Trail Chef: Back­coun­try Thanks­giv­ing

Can a diehard win­ter ath­lete take on a new sport—and the frus­tra­tion of be­com­ing a beginner again?


Cel­e­brate Turkey Day in the wilder­ness with this por­ta­ble feast. Rest as­sured, your camp­mates will be thank­ful.

AFTER A LIFE­TIME of snow travel, I’ve tried it all: snow­board­ing, snowshoeing, ski­ing (of all kinds), and even slid­ing down­hill on cafe­te­ria trays. I’ve al­ways loved pick­ing up new sports and de­cod­ing gear, so when I heard about a snow­shoe-ski hy­brid called sk­ishoes, I was in­trigued. I had no idea it was my cafe­te­ria tray sled­ding ex­pe­ri­ence that would turn out to be the most use­ful.

My sk­ishoes are roughly 3 feet long and 7 inches wide. They weigh about 4 pounds each and are made of high­den­sity poly­eth­yl­ene, the same stuff as an old-school Nal­gene. They don’t have edges, but built-in teeth and scales line their un­der­bel­lies.

The sk­ishoes seemed to fall some­where be­tween snow­shoes and tour­ing skis, and would hope­fully marry the trac­tion and learn­ing curve of the for­mer to the float and ef­fi­ciency of the lat­ter.

The gear was easy to as­sess, but I had some mis­giv­ings about mas­ter­ing it. After all, I hadn’t tried to pick up a brand-new sport in a while. This would be an ad­ven­ture.

I knew any as­cent of the learn­ing curve would re­quire the right part­ner. For­tu­nately, my two-year-old yel­low lab is al­ways up for any­thing.

Lulu and I headed to a trail­head near Brainard Lake, Colorado. I scratched my head at the map kiosk. There were ski trails and snow­shoe

trails. What was I? Time to find out. We picked a 5-mile loop that in­cor­po­rated both.

Lulu sniffed at a nearby tree while I buck­led my hik­ing boots into the snow­shoestyle bind­ings and ad­justed my poles. Com­pared to my sleek ski setup, I looked like Daffy Duck. Reser­va­tions resur­faced, but I pushed them down and took a deep breath. Blue sky, happy dog. Let’s do this.

The built-in teeth stuck to the snow and hin­dered the glide, so I stomped along the flat trail as if on snow­shoes. But the only trouble was th­ese are a lot heav­ier than the snow­shoes I’m used to. They’re also big­ger—I kicked my­self in the an­kle more than once try­ing to get a feel for the size.

The breeze flicked ice crys­tals off the pine trees. The soft spring snow crunched be­neath my feet. It was beau­ti­ful, but not enough to dis­tract me from my awk­ward­ness. There was a lit­tle more to this than I’d ex­pected, but I told my­self I was get­ting the hang of it.

We ap­proached our first rolling hill. Lulu bounded up it. That made one of us. I took one step and slid right back down. Huh. Maybe the snow was too hard? The slope too steep? The teeth not grippy enough?

Time to get out the toys. I stepped out of the bind­ings and pulled out the ac­ces­sory cram­pons—ad­di­tional rows of metal teeth that screwed into the bot­toms of the sk­ishoes. I fum­bled around with the screws, drop­ping one in the snow. I sighed, fished it out, and fin­ished the job. The dog did her happy dog thing, and I was glad for her op­ti­mism.

With cram­pons, I marched up the slope, hip flex­ors strain­ing with the weight of the sk­ishoes. I still missed my tooth­pick skis and my light­weight snow­shoes, but I told my­self I was get­ting a work­out. Ad­ven­ture, I re­minded my­self, rarely vis­its the meek.

Mean­while, Lulu de­cided to poop as far off the trail as she could man­age. Clas­sic. I swear she was laugh­ing at

me as I sighed and trudged after it, the wide sk­ishoes thank­fully keep­ing me afloat in the pow­der. I tied the bag to my pack and kept go­ing.

When the trail lev­eled out, I switched to skins—and was fi­nally glid­ing. I glimpsed the free­dom and ef­fi­ciency that had made me fall in love with ski­ing—un­til I pushed over a small lip onto a gen­tle down­hill slope.

One leg slid out from un­der me. My arms wind­milled and I over­cor­rected, flip­ping my run­away sk­ishoe into my other shin. I chan­neled my cafe­te­ria tray ex­pe­ri­ence and man­aged to keep bal­anced, but not for long; the other leg buck­led, send­ing me back­slap­ping into the snow—right on top of my dog bag. I pulled my­self up, but to the smell of de­feat: The bag had popped.

Then I glanced at Lulu, who was grin­ning once again. I imag­ined what she was see­ing: a grown adult, rolling around in poopy snow with plas­tic planks strapped to her feet. The day’s frus­tra­tion boiled out of me, but not in a scream as I ex­pected. This time, I laughed.

It’s hard to push be­yond your com­fort zone, but trial and er­ror is all part of the game. And if I learned noth­ing else that day, I at least re­mem­bered how to laugh at my­self.

To­gether, Lulu and I stomped our way down the rest of the trail. I de­cided sk­ishoes seemed like a de­cent al­ter­na­tive to snow­shoes, if not skis. I could pic­ture my kids or par­ents step­ping into them on my flat street or tak­ing Lulu for a short ram­ble in deep pow­der.

But that day, I used them to bum­ble my way back to the trail­head. I loaded them and Lulu into the back of the car and felt more grace­ful climb­ing the side of my ve­hi­cle to lift the pack into the rooftop box than I had all day. But, hey: I’d asked for an ad­ven­ture for the two of us, and that’s just what I got.

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