Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

“You got a Highlands tattoo there?” some guy said to me at the top of the Bowl yesterday.

“Yeah, I guess I do!” I said, relieved that maybe it wasn’t so unusual to be out snowboarding with two Band-Aids slapped across my right cheek.

I was totally embarrassed about the fact that I’d gotten frostbite in the first place. I mean, I should know better. I should know to keep my face covered when it’s that cold out. I should know that maybe it’s not such a great idea to hike to the summit when it was blowing 60 miles per hour on the ridge last Saturday.

“Why don’t we just drop into mushroom?” I asked Ryan. “We could just lap it and get a few runs in instead of just doing one lap to the summit.”

“No, let’s just go,” he said. I didn’t argue. He’s the one who has to work six days a week so I figured it should be his choice.

It was an arduous climb from go. Most of the boot pack was filled in. My board, tightly secured to my back with my nifty AHSP bowl strap (Have you seen the new colors? So cool. Mine is purple and green.), acted as a sail and there were times I was sure my feet would lift right off the ground. I imagined myself flying through the air, accidentally inventing a new sport called board sailing that would make me rich and famous and then I wouldn’t have to think about the fact that the wind was blowing so damn hard I could hardly hear myself think.

In my head I’m going, “I am a mountain girl. I live in the mountains. I should be able to do this hike in any conditions. It will make me stronger and more adaptable. It will make the next hike seem like nothing.”

“I think I’m over it,” I told Ryan just above the Rock Out gate. Another group of hikers just behind us had opted to navigate the steep wind lip to drop into Boxcar just to get out of the cyclone.

“Naw, let’s just keep going,” he said.

At that point I had to quiet the voices of doubt and dread, anticipating the steepest section was just ahead of us. At least now the boot back was well established and it was easier for me to get purchase with my feet, even in my fat, round toe rubbery snowboarding boots.

When we stopped to catch our breath (Yes, we stopped, OK? God!) I saw this tall, thin woman dressed in a shiny Moncler jacket of all things. I have to admit she looked very put together, classy even. So of course in my head I’m going, “If that rich lady can do it, I can.”

Then she got closer. “Virginia?” I said. “Is that you?”

It turned out to be Virginia Ford, my CPA. I mean, she’s like, such a lady. She always has perfect hair and the perfect outfit and is the kind of person I’d expect to run into at the cafe or the hair salon or maybe at Pitkin County Dry Goods, but not on the Bowl and certainly not on a day like that.

“I hike the Bowl every Saturday, no matter what!” she said.

“Yeah!” I cheered. “No matter what!”

“I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what Steve has gone through on Everest, right?” I said. I was referring to her boss, Steve Marolt, who climbs and skis super-tall mountains all over the world and makes movies about it.

“I always think of him when I’m up here!” she said with a girlish squeal.

“I mean, if he can do that, we can do this, right?” I said. I helped her adjust her skis since they were getting blown all cockeyed and sideways across her back. Then I let her pass me.

Did I mention she had a full neoprene facemask on? Somehow she made it look good.

I was wearing my Silver Bullet, the Bogner puffy jacket I paid full-double-retail for at Gorsuch at the beginning of the season. I realize that’s a ridiculous thing for me to do when my fiancee’s best friend has a consignment store called Replay Sports (across from the Aspen Post office on Puppy Smith). But you know me. I’m all about instant gratification.

I’ll admit I had my moment of buyer’s remorse (Is it too shiny? Too obnoxious? Too too?). Our friend Voss always makes fun of me and calls me an astronaut. But in the end it’s been the best jacket ever. It absolutely does not breathe and is so hot even on the coldest day. So I wasn’t even cold that day. My skin was actually pretty warm, which is why I couldn’t feel the snow freezing to my face.

As I followed my fiancee up the Bowl in gale force winds, I thought with pride about how we hiked the Bowl in subzero weather on New Year’s Eve and it didn’t faze us. We are stocky and strong and have a nice little layer of cushioning. We are like polar bears or white Eskimos. We are genetically fit for this climate with our short arms and legs and thick middles, so pass the fries. Yes, I’ll have a little ranch with that.

It turns out the only thing we are meant for is each other. It wasn’t until we got to the bottom and went inside that it dawned on us that our faces felt funny.

“Is it white?” I kept asking people at Highlands Pizza Company. “Is it swollen?”

It felt numb and it felt swollen.

“Eesh,” they’d say. “It looks pretty swollen.”

Ryan’s face was so puffy he looked like a cartoon character.

Before we got engaged, I always imagined that instead of an engagement ring we’d just get matching tattoos. I just had no idea it would say “Highlands” across the right side of my face.

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