Aspen Princess: Living a life of extremes
You want to talk extreme, I got a great story for you about extreme.
This is a story about snowboarding and about a snowboarder who taught me a long time ago what it truly means to be hard-core.
She was a handful with an abundance of energy and intensity that seemed to fly at me from every direction, like a wild and exotic bird circling around my head that was part beautiful and part terrifying. She was fearless and wild and a little intimidating, and she loved to misbehave for the sake of misbehaving, but that’s what I loved about her.
She was a top pro snowboarder back when women’s snowboarding was blowing up, back when I was an editor at a snowboarding magazine.
I haven’t thought about Megan Pischke in years. At least not until yesterday, when I found out she’d been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and documented her ordeal in a film called “Chasing Sunshine” that premiered at the Wheeler on Wednesday.
Almost 20 years later, everything and nothing about her has changed. In the film, she does nothing to sugarcoat the brutal reality of her battle with the disease. She talked about how she wanted to be a warrior, a soldier, and to charge through the experience the way she charged down mountains. But she quickly learned that wouldn’t happen. The feisty, strong-willed, fearless girl I once knew was, maybe for the first time in her life, learning to surrender.
I first met Megan when I was working as an editor at Trans-world Snowboarding magazine and traveled with her to Montana for a monster road trip to Bridger Bowl, Big Sky and Big Mountain. Megan somehow convinced me we needed to take a 250-mile detour halfway through the trip to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere called Highlands.
“Few things in life beat a good batch of homemade clam chowder, fresh bread, and a shot of Dickle whiskey,” I later wrote. “That’s the first thing you’ll get when you walk into the front door of the Highwood Bar — or maybe the second. A few strange looks might be in order from the locals who, in a town of 150 people, rarely see outsiders. But you’re guaranteed a warm welcome from Suzy Sprinkle and her brother John, who also happen to be Megan Picshke’s mom and uncle.” I also wrote about how the Highwood Bar sells more Dickle whiskey than any bar in America. If that’s not a claim to fame, I don’t know what is.
Needless to say, meeting Megan’s family explained a lot about her free spirit, the wild child who carved out a decent living for herself as an unapologetic snowboard bum who traveled the world riding powder and having her photo taken doing it.
I was so young and impressionable back then, and I swear, I followed that girl around like a puppy. It didn’t really occur to me that as an editor at the biggest snowboarding magazine in the world I had something she wanted, that I was the one with all the power. I loved her the way a kid loves her baby sitter or an older cousin or the big kid down the street. The ironic thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m at least five years older than she is.
I remember driving through Montana listening to Luscious Jackson, Megan singing at the top of her lungs. I bought the CD as soon as I got home. Like Megan, the music had attitude and power I was probably lacking. It was something I needed to hear.
A few years later, I took Megan on a heli trip to British Columbia with Craig Kelly and Jeremy Jones. If you don’t know who Craig Kelly and Jeremy Jones are, you probably haven’t been alive long enough. Craig was a Burton original, the first pro snowboarder to define what being a pro snowboarder means. He not only invented the first cache of snowboard tricks — he did it with a style and soul and grace that are still emulated today.
Craig was tragically killed in an avalanche in British Columbia 12 years ago (the anniversary of his death was Jan. 20). Jeremy was, and still is, the best big-mountain snowboarder in the world, constantly pushing the progression of what’s possible in a sport he helped create and where he continues to push the envelope to this day.
How I ended up with those people in that place is still beyond me. I think it’s safe to assume Megan felt the exact same way.
We did a trip to Last Frontier Heli, a small operation based in the middle of nowhere just off the Alaska Highway, two hours south of the Alaskan-Canadian boarder. Every morning at sunrise, we were off flying through the pink and purple skies in subzero temperatures eating powder for breakfast and riding the most epic terrain you can imagine. We were with these guys who were the best at what they do and were as much in awe of each other as we were of them. I remember Megan pushed herself hard that week, taking on lines that she probably never would have attempted were it not for being in the company of total genius. The boys were so supportive, so proud of her when she summoned the courage to drop into terrain that put our hearts into our throats just watching her. But Megan charged it.
To see her now, almost 20 years later, a mother and a wife, a wellness teacher and a yogi, and now a breast cancer survivor, it doesn’t surprise me that she’d charge as hard in the face of this disease as she did in those big mountains all those years ago. It’s just a reminder that life is precious and time flies and that you should never take one minute for granted.
For more information on “Chasing Sunshine,” go to http://www.chasing sunshineproject.org or email the Princess at alisonmargo@ gmail.com.
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