I’ve toyed with the concept of “why trail run?” type posts. But short lists weren’t really the kind of writing that I was hoping to do with this site. Every now and then though, you encounter some media that really nails one of the reasons I’m driven to get out there.
This reason is pretty simple: I like being in forests and exploring mountains.
Running and hiking is one way to do this, and it works pretty well through the summer. In the winter, it becomes a bit more difficult to get to the same kinds of spaces in running equipment (though I want to try snowshoeing!). I’ve been a skier for longer than I’ve considered myself a runner, and downhill skiing has always been a way of expressing my enjoyment for these spaces.
I’m still into skiing, though personal circumstances have made it more difficult to ski regularly. But, I’m always excited when I see work by Jordan Manley. I first started following his work with the excellent A Skier’s Journey series, but really I think it’s his photographer’s eye that draws me to his work.
When I clicked on Treeline on YouTube, I wasn’t aware that it was a project that Manley had been working on, but it was familiar from the first few wide angle shots. It consists of three segments: the first focussing on the lifecycle of bristlecone pines in California, the second on human relationships to forests in Japan, and the third being a discussion of ecology and old growth forests in British Columbia. It’s a pretty interesting mix of human connections to trees and forests, weaving together some ecological science, and some discussion of spirituality.
A couple of years back, I went on a large group ski trip to Quebec. The bulk of the trip was meant to be at Mont Saint-Anne, which is extremely close to Quebec City. It’s a fairly developed ski area, and while it has some glades, everything is pretty accessible and connected to maintained runs. We had a weird run of weather: it was March, but the daytime high for the first couple of days was around -18 Celsius. The cold made for tricky conditions, but the forecast had a mass of warm wet air moving through the region for the third day of the trip. Storms are good for ski trips.
Overnight, a lot of snow fell - I think it was in the 15-20cm range. This continued into the morning as the temperature rose drastically, with close to 30cm total accumulation. In comparison to the days before, it really felt like dream conditions. As we went on the first run, I realized that there weren’t many folks on the trip who could keep up and I quickly was out on my own. And, oddly enough, the storm had kept many locals from going out as well.
Most of what I skied was lift accessed: I would hop off the lift, and head for a zone of steeper zones on the western end of the resort. It was cloudy and snow was steadily falling, and you could barely make out the St. Lawrence below. The really shocking thing is: I was basically alone as I traversed the hill. This is a rare phenomenon at a ski resort, and virtually impossible at home in Ontario. But it was literally myself, and the odd ski patroller that I’d encounter. It was really unbelievable and perfect for an introvert like me after a few nights of being surrounded by lots of rowdy people.
The forests at Le Massif are typically mixed, with coniferous trees fairing well on the steeper slopes, and deciduous trees mixing as you approach more level sections. The spacing is dense: the trees are much tighter than the Japanese forests in Treeline, so there aren’t as many opportunities for wide open turns. Still, these forests are familiar. It was at hills like Mont Saint-Anne and Whiteface that I really got my first exposure to tree skiing.
As I said, what was so special about that day was that it felt like I was genuinely alone in those woods. The snow was falling, and it was still. I was far enough away from any of the machinery at the resort to hear any mechanical sounds. And unlike in Ontario, I couldn’t hear or see nearby highways. There were some small birds about - but really, all I could hear was the sounds of my breathing and skiing. The crunch of the snow, and the sounds of trees creaking and shifting in the light wind.
It’s a moment that I try to come back to when things start to spiral out of control for me. A place where things are calm, and all I’m worrying about is movement. It’s also a place where things are growing and thriving as things change - and there’s a feeling of connectedness to the forest as you try to move efficiently through the space.
I’ve had moments like this trail running too: descending on narrow and winding trails brings up the same feelings of joy, movement and connection to the forest. One of my favourite moments was from a solo run on a segment of the La Cloche trail in Killarney Provincial Park where thousands of baby pines dotted the forest floor, and I was far enough out that there weren’t any day hikers. The story of that run is probably worth it’s own post - it was a really necessary moment when things weren’t the easiest in life, but this post is already plenty long.
February was a difficult month for me - things aren’t quite going as planned. I was sick for about a week and a half in a way that really prevented me from running. Not running because I was sick made me not want to write about running, which led to more frustration. That was all coupled that with some pretty rough weather alternating between freezing rain and heavy snowfall. Basically the last two weeks have been basically easing back into my running routine - but it’s been a fight to fit runs in outside. Still, I think I’m improving in some measurable ways. And the worst thing I can do is try to force it when my body is stressed and off in other ways.
Speaking of freezing rain, that’s how that morning at Le Massif ended: freezing rain led to the lifts being shutdown, and I ended up riding back to the top (where the parking lot is!) with a sheet of ice forming on my shell. Despite that, it’s really one of my fondest skiing memories. So it also helps when freezing rain is getting me down here.
Also, speaking of Quebec, it was announced in February that the national mountain running championships will be hosted at Mont Saint-Anne. If things come together, I’m going to be really excited to spend time on these mountains and in these forests in a new season.
Finally, I know I am going to seem like a total Patagonia fanboy, but I’m really blown away that their R1 clothing line is 20 years old. Here’s an amusing video. I have a R1 fleece pullover that’s basically the perfect layering option. I’ve literally used it for any kind of outside activity I’ve done. It’s super versatile, and one of the best gear purchases I’ve ever made.