Guest contributor: Debora Black

Getting Outside Saturday: The Feel Good

categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside



The gondola car, packed full, makes a rough landing at the top of Heavenly, swinging from side to side from a one-handed grip on the thick cable, and bumping at intervals into the long length of dock before settling.  There is a dramatic pause, waiting for the doors.  I adjust my goggles as if I’m an X-Games contender.  It’s a powder day in Steamboat, and I’m about to get my feel good.

Smokey clouds are scattered across the sky.  The ski mountain is washed in pale grey.  But the atmosphere is anything but subdued, anything but peaceful.  It feels like pressing and elbows at the start gate.  What it is, as skiers and riders step into bindings and launch into various ski runs, is everyone competing for first tracks, and we all have a strategy.

I ratchet down the last binding strap of my snowboard and push myself up to standing.  I am bound-up in the collective energy around me.  I hop to the edge of the slope and drop into the Fresh, the Pow, the Champagne.  Over twelve inches of new!  I am air.  Smooth, controlled.  I guide my board through the snow, moving from edge to edge through shifting pressures of toes and heels and rolling hips.  I head right and pick up the untracked tree line.  The snow is always deeper on this ridge, and since everyone is hurrying to the next lift, this area is often forgotten.  The snow is over my knees.  It’s tricky to stay right, because the slope pulls you back-in to the left, so I ride it like you see a surfer on a wave, sweeping back to the top of the curl, following the momentum down and in, sweeping back up and around and down, and the rhythm continues soft and sweet until I cross the road, and dive into a steep, bowl-shaped run.  Wow.  Snow high up my thighs!  Barks and howls, the cries from the powder hounds, carry across the mountain while I rise and fall over giant mounds carved-out by everyone who beat me down the slope.

Halfway through the run, I straighten out for speed.  I’m blazin’ it.  I pass several people as I cross the expanse of flat that will take me to my three lift options.  Only two count.  Storm Peak Express is where everyone wants to be.  It’s a quad, carries four at a time at high speed to the top of this side of the ski area.  The problem is the line gets really long, fast.  If you’re not in the first group of chairs, a whole lot of people can get to the runs ahead of you.  My other viable option is Four Points.  It seats three.  It’s slower.  It stops at mid-mountain.  Dropping in at mid-mountain means sacrificing some primo terrain.  But it will give me the advantage of getting ahead of everyone already in line at Storm.  Being ahead puts me in the best position for return passes.  My thighs are burning from riding my toe edge for so long, but shifting to my heel edge will slow me down. I crest Rainbow Saddle and get a full view of the lifts. They’re just now boarding Storm.  Big Line.  No one at Four Points.  I cut sharply across Rainbow Saddle and come to a sliding stop at the Four Points chair.

I’m the only one on the mountain.  Skiers and riders are just reaching the top of Storm Peak.  All I hear is the sound of the cold, still air.  If this sound were a color it would be as blue as wonder.  This sound of blue wonder fills me.  I take deep breaths of it and release.  I look out beyond the ski area to the distant white range.  It’s massive.  I think of all of the wild animals inhabiting that expanse.  Marvel at how they manage and how they love.

The top of Cyclone is steep, but the snow is mid-thigh and has some weight to it.  My turns are shallow, effortless.  I glide through the soft grey sky, and the blue that is inside me, and the deep, sweeping undulations of white.  Inside these colors and the crisp, thin air and the endless expanse of my surround, I know that I can do anything.

White is the color of Lucy’s tennis dress.  I can see her as she was, stretched upward to full extension in the middle of her serve. A slight frame that will fool you, an easy five-seven, she is perched on the tips of her toes.  The muscles of her legs are flexed taught and create a shadow that runs from behind her ankle bone to somewhere high up, under the hemline of her dress.  Her back is arched, her breasts are compressed beneath the tight of that fabric.  Her face is lifted to the sky.  Her right arm is poised over her head and bent at the elbow with her racket dropped behind her back.  She is intent on her purpose.  She is complete focus.  She is about to raise that forearm and snap her entire body up and into the ball with a power that will make my skin tingle in admiration and pride.

Cyclone bottoms out, and I cross a flat area where slopes converge.  I ride fast and straight across the flat to take the rise that leads to Vortex and Dropout.  The rise and Dropout have been groomed.  Otherwise I could not have made the ascent with a snowboard.  I head into the un-groomed on Vortex and create small avalanches as I descend.

