Margot Talbot and Michael O'Donnell
Mar­got Tal­bot and War­ren Mac­don­ald  at the Port­land Alpine Fest

Mar­go Tal­bot is a writer and climber who lives in the south­ern inte­ri­or of British Colum­bia. She has com­pet­ed in a num­ber of climb­ing com­pe­ti­tions, includ­ing the ESPN X‑Games and the Ouray Inter­na­tion­al Ice Fes­ti­val. A spon­sored ath­lete with Out­door Research, she also guides for Chicks with Picks and runs an adven­ture guid­ing com­pa­ny for women, The Glit­ter Girls. She recent­ly gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on how ice climb­ing empow­ered her to heal her­self from a life­time of drug addic­tion and sui­ci­dal depression.

The Clymb: As an accom­plished ice climb­ing instruc­tor and men­tor who strug­gled with depres­sion and addic­tion for years, you’re work­ing hard to use climb­ing to help peo­ple heal them­selves. How do you see ice climb­ing as a metaphor for liv­ing a healthy life?

Mar­go Tal­bot: For one, not all ice is cre­at­ed equal. When you try to swing your axe into a chunk of chan­de­lier ice, it’s real­ly hard to get a sol­id pur­chase you can trust. Nav­i­gat­ing life with the effects of child­hood trau­ma or sui­ci­dal depres­sion is sim­i­lar to nav­i­gat­ing chan­de­lier ice — you nev­er feel like you have a sol­id foun­da­tion beneath you. The best thing you can do is help your­self devel­op in ways you nev­er did as a child.

Also, ice climbers are noth­ing with­out the right tools. We bring the axes, cram­pons, rope and screws we need to pro­tect our­selves from a ground fall–the equiv­a­lent of rock bot­tom. The best thing peo­ple suf­fer­ing from men­tal health or depres­sion can do for them­selves is get them­selves the sup­port sys­tem they need to keep them­selves from tak­ing repeat­ed ‘ground­falls’. Rock bot­tom can be a per­fect turn­around point for some peo­ple but for oth­ers it’s a slip­pery slope into oblivion.

Last­ly, ice climb­ing brings you into the present moment. It’s an exer­cise in mind­ful­ness and a mov­ing medi­a­tion. Depres­sion is defined as being caught up in the pain of the past and anx­i­ety is fear of future events. The obvi­ous anti­dote to both of these is being in the pre­set moment. That’s hard to do with unre­solved trau­ma inside of your body, but the best thing to do is to try not to numb the pain, instead be present with the pain and move through to the oth­er side. To heal yourself.

The Clymb: What is the most impor­tant life les­son you’ve gained from ice climbing?

Mar­go Tal­bot: Climb­ing taught me to trust myself and trust life. With the right tools and tech­niques, you’ll find that you can progress your life upward one move at a time. You can’t know every part of a route, you just trust that you’ll have the skill and the tools to reach your desired goal.

The Clymb: Dur­ing your bat­tle with drugs and depres­sion you describe life as “… mono­chro­mat­ic, devoid of colour or bright­ness. There was no beau­ty in the world, only pain and suf­fer­ing. I felt this inside myself, and I saw it reflect­ed every­where in the word.” How did you even­tu­al­ly learn to heal yourself?

Mar­go Tal­bot: I saw the con­nec­tion between the pain that was stored inside of me and the thoughts and feel­ings I was har­bor­ing as a result of this. I decid­ed that at a cer­tain point I was the one who was per­pet­u­at­ing the pain, because the caus­es for it had been removed from the time I left home. This rever­sal in my think­ing, that rather than the pain com­ing from the out­side in was now being trans­mit­ted from the inside out, was a key step in mov­ing for­ward. I decid­ed that I need­ed to own my life up to that point, and every­thing in it, in order to begin the heal­ing process. As long as I saw myself a vic­tim of the cir­cum­stances of my life, I was going to feel pow­er­less to do any­thing about it. This shift in my think­ing would be cru­cial to mov­ing beyond my painful past, to go from stand­ing at the base of the climb to step­ping onto the ice and ven­tur­ing upward.

At the age of 37, I topped out of my climb out of depres­sion. It’s a mir­a­cle to me to wake up depres­sion and anx­i­ety free every­day. I would­n’t will depres­sion on my worst ene­my but I will say that I learned more from that state than I could with­out it and that’s because look­ing back over expe­ri­ences that are labeled a dis­ease by our cul­ture, all I see is the archi­tec­tur­al beau­ty of the blue­print of my own psy­che. Every­thing that hap­pened to me was tai­lor made for my own heal­ing jour­ney and I learned that we are all equipped with the tools to heal our emo­tion­al trau­ma if we can stop the distraction.

