Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game


My 19-year-old son, Tait, called the other day. I was in my work-a-day world in front of the computer, my focus on the screen. His voice suddenly took me far away.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m in a beautiful place, just under the peak of Mount Sopris. The sun is warm. The sky is blue. There’s no wind. I’m in shirtsleeves, not wearing gloves. This is perfect.”

Tait was checking in while on a solo ski tour, one of those adventures that make his mother nervous but which I encourage as a necessity for personal grounding.

Tait was visiting between classes in college at Prescott, Ariz. He had just finished a three-week block of Spanish intensive language study, living with a Mexican family in Old Kino Bay on the Sea of Cortez. He needed a reconnection to home.

Solo adventures have become a passion for this child of the mountains and deserts. All the outdoor lesson books teach not to go alone into the wilderness, but Tait assumes the responsibility. And so do we, his parents.

Certain precautions are taken. Tait carried a Spot Me emergency satellite transmitter – just in case. And he had his cellphone. But the greatest precaution is preparation and skill, the learned behavior of a young man who’s been out in the wilds most of his life and loves what it gives him. His foray up Sopris was yet another visit to the temple of nature.

He told me his route from Prince Creek Divide skiing the long approach to the Thomas Lakes Trailhead, climbing the switchbacks to the big meadow on the Hay Park Trail, veering up through the aspen groves on the winding trail to Thomas Lakes and then breaking trail high into the basin, above timberline, into an austere world of rock, snow and ice.

I asked him if he saw anyone else, and the answer was no. There was not even a broken track beyond the first big meadow. Within this huge expanse of wild lands, much of it designated wilderness, there was not one other person within miles. Tait’s high perch was his alone, a secluded place to feel the full force of the mountains.

This image conjures the Aldo Leopold quote: “What good are 40 freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” Leopold understood the importance of places where a person can exercise their freedom, not only as a citizen of a particular state or nation but as a planetary citizen able to roam pristine landscapes where the primal forces of creation remain fresh and close.

On skis, this experience is particularly profound because there is only one set of tracks to remind you of your solitude, one wavering double-track meandering through a deep forest, across a sun-lit meadow through myriad sparkles of snow.

It doesn’t cost anything to go to these places. There is no ticket price or entry fee because these lands are public. You simply go with the best intentions, which equates to a sense of discovery, both internal and external. You cannot ski into a mountain wilderness by yourself without penetrating deep into your own thoughts. That’s either the bonus to a day of exertion or the entire reason for going.

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being, and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and know no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

Kierkegaard was a depressed man, but he found solace in walking. A ski tour into the cathedral-like ramparts of Mount Sopris is likewise a tonic, a respite, a reminder of the insignificance of self against the awesome scale of nature. For many, the woes of life are more manageable in this realm.

Tait’s phone call left me feeling ebullient, optimistic. It gave me confidence to know that the power of nature, with all its life-affirming qualities, is available through a personal experience built on moments of awareness. One needn’t ski up Mount Sopris to find these moments. The wilderness temple has many chapels.

Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times. He can be reached at

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