Lucy is my best girlfriend—my only girlfriend.  She lives several states away.  We talk almost every day about everything.  She likes to hear about all of the things I do in Colorado.  If Lucy saw me ski, if she saw me poised in mid-turn, she would see that I am in classic ski racer position, my inside knee, hip, and shoulder angulated so that a plumb line could drop through each part.  This angulation is exaggerated, aggressive, balancing me on the edges of my skis, which are tipped so far over that the opposite edges are lifted out of the snow and parallel to the angle of the slope.  There is a curve in my skis from the pressure of my turn, which has lifted the snow that is swirling around me.  I am complete concentration.  I feel the strength of my legs holding my edges.  I feel the power of my speed.  I feel every fear of every time I held back in my life.  I feel the loss of the things that might have been.

Lucy would like seeing my aggression as I power down the hill, my body crossing over the top of my skis and dropping into that angulation, crossing and dropping, crossing and dropping as I move from turn to turn.  She would grin in that tight, practiced way of not fully showing herself.  She would say, God Damn, Deb!  I would hear in her voice the thing that would make me grin back.  I wouldn’t be able to help myself, because Lucy is always number one in her division, the number one female in the state.  When she comes down on that ball, she will be hitting it with every disappointment of her life.  And every ball that comes back to her, she will hit again, and return it with the power of her will, to say, Huh-uh, no way I’m going down.  So if I can make her say God Damn, Deb, I know that I am making it too.

I am on Storm Peak Express.  It feels good to sit.  It is blue sky, now—and sun.  I look over the ski runs and plan my next circuit.  There is plenty of untracked snow.  I ride Storm Face to Rainbow to Hurricane.  I have first tracks all the way.  I am lost in all those silky dancing turns, all the sticky fragrance of the pine trees, and my own deepest stirrings.  I do two more laps from Storm Peak Express just because I can, and then I head up BC lift to Lightening to the cutoff to Vagabond.  I take the slow way down the mountain, meander through all that bright cold snow.  I am filled with the expanse of the possibilities still in front of me.  My legs will be mush by the time I get to the bottom.  There will be no holding back.

  1. Lorna Hamilton writes:

    Hi Debora! THANK you for sharing this with me. I do not think that I will ever snowboard again without the “blue wonder” riding along with me. I enjoyed your essay very, very much.

    • Debora writes:

      Lorna! Thanks for the kind thoughts! Hey, this is Lorna–a very dear and tender creature who spends her time caring for all of the the animals that make their needy way into the Pet Kare Clinic of Steamboat Springs. Lorna has helped me and mine through everything from quillings to cancer. She is irreplaceable.

  2. Angela Oberlin writes:

    Hi Debora,

    It was a pleasure meeting you and Stephan this past week at Carl’s (with David).

    Since I’m a skier, I really appreciated the way you captured that feeling you have when it is the perfect day and a powder day at that! The interwoven story of your girlfriend was interesting- I do know exactly what you mean about your best girlfriend calling you ‘Deb’…my best friend from HS still calls me ‘Angie’, but no one else!

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

    Angela Oberlin

    • Debora writes:

      Angela, I’m so glad you dropped in at Bill and Daves! We all had a great time meeting you too! I’m happy to hear you found the Lucy story interesting, thanks! I am going to check out your friend Sam’s book. I just finished a short story collection by Michael Nye, Strategies Against Extinction. It is terrific. And there is also, Life Among Giants–which David is reading and enjoying–written by Bill Roorbach, one of the creators of this website. I hope you will be back in Steamboat soon!

      • Debora writes:

        Angela, I should have thought to mention that Michael Nye has a post here on Bill and Daves. Look for October 26, Table for Two, Minus One. This is a self interview, it’s really sweet, I think you will want to read Strategies for sure, once you get to know Michael a little from the interview!

      • Angela Oberlin writes:

        That is funny- I noticed that book on his table today!

        Thanks for the suggestions- I’ll try to find all of them.

        Look forward to a return trip!


  3. Tommy writes:

    Beautiful and Penetrating. I love the blue wonder.

    Now I know what it feels like to ski. I could feel the snow splash up into my face as you cut, and the power of my once powerful body as you turned. I could feel the expanse of the mountain while looking out over the dots of the other skiers. What a run!

