By MacKenzie Ryan
The minibus swung left around, a full 180, on Vuelta 20-something on the road to Farellones, Chile. Now for sure, I am going to puke, I thought. A 40-something, slightly balding Brazilian dude, who had stashed his backpack in the seat in front of me, motioned to his stomach, swirled his head, and remarked sarcastically in Portuguese that I must be hung-over.
I wanted to shake my head, ‘No,’ because, truthfully, I don’t even drink. But moving my head in any direction was only going to exacerbate the meteorite rise of my just-barely-controlled nausea. I awkwardly pushed the window open to get fresh air, and accidentally forced the glass out of alignment, perhaps permanently.
The biggest storm in five years had dumped an untold, storybook number of centimeters all over the mountains outside Santiago. Instagram exploded with powdery photo of skiers dropping into couloirs all over the Andes. I arrived just as after the storm had abated. I nursed my jetlag and got on an early morning bus to Farellones.
I probably shouldn’t have, but I headed to a boardercross training camp at Nevados de Chillan the following morning, then onto Corralco for the South American Cup. I had deadlines to meet for TetonGravity.com. I had photo shoots to figure out. Thigh-to-waist-deep pow in August, though, cannot not be rescheduled.
All the cliche descriptions of great powder days applied. That floating surfy feeling. Wind lip slashes. Face shots. Straight lining. One-run friends. Brief bathroom breaks only. The reluctant goggle de-fogging. The even more reluctant stop for food. The fumbling technique as the clock nears 3pm. Back to Santiago to write. Up early to pack and catch a six-hour bus ride to Las Trancas.
Fifty percent of my life is spent on a snowboard. The other fifty percent is spent on a computer documenting what I just did (or what others are doing) on a snowboard. Successful days look like this one, minus the nausea. A great day on snow, followed by a great evening at the office.
It is, in many ways, the least conventional, least stable career path one could choose. For example, after I arrive in Las Trancas, I’m officially at training camp at with my team. My coach is running drills on snow from 9am till 4pm. Then we shower, watch footage, eat, and the second half of my day begins–the content creation part. In Chile, a place where Internet is not widely available and the bandwidth is stuck in the 1990s, I write on buses, in coffee shops, in hotel lobbies, on restaurant patios, in the back of pizza bars. I write either until I am done, or until I am making enough mistakes that I can’t justify continuing. Typically I walk home blurry-eyed from writing around 11pm and immediately go to sleep.
I didn’t set out to do this. I set out to compete in boardercross and big mountain contests. To be able to train, improve, and win. I kept my writing career almost completely separate from my snowboarding career. Then about 18 months before setting foot in Chile, I broke my back at a race in Colorado. I didn’t have the means to support myself with athletic endeavors. I couldn’t physically sit at a desk either. So I wrote my way back to financial security with a telecommuting copywriting job. Then, sort of out of the blue, the managing editor at TGR asked me to be their Snowboard Editor At-Large.
As I recovered, the chance for me to return to snowboarding grew. So did my writing opportunities. It was a blessing in disguise. I was insanely grateful I had gone to college, and benefited from skill development outside of snowboarding. But truly I wanted nothing more than to have a standout season.
After almost a week training at Nevados de Chillan, we headed to Corralco in southcentral Chile for the South America Cup. Strangely, despite spending almost a year in the gym, and a full season on snow, I stood on the course and didn’t really care about competing.
On the day of course inspection, I told my coach I didn’t want to race any more. I wanted to be riding big lines in the backcountry instead. I had spent most of the previous winter splitboarding because it strengthened my back and core muscles. Once exploration becomes your go-to path, the structure of a competitive training environment grates on you. I had stepped through the rabbit hole without even realizing it, and now I can’t go back.