Head Over Heels

I purchased snowshoes as an excuse to get out into the snow again. Being completely obsessed with snow, I really didn’t need an excuse, but the snowshoes sitting in the garage certainly helped.

My husband and I had moved to southern California a year earlier, and I had to get away to somewhere less crowded and certainly snowier. It seemed that every time I walked past the snowshoes leaning against the garage wall, they were chanting, “Go to the snow!” So, I did.

I couldn’t wait for snow to appear in the local mountains. I didn’t have enough patience to wait for snow that might never arrive. Winters in Southern California are fickle. One year there could be more snow in the mountains than we know what to do with. Another winter could be warm and bring only rain. In search of snow, I decided to drive to Brian Head, Utah with my husband. The location was almost guaranteed to have plenty of snow. I planned a trip for mid-December when the season would definitely be in full swing.

We had booked a hotel in Cedar City, Utah so we still needed to drive another hour to reach the snow. Not used to cold temperatures anymore, I was bundled up and still felt the cold of the early morning. Having to clean off and warm up the car felt strange, yet comfortable like an old pair of worn hiking shoes. Old habits returned. I felt like I was home.

As we approached Brian Head, it started to snow heavily. I had eagerly followed the weather predictions and knew that heavy snowfall was in the forecast. The wet snow clung to the pine trees and made them sag. I was in a state of euphoria from seeing more snow around every bend in the road. I was suffering from snow withdrawal. I hadn’t seen snow in more than a year.

We had to chain our tires, a task we had done numerous times before on our old car. We parked at the chain-up area and chained the tires on our recently purchased new-to-us car. As soon as we started up the road again the car emitted a very loud and obnoxious electronic beeping noise; the ABS light simultaneously lit on the dashboard. I hoped that this meant snow or mud was caked on the sensors. I really hoped it, but did not believe it.

We pulled over on the side of the road when we could find a safe place to park. My husband stuck his head under the car and found that the end of one tire chain had become untucked and had flailed around. During its thrashing, the tire chain had made a very expensive mistake and sliced the anti-lock braking system cable. We continued up the mountain, trying to ignore the unfortunate accident and not let it ruin our first snowshoe outing.

We finally arrived at the Brian Head Resort area. Snow was all around us. I couldn’t wait to jump out of the car into it. Any of it.

We decided to pass the resort area and head towards Cedar Breaks National Monument. We had called the National Park Service while planning our trip, so we knew that heavy snow closed the road through the park. Snow sports were allowed if we could find a safe place to park off road.

We pulled over when we saw a good area to snowshoe and started putting on more clothing. It was frigid: The wind whipped the snow around so it looked like it snowed upwards. When I tried to walk, I felt like I was in a snow globe and someone had picked it up off their mantle, shaken it vigorously, spun it around, and placed it back on the shelf to laugh at the little snowshoers falling over inside. I surely felt like someone was laughing at me.

I didn’t own snow pants. I thought I could deal without them. I had my hiking rain pants slipped over my long underwear and fleece pants. I’d learn the hard way that I tried to stretch my gear to its limits. I was too eager to get out into the snow again.

I tried to strap on my snowshoes for the first time. It frustrated me. I bundled up so much that I couldn’t bend any of my joints. I could barely reach my feet. I must have lost ten pounds when I fought with the snowshoes and the clothes I was wearing.

We both finally hit the trail, and by “trail” I meant “follow the fence line because I can’t see my hand in front of my face.” We lasted about 10 minutes. The cold temperature, brisk wind, and fogged up eyeglasses defeated us. Every 10 feet I tried to get my hands out of my gloves, wipe off my glasses somewhere dry underneath my coat, put them back on my face without dropping them, and reglove myself.

We mutually agreed that what we were doing was clearly not working. Defeated, we turned around and trudged back to the car. We snowshoed less time than it took for us to put on all our gear.

Both of us went back to Brian Head, devoured bowls of hot soup, and went to the ski shops to browse. I found a pair of women’s black ski pants on clearance. So we didn’t fuss with our iced-over glasses anymore, ski goggles were also on the shopping list.

I still wore my uncomfortable rain pants. They needed to be removed. It took an amazing amount of effort to peel them off my body. I did a strange dance in the lodge bathroom, wiggling around trying to get the pants off. I wanted to yell for someone to bring scissors to cut off the pants that had plastered themselves to my legs. I bet the other people in the stalls next to me wondered what was going on in there: Just a girl with her pants stuck to her body.

Snowshoeing was easier the next day when the snow stopped falling, and I had my new insulated and flexible snow pants. I could bend over without falling over. I could also see with my new goggles. We both looked like very cold and bundled space aliens running around on unplowed and unused roads, but we were much more comfortable.

I stepped on my snowshoes every time I took another step in the snow. I almost fell face forward several times. If you ask my husband, I am sure he can easily recall an incident where I may have left a goggled face imprint in the snow. No one has ever accused me of being graceful. Having migraines and occasional vertigo, I’m in a constant state of dizziness and always fighting to stay upright. No jokes, please.

Trying to stand back up in snowshoes after hitting the ground is a difficult task to a novice. I sat there for a moment, wondering where to place any of my limbs so I could push up off the ground and resume the standing position. If it hadn’t been for ski poles, my legs would still be tangled with each other and I would have been on the ground more often. I used ski poles to help me balance until my brain and feet started talking to each other.

I’ve been out on the trail many times after my first outing. I no longer need poles for balance. I can sit on a snow bank, eat the lunch I stuffed in my daypack, and stand up without looking like a beetle stuck on its back. I have all the right gear now. Enthusiasm and creativity can only get you so far. Winter weather gear and classes will get you the rest of the way.

Now that I no longer have “I-haven’t-seen-snow-in- more-than-a-year” syndrome, my head is screwed on tighter. But, it has been seven months without snow. Shiver.

Pray for snow.

About the author

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Heather L. Nicaise

Heather L. Nicaise is a freelance writer and photographer living in southern California with her husband and three adopted dogs. She is concerned about animal welfare and preservation of the outdoors. She spends her winters snowshoeing and hiking. She spends summers cowering in dark air-conditioned corners.