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Bringing body and soul to the backcountry

Julie Sutor
Julie Sutor/Summit Daily News Mary Waldman of Frisco, not shown, applies bindis to Kari Bodnarchuk's forehead inside Francie's Cabin after listening to a lecture on quantum compression process facilitation.
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SUMMIT COUNTY – The snow-covered ground surrounding Francie’s Cabin gleamed platinum under a nearly full moon that was making its sojourn across a cloudless night sky, a few miles from civilization.Inside, a group of about 20 women, spanning in age from their mid-20s to early 50s, lounged on the cabin’s cushioned benches and window seats in long underwear and slippers, sipping Cabernet, noshing on brie and crudite in the generous warmth of the wood-burning stove. The women stretched and massaged their muscles, tight from several hours of backcountry ski-touring, as candles glowed throughout the room and the night’s dinner preparations sent curls of ginger-laced steam toward the ceiling.Personal development consultant and integrative kinesiologist Jolina Karen stood before the group and discussed how the quantum compression process lifts the emotional burdens of failed relationships, workplace impasses and childhood traumas.Avalanche and acupuncture The juxtaposition of burning candles and burning muscles isn’t a typical backcountry scene. But Babes in the Backcountry founder Leslie Ross, who led the women to Francie’s on their tele skis and climbing skins last weekend, is working to make such pairings more common.

Because for Ross, comprehensive backcountry education goes beyond just technical skills and equipment know-how. She’s working to bring mind, body and soul out of bounds, she said. “Part of being prepared for our backcountry adventures is being centered and balanced,” Ross said. “We’ve got so many things on our plate, it can be hard to set things aside and focus – to really be able to plan ahead and be present so you can enjoy being out there.”If you’re not feeling balanced, it’s hard to pay attention to what’s going on around you,” she added. “That’s when we make poor decisions sometimes, by not focusing in on clues to dangerous situations.”Ross has partnered with the Sacred Tree Healing Arts Institute in Breckenridge to pair telemarking with tai chi, avalanche awareness with acupuncture, map work with massage and navigation with nutrition. Several of the institute’s practitioners – a naturopathic doctor, two acupuncturists and a stress management consultant – skinned right along with Ross’s clinic participants, interspersing presentations on non-Western health strategies among the more traditional technical sessions.”It was really holistic and nourishing,” said Susie Hall of Centennial, who used the trip to celebrate her 48th birthday. “It helped me to tune a little more into myself – pull from within myself to realize the strengths I have. There was a whole lot more to it than just getting educated.”Not just doing it

But Ross’s incorporation of what she refers to as “the soft skills” don’t make her clinics shy on hard-core skills and experiences. She had her students digging into the snow to locate avalanche beacons in the trees at Breckenridge, following elevation lines on topographic maps on the hike to Francie’s Cabin, and skinning high above treeline on wind-scoured boilerplate.”I was really intimidated by hut trips,” Summit Cove’s Christine Berwyn said. “Now, those fears have been totally dispelled. I’ve mountain biked once and was absolutely terrified. But I guess this whole thing has given me the confidence to say it’s OK to try these things and know I’m not going to be left at the trailhead.”The clinic’s participants were enthused – even if surprised in some cases – by the marriage of backcountry skills with non-Western wellness practices.”It was an eye-opening experience to other views, and it allowed me to see the outdoors in a different way,” said Mary Waldman of Frisco.Berwyn has already scheduled her first acupuncture appointment.”I didn’t know what acupuncture was – it seemed very mysterious. But now I think it’s very mainstream,” she said. “I liked having all these different components in there. The physical and the spiritual aren’t isolated, and it made you think about why you were going out there for a ski as opposed to just doing it.”



==========================================To Learn MoreFor information on Babes in the Backcountry clinics and workshops, including an upcoming three-day hut trip and avalanche class in Telluride, visit http://www.babesinthebackcountry.com.==========================================Vail, Colorado


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