The Clymb: As a respect­ed author, speak­er and climb­ing advo­cate, you’re quick­ly gain­ing noto­ri­ety as a female role mod­el in a male dom­i­nat­ed sport. Did you have any women role mod­els when you were learn­ing to climb?

Mar­go Tal­bot: One month before I got bust­ed I was leaf­ing through a climb­ing mag­a­zine and I found this incred­i­ble image of a woman climber named Kit­ty Cal­houn. I looked up to her a lot as a climber and a woman. Dur­ing my first two years of ice climb­ing, I did­n’t run into many women ice climbers and I always won­dered if there was a way to lure more women into the sport. I heard about a gal in Col­orado named Kim Reynolds who ran Chicks with Picks. She heard about some of the work I was doing with all female clin­ics and called me to see if I would come teach some clin­ics for her. When I showed up I real­ized that I was teach­ing right along­side my idol, Kit­ty Cal­houn. That was twen­ty years ago and I am hap­py to say that some of the strongest rela­tion­ships I’ve formed to this day are with the women I met through Chicks with Picks.

The Clymb: Did you ever tell Kit­ty she was such an impor­tant role mod­el for you?

Mar­go Tal­bot: I always want­ed to go up to Kit­ty and tell her my sto­ry about her being my role mod­el before I was thrown in jail and the drugs and every­thing but I nev­er did because my past used to be a maze of care­ful­ly hid­den secrets. But then in the Fall of 2009 I began writ­ing my book, All that Glit­ters. Many peo­ple have asked me why I decid­ed to write the book when I could have kept my past a secret. I want­ed to give a voice to my depres­sion because it was some­thing I lived with so inti­mate­ly for so many decades that it actu­al­ly feels like a best friend. I want­ed to help remove the stig­mas we have in our cul­ture towards men­tal ill­ness, sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies and drug addic­tion. But most of all, I want­ed peo­ple to know that there is hope. That even in the depths of dark­ness, humans have come through seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble situations.

I’m a home­town boy. I did­n’t learn to cut turns from a lat­te-clutch­ing ski instruc­tor, and I’ve nev­er stayed in a pres­i­den­tial suite. I like good snow and I hate long lift lines. Due to the sky­rock­et­ing price of admis­sion to many resorts across the nation, I’ve ditched the chair­lifts for a more ana­log approach: boot-pack­ing back­coun­try bliss.

Accord­ing to the Den­ver Post, vis­its to Col­orado’s ski areas fell 9.8 per­cent last sea­son, mak­ing it the third-worst sea­son in the past twen­ty years. The lat­est report from SnowS­ports Indus­tries Amer­i­ca (SIA) weaves a sim­i­lar tale of inim­itable demise. Despite much bet­ter snow­fall totals than the pre­vi­ous sea­son with some resorts clos­ing lat­er than nor­mal, only an esti­mat­ed 15.6 mil­lion folks bit the bul­let last year. Along these lines, the Den­ver Bus­ni­ness Jour­nal report­ed 57.1 mil­lion vis­i­tors through­out the sea­son. Now, the way SIA crunch­es their num­bers reflects one per­son ski­ing mul­ti­ple times through­out the sea­son, while the DBJ report is mere­ly mass num­bers. It’s a tricky lit­tle num­ber infla­tion trick that the indus­try prefers.

Regard­less, “The num­ber of new skiers is drop­ping off about 3 per­cent a year; peo­ple aren’t going back and try­ing it as much…Snowboarders that went about 7.5 days a year 15 years ago are going less than 6 days a year,” Ed Sealover with the DBJ told the Den­ver Post.

My lit­tle home­town resort, Hogadon Ski Area in Casper, WY is fac­ing the same fate—a mix­ture of errat­ic snow­pack, ris­ing oper­a­tional costs, and all of that on top of mil­lions of dol­lars of ren­o­va­tions. While most resorts are pri­vate­ly owned and rely on retail and upscale lodg­ing to shoul­der some of the finan­cial bur­den, many small­er moun­tains are being crushed.

When White Pine Ski Resort in Pinedale, WY was on the brink of clo­sure, local busi­ness own­ers stepped in to save it. A sim­i­lar sto­ry in Ter­race, British Colum­bia forced the local pow­der­hounds to step in and con­vert the moun­tain into a non-prof­it co-op. When the moun­tain faced clo­sure, the town banned togeth­er to form what would be the My Moun­tain Co-Op, who offi­cial­ly runs the moun­tain as of last year.

