By Alex Limkin, NSP-Subaru Ambassador
On a day off, I stoke a fire, brew coffee, and sit down on a chair fashioned from split kindling. Ranger, a shaggy-haired buddy who lives down the road, comes by for a scratch and to piss on my snow tires. I gave him a ham bone on Christmas Day, which he has been unable to forget. So now I am a fixture on his neighborhood rounds.
Which is fine by me.
My involvement in a war I consider unjust, illegal and immoral has been costly. As an infantry captain serving under Colonel Ted Westhusing, whose tragic death is surrounded by controversy, I had my moral compass shattered.
Four years after returning home, plagued with guilt, reckless and out of control, I struck a tree, and shattered my body.
I could easily have become a statistic on January 31, 2009, and died from a fractured pelvis, sternum, tib/fib, and lower vertebrae. Yet one more unremarkable veteran casualty. But somehow I lived. I lived in part thanks to the mountains that I began climbing a year later, following an arduous period of recovery confined to a bed, then graduating to a wheelchair, then to a walker, then to crutches, and finally regaining the ability to walk half a year after my hospitalization. The following winter, I started going to the rodeo grounds in Santa Fe and participating in a therapeutic riding program run by Gus Jolley. This program, known as Listening Horse, as well as my friendship with Gus, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has been an additional source of strength and support over the years.
In 2011, a puppy came into my life, Abigail Benally, born into a pack of seven on the windswept steppes near Shiprock. She became my spirit partner, going everywhere with me. In 2014, after I obtained a Wilderness First Responder certification at the Outward Bound basecamp near Leadville, we began ski patrolling together. My gear was rudimentary telemark gear: a two-buckle Scarpa boot, some Hardwire bindings, and a 10th Mountain Karhu ski with fish scales–68mm underfoot. Two years after my accident, I taught myself to telemark ski in the Sandias as a way to help regain range of motion in my right ankle. Together, we wandered countless miles through the snowy woods.
I lost Abigail to cancer in 2018. She died at the cusp of a shutdown of all of our national forests as a fire precaution due to severe drought conditions. It was as though she didn’t want to hang around for all the trailhead closures and red tape drawn across every forest access road. Abigail left me too soon, but her impact and presence could not have been more beneficial. On Wheeler Peak at the age of 4 months, to the top of Blanca Peak a year later, she was my lodestar, my “bringer of joy.” She accompanied me everywhere, including every weekly trip to see my son in Albuquerque.
I have a pair of skis that feature her paw print and silhouette. I briefly wrestled with the notion of keeping the skis pristinely hanging on the wall, but eventually realized that the right place for them is in the mountains, where we roamed free.
Every May for the last decade, I do a memorial hike across the Sandias, known as Skywalk, in honor of my commander, Colonel Ted Westhusing, who died at the age of 44.
I no longer bear arms; the only war I now wage is against the mountains with my legs. On mornings when I am not patrolling, I wake up at 3:30am, make a bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds and golden flax and hemp hearts, and head out to gain a glimpse of heaven on earth in the high mountains at first light.
I will continue to ski patrol as long as I can and spread telemark through the Sangre Academy of Telemark and Nature, founded in 2016 with fellow ski patroller, Jonah ‘Drift’ Thompson.
My dream is for more children to be exposed to telemark, and for our academy to expand. I have helped coach chess to kids in Albuquerque for the last couple years with the local chess academy, and I believe telemark would be a wonderful addition to chess, as both activities cultivate thoughtfulness, mindfulness, concentration, and good decision making.
Drop knees not bombs.
Alex ‘Telemón’ Limkin is a member of the Angel Fire Ski Patrol in New Mexico. He serves as that patrol’s health and wellness officer, and is a co-founder of the Sangre Academy of Telemark & Nature. He is a 2019 -2020 NSP Subaru Ambassador.