to my training.
Stay tuned for more first-time winter adventures!
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