    I think I better head over to the lodge for a cup of hot cocoa, go home, check on the dogs, and soak in the hot tub – before the roads freeze over again! “Wa-Hoo!”

    • Debora writes:

      Hi Tommy! Good to hear from you! I’m glad you like the blue wonder, I really like it too! Hey, you still got it Tommy, no doubt! Cocoa and canines. Now that’s a feel good.

      • jeff arend writes:

        hi debora its jeff just read ur story wow that makes me wanna get back up there again!, what happend to the freinds u were gonna set me up ? LOL. its was a pleasure meetin you at carls monday nite along w steph, well let me know about ur freinds damnit lol,. jeff

        • Debora writes:

          Hi Jeff, Glad you liked my essay! Yes, you should dust off those skis…(On the other issue, I’ll mention just quickly–since Bill and Daves is for literary talk–I was surprised to find out those two girls are off the market! Drats!) Anyway, thanks for your nice thought on the Steamboat piece! I’m sure we’ll all bump-in again.

  4. Vasilios writes:

    I, on the other hand, don’t know you, but I’d like to! This was great. I’ve never snowboarded, skied, or snowshoed so it’s all a wild, foreign world to me. But being in your head for it was a pretty sweet ride.

    What are powder hounds?

    • Debora writes:

      Hi Vas! I’m very glad you liked the writing.

      Powder Hounds? Dawgs all of ’em, so beware girlies! Haha, no no no. Well some.

      But these days powder hounds can be either gender. They are people who will not show up for work or school (or both in the case of the teacher) if there has been sufficient snowfall the night before. Although they are never on time for anything in their lives, they will show up at least 30 minutes early to the gondola building in order to be in the first wave of skiers and riders in line “pressin’ glass” at the doors to board. They literally bark and howl–its a mob scene–to encourage the gatekeeper to unlock the doors early. They continue to bark and howl throughout the ski day in approval of the snow and in announcement their wild joy. I have been known to join in this crazy communication, but usually go for a more feminine “yee-haw!” or “whoohoo!” ’cause I’m actually kind of shy–for instance I would never blow snot out of my nose like so many of the girl athletes here–and this is a actually a very powder hound thing to do–gross, considering. Later we all gather in bars for margs (since I make the best marg in town, I’m high maintenance and always have one specially made–not a powder hound thing to do) and brag about our best runs.

      Vas, you too can be a powder hound. Gear-up!

      • Debora writes:

        see a few typing probs but otherwise accurate

      • Vasilios writes:

        Awesome, thanks.

        And the nickname’s just V, if you need one. (Most Americans do).

        Can’t wait to read more of your stuff. If there’s more, please point me there!

        • Debora writes:

          Vasilios it is! Lucy is the only person who calls me Deb. All others, Debora. I’m not sure how that happened. I wrote a Bad Advice Wednesday, “It’s All About The Gaga” in October (?). It is in the archives.

          Speaking of Bad Advice, I’m still trying to think of a solution to your problem…All I can say is that I have a colorful career history, because I always found it exciting to explore the things that I became interested in, and I am happy that I did.

  5. Greg Forney writes:
    • Debora writes:

      Yahoo! Look everyone, Mr. Steamboat is here! Greg, Stein, Stephan and Debora–together we’ve had some of my best times on the mountain. Greg is a great racer in the Steamboat Springs Town Challenge (along with Stein and Steph) a ski instructor, and more. Usually he has a lot more to say, hahaha.

      Hi Greg, thanks for checking out my essay. Let’s all get together soon. We miss you guys!

  6. barbi johnston writes:

    this is a beautiful, vivid piece of writing. i do not ski anymore but i sure felt it!!!! your descriptions are so picturesque. good job debora. happy holidays!

    • Debora writes:

      Hi Barbi! I’m glad you’re here, it wouldn’t be the same without you! Well, you might not be skiing, but you’ve sure got it going on. Enjoy our talks down at Kali’s! Oh! Speaking of Kali’s…I love love love the silk scarf. I tied it around my head exactly like you showed me…so freakin’ cool! And we picked out the perfect one! Gorgeous colors! Love that haute hippie chic. Hahaha. Thanks for making me look good!

