Surviving An Avalanche Course and Our Visit with Malcolm, the FTM Traveler

 Travis, Malcolm and Perry's night on the town in Government Camp, OR.

Travis, Malcolm and Perry's night on the town in Government Camp, OR.

I sat on the plane, holding on the tarmac, waiting for the pilots to let us know if the weather was clear enough for us fly.  I had anxiously been awaiting my trip to Mt. Hood to take my AIARE level 1 Avalanche Certification Class.  I was eager to practice digging snow pits to understand the snowpack, using my beacon to search for skiers who'd been caught in a snow slide, and most of all, I was excited to see my co-worker and friend Travis and to ski some deep powder with him.  We don't travel in avalanche terrain on Venture Out Project trips, but still I thought this was a safety certification worth getting since backcountry skiing is one of my all time favorite activities.  I love the freedom of the mountains, the feeling of strapping climbing skins to the bottom of my skis and climbing uphill like a member of the 14th Mountain Division.  I love that in the backcountry there are no lift lines, no crowds, no groomed runs and that the only sound is the hoots of joy that come from skiers and riders who've climbed their way up, just to ride their way down.  The pilots announced that we were clear to fly and I fell asleep dreaming of the freeskiing that lay ahead.  

Travis picked me up at the airport and we made the harrowing drive over snow covered roads up to Mt. Hood.  The snow was falling at rates of at least an inch an hour and I was twitching with excitement over the prospect of skiing the next day.  

The next morning we walked into our Avvy 1 classroom and oh so quickly our dreams of feeling free and happy to play in the snow were crushed.  Immediately we were consumed by dude bro ski culture.  Our instructors unironically asked us, "What do you rip on?"  "Excuse me, what?" I asked.  He responded, "You know man, what do you rip on to get down the mountain?"  

We sat in a freezing cold classroom listening to lectures on snow rounding and faceting while watching glorious snow blanket the slopes just outside our building.  All the while we felt smaller and smaller as the bros in the room took up so much space, literally and figuratively.  They asked questions with a 2 minute preamble just so the rest of class could hear how much they already knew about avalanches.  They told tales of "epic pow days on gnarly peaks" with their bros.  It was like I was at Ridgemont High.  And to top it all off, our instructor just couldn't get Travis' pronouns right.  

We never actually got to ski during the class.  Turns out there was too much snow!  Avalanche danger went from Considerable to High which meant it was just too unsafe to travel in the backcountry.   

But wait!  it does get better!  In the midst of feeling like such outsiders in a place that both Travis and I feel so at home in (the wilderness), we had the immense pleasure of spending the weekend with our friend Malcolm, the FTM Traveler.  It was such a breath of fresh air to come home to our condo and meet up with Malcolm at the end of our long class days.  Being a group of 3 trans folks made us feel strong and good and supported.  We shared stories of outdoor adventure, of family, of love, of friendship, of leadership and of being trans.  We made each other feel safe and strong and supported.  Hanging out together fueled us and showed us first hand the power of our queer and trans community.  Being in the company of Malcolm and Travis each night helped me remember why I put up with the dudes at the Avvy class.  I do that so I can be trained and safe and take queer folks out into the woods to feel the freedom of the backcountry unencumbered by dude bros.  I do this because we deserve the woods and nature just as much as anyone.  I do this in the hopes that I can bring other trans folks out on an adventure and they can hoot with joy at the thrill of riding down a mountain; so that they can feel proud of summiting a peak.  I do this so folks can feel like their body, even just for a moment, is something to feel good about.  



Posted on December 22, 2016 .