Jumper: Carolyn Highland

Town: Golden, Colorado

Quote: “Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you thus far, guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits.” – Cheryl Strayed

About Carolyn: I grew up skiing at a small, family-owned mountain in Maine, where lift lines were nonexistent and the T-bars outnumbered the chairlifts. We sang Dixie Chicks on the twelve-minute ride up the ancient double chair and skied between each other’s legs on the bunny slope and played endless games of BS and Egyptian Rat Screw on the long wooden tables in the lodge. We dropped our poles for the person behind us to catch on the T-bar and greeted the lifties by name and one-skied in the afternoons when we got bored of the trails we knew by heart.

After we were done for the day the kids would steal trays from the cafeteria and take them outside while our parents drank pitchers of beer in the bar upstairs. The sky would paint itself in pastels and we’d swap our ski boots for Bean boots, running up the bunny hill with our trays to slide down the half pipe, out of control and tipping over every few feet.

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The evening air bit at our noses and mugs of hot chocolate called to us from the lodge, but we stayed out anyway, running back up the hill until we could feel our toes again. Launching ourselves downhill on things that were not meant for snow travel numbed the cold. With our parents inside and everyone else packed up and gone for the day, we were kings and queens of this enchanted kingdom. When the light started to drain from the sky, turning the faraway peaks into silhouettes, the mountain was empty. It was ours.

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Skiing is freedom. I discovered that when I was running wild on a tiny mountain in Maine as a kid, and it is a knowing that has carried through my whole life. I chase it now, every second I can get, on long backcountry missions, pow laps at the resort, weeknight glacier skins, skimo races, up and down steep faces. It comes to me in my dreams, thick flakes falling in slow motion between slender pines, the powerful pressure of a carved turn, the cold air on my face, the frost curling itself around my braids.

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When you ski, everything falls into focus. It is light and texture and movement. It’s a direct line to the kind of undiluted joy that reminds us why we’re here. It’s the closest we get to flying. It’s a communion with nature, a dance with the mountains.

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Skiing makes me feel alive and grateful and amazed and overwhelmed and strong. It moves me to learn and grow and chase. It gives me the confidence to push forward, to drop in, to jump.

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