Nordic Notes with Simi: Daydreaming of backcountry boots and powder skis

Simi Hamilton
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen Nordic skier Simi Hamilton from Oct. 25, 2017.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times |

I’m not diabetic, but I’ve spent time with teammates and friends over the years who are, and I can imagine a parallel can be drawn.

You’ve just wrapped up an exquisite, four-course meal at a tiny, family-owned hotel in the Dolomites. It’s the kind of place where you know the bread is baked two doors down, the meat is from the butcher across the street, and the pasta rolled out of the chef’s pasta maker within the hour. Dessert is brought out, and as your homemade tiramisu is placed in front of you and you can taste the sugar crystals floating through the room.

That’s when you realize spending five months a year as a ski racer in the peaks of Tyrol, the Norwegian fjords, and the Julian Alps is a bit like being a diabetic endurance athlete and having to pass on your piece of tiramisu.

I love ski racing. I love doing beat-you-to-a-pulp intervals on the same 1.5-kilometer loop over and over again. I love taking my recovery time seriously while I lay on the couch at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday watching Netflix or turning the pages of “Undaunted Courage.” Heck, I even love the feeling of driving 110 mph on the Autobahn as we caravan from race venue to race venue during our five-month World Cup season, traveling the same roads where I’ve memorized where the best espresso stops are.

But I also love looking at the mountains and feeling an incredible sense of wonder and uncertainty. I love day dreaming of stripping off my race suit, turning on my avalanche beacon, clicking into my backcountry skis, and stepping into the powder. Relative to the majority of the humans on our planet, we live extraordinary lives taking part in an extraordinary profession. But it’s always important to remind myself that when you’re adventuring in the high mountains, there is no glass ceiling.

Occasionally, I’ll find myself forgetting what I’m doing as I warm up for a World Cup race below 10,000-foot glaciated peaks or 3,000-foot walls of clean, vertical limestone. Driving up an endless series of switchbacks to a hotel overlooking the Albula Valley, my eyes instinctively scan the surrounding peaks for sets of tracks linking summits to the valley floor. But like last year, and the year before that, and the eight years before that, my duffel bag is void of my backcountry boots, my avalanche beacon, my powder skis and my climbing gear.

Ski racing has taught me the importance of patience, commitment and grit. But most importantly, it’s taught me the importance of focus. My job is to put on a race bib, break the starting wand, and try to ski faster than anyone else in the world for three minutes. And on all those days in between putting on a race bib, it’s my duty to do everything in my power to become a better ski racer.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t daydream about the opportunity of adventure when my gaze shifts up to a windblown summit or a jagged ridgeline. The mountains aren’t going anywhere. Before I know it, I’ll be telling my children stories from ski racing on the World Cup and at the Olympics. But I’m quite certain that in between cheering for them during their World Cup races in Europe, you’ll be able to find me high in the mountains exploring the terrain that has been beckoning me for years.

Editor’s note: Nordic Notes is a weekly column written by Aspen-raised cross-country skiers Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman as they compete on the World Cup circuit ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.