Shames Moun­tain is a mod­est affair eschew­ing the restau­rants, bars, and din­ing for the sim­plic­i­ty of pur­su­ing the piste. It has two chair­lifts, a tow bar, and a base lodge where you can buy food and drink and hire equip­ment, but with 480 inch­es of snow a year, few are complaining.

The Moun­tain Rid­ers Alliance is try­ing a sim­i­lar mod­el on our slopes. MRA has been work­ing with Maine’s Mt. Abram since 2010 and, in 2013, began man­ag­ing the ski area oper­a­tions. Mt. Abram has been in oper­a­tion since 1960, offer­ing 51 trails and 1,150 ver­ti­cal feet over 560 acres. In 2012, it was the sec­ond ski area to install E/V Charg­ers and received a USDA REAP Grant to install a large solar array, cre­at­ing its own ener­gy on site. With­out the man­age­ment of  coop­er­a­tive own­er­ship these ren­o­va­tions would not be pos­si­ble because the resort would not exist.

While the decline of large resorts makes the future of ski­ing in Amer­i­ca some­what fog­gy, it’s uplift­ing to see com­mu­ni­ties step in and com­bine their resources in an effort to keep their shred.

7 Best Dirtbag Resorts

Hav­ing trou­ble ski­ing on a dime? Here are the sev­en best dirt­bag resorts for skiers and snow­board­ers who need mon­ey for ramen:

Jay Peak
Most folks trav­el a long way to ski here for good rea­son. It has the MOST snow in the North­east thanks to the Jay Cloud and the micro-cli­mate cre­at­ed by the pass. While Stowe also boasts great Back and Side Coun­try access, the lines are way too long, the tick­ets are expen­sive and the trees are often tight. At Jay, the lines are short, the tick­ets are cheap, and there’s sim­ply noth­ing quite like pulling high speed GS turns in thigh deep pow­der deep in the woods. If you learn the moun­tain you can eas­i­ly spend the day ski­ing pow­der turns all day even a few days after a good storm.

Bear Moun­tain
Big Bear Moun­tain Resorts is actu­al­ly two ski areas: Bear Moun­tain and Snow Sum­mit. A dual moun­tain pass pro­vides access to both and a shut­tle ser­vice is pro­vid­ed between the two ski areas. They can’t quite com­pare to Mam­moth or Tahoe Resorts but, if you’re in SoCal and want  to ski 30 plus days a year, Big Bear is hands down the best choice. Bear Moun­tain appeals more to the 20 some­thing crowd and though it wel­comes both skiers and board­ers, most of the resort is ded­i­cat­ed park ter­rain. Lit­tle Sean White corked his first rodeo on these slopes and the bar is set high here, but if you  keep your flow you’ll be fine. Bear Moun­tain placed 33rd in Out­side Mag­a­zines 2012 top 40 nation­wide resort rank­ings and it’s a spot well deserved. 

Red Lodge
Red Lodge Moun­tain Resort is as much about the charm­ing town of Red Lodge at the base of the Beartooth High­way from Cooke City as it is the moun­tain itself, because Red Lodge has about the friend­liest peo­ple in the coun­try. Their $30 col­lege rate was hard to find any­where else, espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er the qual­i­ty ski­ing they have. Red Lodge is the kind of resort that puts ski­ing above every­thing else. There’s no fan­cy lodge, but the lifts are great and the ter­rain var­ied.  This is one of the best resorts to take your first crack at hit­ting fea­tures in the ter­rain park.

Grand Targhee
For­get for a moment all those adver­tise­ments about Utah. The best snow in my opin­ion is in Wyoming. This is not the place for peo­ple who like to ski groomers though, as groomed runs are prac­ti­cal­ly non-exis­tent here. The locals don’t even show up unless there’s at least 10″ of fresh snow because it hap­pens so often. For pow­der hounds, this place is heav­en. Because of its remote­ness, very few peo­ple come here. Most peo­ple go to Jack­son hole, which is on the oth­er side of the moun­tain range, and does­n’t get all the good snow dumps like Grand Targhee. They get more than 500 inch­es of snow annu­al­ly and with over 2,200 ver­ti­cal feet, it’s hard to not nab your own first tracks.