  7. Phyl Sharp writes:

    Hey, Deb,
    I was in your head, moving fast, skiing brilliantly through powder on one of the most beautiful mountains in Colorado. Your writing transported me from my poolside lounge chair in South Florida to the deep snows of the Rockies. You must know that I have never skied with such skill in my life. Thanks for this lovely and exhilarating piece of writing.

    • Debora writes:

      Hi Phyl! So glad you made it to Bill and Dave’s! I thought you might be out of town. I’ve been skiing the trail behind your house, but haven’t seen you! Everyone, this is my friend, Phyl. She is a very talented artist, creates beautiful paintings…and likes to snow shoe. Phyl has fabulous parties–she’s a terrific cook! Thanks for the kind words! I’m really glad you got to see my work. See you soon, Phyl.

      • Debora writes:

        Actually, I got that wrong, Phyl is a classic cross country skier. She probably does both. Did I mention her fabulous garden? Jealous of that poolside, by the way…

  8. Peter Peteet writes:

    ” Barks and howls” back at ya,Debora.It’s been 16 years since I was on a ski slope,you brought back the best parts.Thanks.

    • Debora writes:

      Hahaha! Hi Pete! It’s snowing in Steamboat this morning, and I’ve got my ski plan, for sure. But first some coffee and a trip to the grocery store–I just realized it’s Christmas, and I have to pick up a few things, yikes!

      16 years, my, my, my. I’m glad I brought it all rushing back. However, I do believe a ski is in order for you, and some of you all interested parties at Bill and Dave’s need to start thinking about a Bill and Dave’s ski trip to Steamboat. There is no better place to get back in the swing of things.

      Looking forward to your next poem!

  9. Ann writes:

    Even sitting on the beach in Hawaii I could feel the pure bite of the blue wind rushingy face!

    Now you need to come paddle Prince William Sound and trade that sweet powder air for some savory sea spray.

  10. Ann writes:

    Even sitting on a beach in Hawaii I still felt the pure crisp bite of the air rushing my face as I read!!!

    Now you need to come paddle Prince William Sound and trade that blue powder air for some savoy sea spray.

    • Debora writes:

      Hi Ann! Yes, you are right about that sea spray! Nicely written comment, Ann–impressive for a fancy pants lawyer. Hey, meet Ann, my very impressive and always sunny little sister. Hi Nathan, like that pic you sent! Catch a wave for me!

  11. Barbara writes:

    Damn! I can’t believe I haven’t been out yet year. Thanks for reminding me why I live here…

    • Debora writes:

      Hi Barbara, thanks for checking me out! Barbara is usually skiing and road biking and sailing, but she is in the last huge efforts of getting a big community project off the ground, the Second Annual Dancing With The Stars fundraising event for Court Appointed Special Advocates. I know it will be great, B! I’m looking forward to seeing all of our Steamboat Stars whirling around the dance floor.

  12. Lucy Mitchell writes:


    I just got done reading my BFF’s essay and I have to say,God Damn,Deb!
    I’m so glad there’s no more holding back on your “shining star” talents as a writer.
    Let the mountain that you are climbing right now take you higher and higher to soar.
    I’m WIDE grinning about the beginnings of your accomplishments.
    Goggle up and dance down the hill with that powerful energy you’ve got in your step.
    Thanks for helping me out, and not letting me double fault.

    You got it going on!!!


    • Debora writes:

      Lucy! Look everyone, it’s Lucy! I’m so glad you’re here on Bill and Dave’s! Queen of the court, this one is! Packs the Pow! And, as you can see, Lucy is my number one fan. Thanks for all the nice words!

  13. Toni writes:

    “God damn, Deb”, I felt like I was there skiing with you! Your words are so eloquent.
    What a beautiful piece of work….Lucy needs to find a white tennis dress.

    • Debora writes:

      Everyone meet Toni! Toni is a power chick out of Austin–an engineer (Engineered Computer Rooms)! Smart stuff! We met on the mountain. Looking forward to our ski, Toni!

      Glad I transported you!

  14. Stephan writes:

    It’s hard to put into words what we all feel on a powder day, and you did it! I especially liked the interweave of Lucy’s story, and the way all of us can relate to the “feel good”, no matter what endeavor we’re in. Wonderful piece!

    • Debora writes:

      Thanks Stephan! It’s good to know I got it right for all you Steamboat powder hounds! I like the departure to Lucy, too! Thanks!