Illustration: Kevin Howdeshell/kevincredible.com
Had anyone been paying attention, we would have seemed like the demented offspring of that guy in the double rainbow YouTube video: two girls, shredding the slopes of Winter Park Resort, stopping every few seconds to squeal at the mind-blowing awesomeness of it all. Cold air crackled as snowflakes glittered in sunlight like a million tiny diamonds. On an endless and punishing bump line, I taught Annabelle to ski like a bald eagle.
When I assumed my eagle stance—wings up, talons retracted, beady, begoggled eyes searching for pine martens four troughs ahead of me—I felt like I was soaring over a vast and empty prairie. I’m not exaggerating when I say that on that one day I felt more—and less—like myself than I had in a decade. It was Winter Solstice 1999, and Annabelle and I were skiing under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms.
It was, we thought, a fitting way to celebrate the darkest day of the last year of the 20th Century. Both Annabelle and I were the type who were almost always full of achievement. But over the past few months, our ski town jobs—hers as a house cleaner at the Gausthaus Eichler, mine reporting on the antics of the Fraser town council—had sucked something crucial from us. I’d taken to whining about the conflict between the new Safeway developers (evil because they had the audacity to bring in Starbucks) and the Fraser board members (boring because they no longer drank a case of beer each meeting), while Annabelle had threatened—with a completed application—to head off to accounting school at CU Boulder.
Both of us were good girls who paid our bills and called our mothers on Sundays. But looking back, I know that I was searching for the freedom of expression mind-altering substances gave me. At the time, I was locked in a path I desparately wanted to escape. That morning, we pumped Prince’s “1999” through my kitchen speakers as we spread out a breakfast feast for the ages. The muesli, yogurt and out-of-season raspberries came from the Alfalfas on I-70. The brown, green and purple stained mushrooms came from a snow-removal guy in Hot Sulphur Springs.
It took about 10 minutes—or two hours—for the initial effect to kick in: first, neither of us could find our ski boots, and then we looked down and realized we were already in them. At the same exact moment, we both saw the kitchen expand, and contract, and expand again. Laughter ensued, followed by hugging, followed by deep thoughts.
Twenty minutes—or three hours—later, we met the bus to Winter Park, and boarded it, doing everything in our power to stay focused and level headed. It seemed to me we traveled for hours until, at the end of a long, icy road, we arrived at the quad to the Mary Jane summit. For a second, it looked like we’d have all four seats to ourselves. But at the last possible minute, an interloper jumped on. Strange how Annabelle and I had an entire conversation about him without ever speaking.
Once it set in, though, our silence continued, I think because no words could explain the Ram Dass experience we were having. From the top of the Jane, we lapped every bump run we could find, still pretending to be rodent-hunting raptors. Maybe we skied for two hours; maybe six. But by the time we finished we felt new, and also tired. Even so, I don’t think I stopped smiling until we were back at my kitchen table, sipping another cup of steaming tea, this one sans shrooms.
Which is not to say that a clean cup of tea can redeem every indiscretion. Share a story like this with the wrong company and you’re bound to invite criticism. As a mother of three, I should also add that I stopped doing mushrooms—okay, except for a couple of times at Rockygrass when I thought of all the ways bluegrass could make the world a better place for our offspring—after that day. I’ll add that I would never, ever advocate the taking of psilocybins and skiing, especially when toddlers are present.
Even so, sometimes your old standby can become tired, stale, boring. Even skiing, when it becomes more about form, or days on the hill, or which posse you recently dropped multiple 15-foot cliffs with. At the time Annabelle and I took mushrooms, we both felt powder blowing out of our ski lives.
By the time Alice emerged from the rabbit hole, she was shaken out of her normal. It doesn’t have to be drugs, but something that removes us from who we think we are. In 1999, at 29, I thought of myself as destined for, well, not much. I like to think that my psychadelic experiences changed that. Now, whenever I feel the weight of kids, or work, or non-ski-town living starts to sink me, I think back to that day on the mountain when no imaginary ermine was safe from the beady, begoggled eyes of the federally protected skiing bald eagles.