Bridger Bowl
Bridger Bowl is renowned for its extreme inbounds ter­rain and its cold, super dry snow. Being on the east­ern side of the con­ti­nen­tal divide, snow qual­i­ty is deli­cious­ly dry, hence Bridger’s moniker ‘Ski the Cold Smoke’. The ski area is locat­ed on the east slope of the Bridger Range and extends 2 miles from the ridge­line down to the base area at 6,100’. Bridger Bowl is flanked by large bowls to the North and South. The name has a reason—most of the ski area offers wide open ter­rain with a vari­ety of land­scapes includ­ing long slopes, glades, chutes and gul­lies in addi­tion to oth­er small­er bowls.

Mount Shas­ta7 Best Dirtbag Resorts
With 1,390 feet of ver­ti­cal and fab­u­lous­ly groomed trails, Mount Shas­ta is a great place for any lev­el of ski­er or snow­board­er. They have the Rev­o­lu­tion Ter­rain Park and Super pipe, which is not for the faint of heart (a net­work of box­es and rails along with a 1,000 feet ver­ti­cal ter­rain run). Not only is Mount Shas­ta known for it’s great trails and ter­rain parks, but their gold medal learn­ing cen­ter which is con­sid­ered one of the finest in the indus­try. Whether you’re a begin­ner or advanced ski­er, there’s some­thing at Mount Shas­ta Ski Park for everyone.

Nes­tled deep in the heart of the Grand Mesa on the sto­ried West­ern Slope of Col­orado, Pow­der­horn is a scenic, fam­i­ly-friend­ly resort fea­tur­ing 1,600 acres of ter­rain suit­ed to a vari­ety of abil­i­ties and pref­er­ences. Pow­der­horn is known for extend­ing excep­tion­al val­ue to each guest, thanks to improve­ments at the resort and moun­tain focused on cre­at­ing a one-of-a-kind, year-round expe­ri­ence. West­ern Col­orado is known for its wide-open spaces, dis­tinc­tive topog­ra­phy and friend­ly local res­i­dents. It is also rec­og­nized for its vine­yards, winer­ies and agri­cul­ture. The cli­mate allows for ski­ing or snow­board­ing in the morn­ing and play­ing a round of golf or enjoy­ing a hike or moun­tain bike ride in the after­noon. The options for explor­ing, both moun­tain and the Grand Mesa, are mind-boggling. 

When the weath­er turns sour and the ama­teurs turn in, it’s time to break out your cam­era gear and get the shots that every­one else is miss­ing. Here are some quick tips for cap­tur­ing the most mem­o­rable pho­tos dur­ing the cold win­ter months.

Shoot Wildlife
Win­ter is one of the best times to cap­ture wildlife. Crowds in nation­al parks have slowed to a trick­le and the big guys (elk, deer, bison, moose) roam all day. Still it’s best to find you sub­jects dur­ing the gold­en hours (before 10am and after 3pm in the win­ter). Take advan­tage of bison in open prairies, and bugling elk just before the hunt­ing season.

Get a fil­ter if you can afford it
Get­ting some sort of fil­ter is the best thing you can do for your shoot­ing. A UV fil­ter will do won­ders to bal­ance the tones of your pho­tos and bring out the col­ors that may get washed out by bright con­trast. Even bet­ter, a cir­cu­lar polar­iz­ing fil­ter will allow you to decrease the glare of the sun on the snow, and make the skies much richer.

Keep it warm (and dry)
It often takes more than just a lit­tle per­sis­tence and willpow­er to get the best win­ter shots. And if you’re shoot­ing your friends hit­ting kick­ers all day, you’re usu­al­ly sit­ting on your ass wait­ing for a shot. Always pack plen­ty of hand­warm­ers with you not just for you but for your equip­ment as well. Your pho­tos, believe it or not, will def­i­nite­ly reflect your lev­el of stoke and if all you can think about is your soak­ing wet socks, you won’t be shoot­ing any­thing. Dress in lay­ers and warmer than you think you’ll need. Don’t for­get the rain gear, includ­ing ziploc bags if you need to keep your lens dry. If you do get some water on your glass, use the defroster in my car to dry my lenses.


Learn this meter­ing trick
One trick on point and shoot cam­eras involves the cam­er­a’s auto meter func­tion. If a scene has a large con­trast between fore­ground and back­ground, snag a meter point from the bright area by point­ing the cam­era direct­ly at that part of the frame, say a snow-capped peak or a bright blue sky, then while still hold­ing the shut­ter-but­ton halfway down, frame the shot and take the pho­to. This will keep you from blow­ing out your skies or your bright, snowy foregrounds. 

