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My favorite photo of the ski season sums up this special moment in my life

I captured thousands of photos this ski season, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the one below, from the top of Baldy Chute at Alta Ski Area, in Utah’s Wasatch Range.

Dropping into Baldy Chute
Dropping into Baldy Chute at Alta

I actually have no idea who this skier is, but I thank him for his service and for aptly illustrating this special moment in my life.

As I write this, we’re five days past our due date, and Ginette is starting to feel contractions, so we could be headed to the hospital any minute. Or it could be a few more days.

I think this photo resonates with me because we’re at an inflection point and on the cusp of a new stage of our lives.

Like the skier in this photo, we’re fully committed, at the point of no return, and on the brink of something wonderful, but the wild ride of parenthood has yet to begin.

Fear and beauty are two words that spring to mind as I view this photo, and ponder the impending childbirth. I’m scared of the major medical event Ginette is about to undergo, and the sudden start of fatherhood. Yet bringing a new life into the world is more awe-inspiring than any scenic vista, and I’d imagine there’s some adrenaline flowing in my bloodstream right now.

Steeps and leaning in

The Baldy Chute run is an example of what some skiers call “steeps.” The main challenge is the extreme angle of the pitch and your sudden acceleration as soon as your skis tip over the cornice. Terrain like this used to terrify me, but over the past couple of years, I’ve become more comfortable “dropping in” on such runs. Now I even seek them out. I’ll confess that I’m sometimes a little scared, but the physiological response to plummeting down a mountain is exhilarating.

One of the places I learned to ski steeps is Copper Bowl. Below is a video I shot of a snowboarder dropping in on a trail that’s known as Bradley’s Plunge.

Dropping into Copper Bowl from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

It can be a leap of faith to start these runs, but unlike base jumping or parachuting, the consequences of a mistake are relatively minor, at least if you’re like me and avoid the really crazy stuff. You might fall a little farther on a steeper slope, but these runs usually aren’t open at ski resorts unless there’s plenty of snow to cushion a crash.

“Taking the plunge” and “leap of faith” seem like fitting descriptors for having a child. Neither of us has any clue about what the baby will look like or how she will behave. Neither of us has ever been a parent, so it’s like we’re on our maiden run down the mountain.

One thing I’ve learned about these steep runs is that you have to fight against your instinct to lean back and sit on your heels. That posture is unstable and makes it much harder to turn and slow down your speed because all your weight is on the rear of your skis.

After wiping out several times, I realized you have to fight instinct and instead tilt forward, toward the bottom of the hill. It’s good advice for all manner of skiing, especially with the newer shaped skis, and why some instructors will tell you to always make sure the front of your shins are pressing against the tongues of your boot. Just as riding slowly through a rock garden on a mountain bike can be harder than zipping through, it’s often easier to ski if you’re pushing your body toward the void before you, despite what your brain is saying.

“Lean in”  has become a hot phrase since Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, penned a 2013 book by that name (subtitle: “Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”).

This bestseller advises women how to pursue career ambitions in balance with other goals and become more assertive in the business world. “Proceed and be bold” is a slogan on the walls at Facebook.

I’m usually not fond of business bromides or buzzwords (“all in” is another appropriate one for parenthood and the photo), but I must admit that this idea of leaning in, tilting forward, embracing adversity, and doubling down when confronted with a challenge has been bouncing around my head as I prepare to become a dad.

We’ll see how I feel after my sleep has been disrupted for weeks and the baby has been crying for hours!

The making of . . .

Some of my best images from this season merely required me to unglove my hand on a ski lift and tap my iPhone screen. My favorite photo demanded a lot more work. To reach the top of 11,068-foot Mount Baldy, you need to hike 30 or 40 minutes uphill in your ski boots with your skis on your shoulder or back.

Hiking up Mount Baldy

Walking in ski boots, even on level ground, isn’t easy. Some of the worst falls I’ve taken during ski season have been in icy parking lots, on my way to or from the chair lift. Hiking up a steep ridge is no picnic, but at least there was a well-trodden path to follow and soft snow to fall in. At the top of the hike, we were rewarded with expansive views of Little Cottonwood Canyon and the Salt Lake Valley.

Top of Mount Baldy, Utah
At the top of Mount Baldy (11.068′) with my best friend Tom.

It meant extra weight, but I’m glad I brought my Canon D50 DSLR camera with me for the hike. At the top of the chute, I was able to stand 20 or 30 feet away from where skiers were starting their runs and use a telephoto lens. I couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop, and capturing the moment when a skier dropped in was relatively easy because many people seemed to freeze at that inflection point.

It would have been cool to take a wide-angle shot from right next to the skiers, but I was with friends and didn’t want to dilly dally. The first moments of my run were the hardest, but as soon as I negotiated the first turn, the snow turned the consistency of mashed potatoes and became forgiving.

Descending Baldy Chute
Descending Baldy Chute at Alta, Utah

Looking up at Baldy from Alta’s base, the chutes seem super-narrow. But it’s something of an optical illusion. I thought there was plenty of room to maneuver.

I’m not expecting my first days, weeks, months, or years of parenting to go as smoothly as this ski run. My photo atop Baldy was shot on a crystal clear day, so it was easy to see the path below.

Being on the verge of parenthood also feels like a different run from this season, when I was at the top of the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area during a blinding snowstorm (photo below is from the ride up).

Chair 9 ascending to the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area
Chair 9 ascending to the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area

At nearly 13,000 feet, my visibility was about three feet and the wind was practically knocking me over. On that run, I didn’t saunter up to the edge of the cornice and make a graceful entry. I just inched forward until terra firma suddenly dropped away and the run had begun.

My parenting career may even start with a May snowstorm. Denver is forecast to get 4 to 9 inches of snow tomorrow, on Mother’s Day.

Source: National Weather Service
Source: National Weather Service

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