In the high country of Arizona winter has been very generous so far in terms of snowy weather. Because of this, we could not stay comfortably in our cozy home. The mountains were calling and we had to go skiing. During the first week of February the Arizona Nordic Village received 13 inches of new snow and skiing trails were being groomed.
About the same time we heard on the news that a jogger was attacked by a young mountain lion in Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, in Northern Colorado. This news added more thrill to our journey because we have mountain lions in Arizona. Unlike black bears they don’t hibernate in winter. However, mountain lions are elusive animals and typically avoid humans. I thought that it would be safe to ski the most popular trails and to stay closer to the lodge. When we arrived to the Nordic Village we learned that not all trails were open due to heavy snow.
I chose to ski Babbitt trail, which is usually very popular, but also goes into the back country. The weather was excellent for skiing. There was an abundance of fluffy and crunchy snow. The sun was shining and warming up the frosty air. Pine trees stood still, casting blue shadows across the trail and their green, fluffy branches were motionless due to the lack of breeze.
Babbitt trail is 5.8 km long. The northern part of the trail has a few steep slopes, while the southern part has slopes which are more gentle and gradual with lots of switchbacks. I decided to ski this trail clockwise, which meant a steeper ascend and a gradual descent.
Contrary to my expectations, Babbitt trail was secluded. When I was skiing along the trail I did not see anybody except for a skier in a blue jacket far away ahead of me. As the trail became steeper, going uphill, I stopped to catch my breath and take pictures. The fluffiness of snow made skiing uphill easier. The frosty air, my anticipation of exciting downhill skiing, combined with the solitude and the quiet beauty of the woods, created an overwhelming mixture of feelings and impressions. The skier in a blue jacket was nowhere to be seen. I was alone in the woods. With the hope that mountain lions had already had something to eat, I continued skiing.
After the first steep hill the trail leveled and turned to the left. There are two yurts there and four other trails: Thunder, Coyote, Wapiti and Golden Eagle. These trails branch out from Babbitt trail into different directions. However, it looked to me that only three of them were groomed. I stopped and tried to figure out which trail to take.
Suddenly, I saw the skier in a blue jacket, coming back from Golden Eagle trail. The skier went downhill easily and slowed down as she approached me. The skier was a small, slender granny. When we greeted each other, her face shined with a smile. I did not feel lonely anymore. She was like a skiing fairy of the winter forest: kind and nice. I told her that I can’t find the rest of Babbitt trail, which goes uphill, and asked her for directions. “Relax, you can take the Golden Eagle trail. It’ll lead you to the top and merges with Babbitt trail” she answered with a gentle chuckle. “There is a ski patrol out there for single skiers like you and me” she added reassuring with a shot laugh, which sounded like a silver bell. “Did you go all way to the top?” I asked her. “No, my legs are not in very good shape today” she replied with sadness in her voice. “But you should go. It’s beautiful out there.” Her laugh and smile put me at ease. I thanked her, whished her luck, and continued my journey.
She was right. Golden Eagle trail merged with Babbitt trail on the top of the mountain. At the top there is one of the best views of the area. The trail looks like a long passage, cut through the pine forest. Stately, mast like pine trees line the trail. Skiing along this beautiful passage was very pleasant and effortless. No one was around and the recently groomed snow was soft and crunchy. The sun shined through the pines and it was so warm that I took off my hat. However, the air was still cold enough for snow to stay fluffy and crisp. Gradually the passage began to slightly curve towards the south. I stopped at the point where three gorgeous fir trees adorn the trail. At this point the descent began.
The downhill ride was pure joy. I even did not use wedging to slow down. The speed was very comfortable. A frosty breeze blew into my face and hair. The curves were visible ahead and I was prepared to keep my balance. I joyfully swooshed downhill passing beautiful scenery and other skiers, who were slowly making their way up the trail. I did not have any signs of fear and was absolutely happy. My husband reached me on the phone a couple of times when I was on the trail and the reception was excellent.
After that I took Dog trail, which was very popular. Only the lower part of the trail was groomed. The trail is almost flat with gentle hills, stunning scenery and a view of San Francisco peak, which was all covered with snow. There were skiers and snowshoers with romping dogs and a couple with two young children. The parents pulled their kids in covered sleds, attached to their waist like harnesses. All in all it was a gorgeous day for skiing.
The next day was very cold and windy but I could not resist trying another downhill trail. After skiing easy trails, such as Dog trail and Black Bear trail I decided to take Coyote trail. Coyote trail branches off from the northern part of Babbitt trail above the first steep hill. This time Babbitt trail was pretty busy and the weather was harsh. Climbing uphill was difficult because the trail turned into an icy road. Snow was stomped by the skiers who passed here before. The uphill workout warmed me up a little, but my hands were still cold even in my extra warm and fluffy mittens. I watched skiers going downhill while I was climbing up. Some of them were relaxed and regulated their speed with the wedging technique. But some were tense and shaky. I thought that I will probably look like the later. I did not ask local experts about Coyote trail and did not know what to expect. I imagined that it would be steep as the trail hugged the steepest part of Babbitt trail. I took pictures of two yurts at the beginning of Coyote trail and started skiing downhill.
As its namesake character from Navajo legends, the trail was extremely tricky and unpredictable. Moreover, it was thrilling! One sharp turn followed the other during the trail’s steep and short descent. The trail was icy and very slippery and it took twice the effort to slow down.
It reminded me that one’s life can be like those trails. Sometimes it’s sunny and easygoing and the only thing you have to do is to enjoy the ride. Sometimes life is harsh, risky and unpredictable and you have to use all your strength, will, and wisdom to stay on your feet. But there are always kind and nice people along the way who give us encouragement, good advice, and show us the right way.
When I was writing this I looked up the weather forecast for Flagstaff and saw more snowy weather for next week. It means there will be more trails to explore and slopes to conquer.