I recently returned from West Yellowstone, Montana, where some girlfriends and I dressed up in super girl costumes and skied. For a very long time.
The occasion? The Equinox Ski Challenge. This annual event, which is named for the time the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equator, making night and day of approximately equal length all over the earth, is awesome.
It’s basically a supported ski-a-thon on some of West Yellowstone’s world-famous (read: awesome) ski trails. Categories include: 24-minute kids’ race, 3-hour, 6-hour, 12-hour and 24-hour. Skiers can enter solo or as a team. A small team can have 2-4 members, or a big team has 5-8 members. We each entered “solo,” in the 12-hour, figuring that would give us all day to ski and take it easy in our base camp. We had set up chairs and a cooler and bags full of sustenance that included mountains of energy bars and waters, plus some more tasty items, as well as a bunch of Hotties, and additional layers of clothes.
The weather forecast for the day of the event was not favorable. It was to be warm — as in 44 degrees warm — with a good chance for snow, which could very likely be rain. (Yuck.) However, we were pleasantly surprised by a partly sunny sky when we arrived at the event.
Each lap measured 8.7 kilometers. However, for some reason (I always round up?) I got it in my mind that each lap was 9k. I had a personal goal to ski 50 miles — or, about 9 laps.
As readers of this blog know, I like to be outside working hard for a long period of time. Plus, I am in training for an epic (54+ mile) “day” hike from north to south of Zion National Park in May. So I figured 50 miles on skis would be great training.
So I skied, and skied, and skied. All of us did. Around and around and around.
The first two laps included great trail conditions and some sunshine. It was looking to be a great day. It was taking me about 39-40 minutes to ski a lap and I was having fun. My skis were gliding and everything. Yeehaw! So far, so good.
Originally my plan was to ski three laps, then take off my skis, go to the restroom and “lounge around” in my comfy little chair, and eat some food and drink some water, then repeat, several times over the course of 12 hours. But like often is the case during an adventure, things didn’t go as planned.
As my third lap started, and so did the falling snow, and the wind. Conditions were rough for the rest of the day, at least for the rest of the 12-hour window. I don’t have the greatest technique, or very much experience, so it was more work than skiing. Sort of like hiking or snowshoeing but with skinny skis on my feet and thankfully, poles in my hands. It was a wet snow, so I was not only getting worked over, I was pretty soaked. Somehow, I still very much enjoyed the experience.
I did change my plans. As the weather and conditions took a turn for the worse, I knew if I stopped, it would be harder to get going again. So, despite the worsening conditions, I kept at it, pretty relentlessly. I resorted to listening to my iPod midway through my fourth lap, and thanks in large part to the Heartless Bastards and the Dirty Heads, it was still a pretty good day and I was able to keep skiing around and around.
The scenery was beautiful and I was able to enjoy a lot of solitude, which was from time to time supported by friendly, cheering people and an aid station stocked full of beverages and yummy, energetic treats. (I love Tram bars.)
There was no shortage of camaraderie, and it seemed the worse conditions got, the more supportive everyone was. We were all in it together, kindred spirits. You could feel this and it really made the event a special one for me. It did not feel like a race, although there were many kick-ass skiers out there logging laps at a high rate of speed.
I can’t help but mention two awesome women skiers who were set up next to our “station:” Becky Wheeler, of Casper, and Jen Ziegler, of Jackson. These two women were entered as a team in the 24-hour category. Their goal was to ski 300k, and looking at the results, I see they did 314k. Now that’s some skiing. With numbers that big I needed a calculator to compute that they skied almost 195 miles! Both women were really supportive and enthusiastic, even as they made the skiing look effortless.
I stopped skiing just past eight hours, after what I figured to be 81 kilometers, which meant I had met (surpassed) by goal of 50 miles.
But wait! Upon my return, I was on Facebook and the Equinox folks posted the results on their fan page. I learned that I did 78.3k, which is — gasp — just short of 50 miles. On the upside, I got second place. Yeehaw. But really, this was not a race, but a super fun challenge to ski far with support. And that it was. Plus, I figured my short ski trips to the bathroom and back may have put me just at 50 miles. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 🙂
Some people call the Equinox a “race,” and to a few people it may be that. But for most, it’s not a race, buta personal challenge. The event’s mission, which is stated on its website and influenced me to sign up, is: To hold a nordic ski event that brings benefit to our communities, encourages compassion and camaraderie amongst participants, and provides an exceptional opportunity for personal challenge.
A portion of the money raised from the race is donated to the West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation, which race creator Sam Newbury believes promotes support and health for youth in the community. Funds are also donated to the Livingston-based Manaia Youth Programs.
I love to skate ski. I love being out in nature. I love being around other people who love the outdoors and skiing. I love camaraderie. The Equinox delivered all of these things. I love the Equinox Ski Challenge. Oh, and did I mention we got to dress up in costumes for the event? I was the Pink Power Ranger, and my cohorts dressed up as Padme and Elasta-Girl. I am sure that everyone felt protected and safer as a result of our presence.
Finally, the Equinox Ski Challenge provided an excuse to take a trip with some of my closest girlfriends, Holly Copeland and Kathy Browning. Which meant we sang really loud, ate too much chocolate and drank some wine. In addition to the skiing… 🙂
Thanks so my mom for lending me her Pink Power Ranger costume, and to friend Shannon Kaminsky’s daughter for loaning me the mask!