Over­ex­pose your shots
Snow plays tricks on your cam­er­a’s meter­ing mak­ing it think it’s pro­cess­ing 18% grey. Always over­ex­pose your scenes either using meter­ing com­pen­sa­tion on your cam­era or using a high­er ISO. Most mod­ern cam­eras go all the way up to 3200 but 800 should be plen­ty fast in most cas­es. It sounds like overkill but a vibrant white moun­tain is more inter­est­ing than a dull, grey one and a high ISO gives you the free­dom to manip­u­late your set­tings freely.

photo by Derek Schroeder

Have fun with the aper­ture
Because there is so much light to work with, win­ter is the per­fect time to shoot every­thing from vibrant macro shots with a crisp con­trast, to the infa­mous star trails pho­tographs that real­ly con­nect you to the con­cept of star­ship earth. To exper­i­ment with star trails prac­tice com­posit­ing mul­ti­ple expo­sures tak­en over the course of a few hours. Or take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shoot some soft water. Win­ter is a time to catch great sub­dued tones.

photo by Derek Schroeder

(pho­tos by Derek Schroeder)

The crisp, clear days, thin crowds, and vivid col­ors that define the high coun­try this time of year are all the moti­va­tion you need to lace up your boots and hit the trails until the Christ­mas music starts. Here are just a few things to keep in mind to ensure a fun and safe sea­son of hiking:


Be mind­ful of hunters
For sports­men, fall is the most antic­i­pat­ed time of the year. Hunt­ing sea­son is in full force and hik­ers should take pre­cau­tions. Pack a blaze orange vest if you will be near an open hunt­ing area—they’re cheap, wide­ly avail­able at sport­ing goods stores, and could save your life. If you hap­pen to come upon some hunters, make sure they are aware of your pres­ence. If you hear gun­shots, judge the dis­tance, keep your eyes open, and remain vis­i­ble. If the whole lot makes you uncom­fort­able, stick to nation­al or state parks.

Pack smarter
It’s impor­tant to be pre­pared on any hike, but espe­cial­ly in the fall. If you’re stay­ing overnight bring the essen­tials: food, water, map, com­pass, head­lamp with fresh bat­ter­ies, etc.

Pack smarter

An emer­gency blan­ket with a decent length of para­chute cord or sur­vival bracelet is use­ful as an emer­gency shel­ter or tarp. 

I like to bring a sleep­ing bag lin­er. They not only bump up the heat rat­ing of your sleep­ing bag, but they have an added com­fort fac­tor that is hard to beat on a brisk autumn night. 

It goes with­out say­ing but rain gear is essen­tial. I usu­al­ly  have a shell with me any time of the year, but I always pack water­proof pants in the fall. Opt for straight wool socks too. A lot of syn­thet­ics lose their warmth when they’re wet. I always pack extra socks before any­thing else because hik­ing on sog­gy feet is worse than instant coffee.

I also real­ly like to bring a reli­able fire starter like petro­le­um jel­ly-soaked cot­ton balls (trust me it works) because dry tin­der can be hard to come by. And don’t for­get the cam­era! You’ll need it to cap­ture all that gaspin’ in the aspens.

Choose your des­ti­na­tion wise­ly
The best fall hik­ing expe­ri­ence is a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of tim­ing and loca­tion. Many trails this time of year will be burst­ing with fall col­ors, while oth­ers many be under a foot of snow. If you’re not famil­iar with your local area, chat with a ranger and get rec­om­men­da­tions for best hikes in your area or find a region­al hik­ing blog. This is a great time of year for hikes to hot springs, decid­u­ous forests or spot­ting wildlife dur­ing the mid­dle of the day. 

Keep an eye on the fore­cast
Keep an eye on the forecastIn Novem­ber, the mer­cury can drop faster than the leaves. Make sure you’re well pre­pared for the weath­er con­di­tions in your area. There’s no short­age of online resources for weath­er, but NOAA is one of the best.

Keep an eye on trail and road con­di­tions in your area. If you’re hik­ing in a nation­al park, take the time to vis­it their web­site and get up to date infor­ma­tion regard­ing your hike. If you think you’ll be run­ning into snow bring some yak-trax and trekking poles at the very least.

Trust your gut
Only you know your lim­i­ta­tions and what you’re look­ing for in a hike. If a trip feels forced or the weath­er turns sour, hold off for anoth­er week­end. Always give some­one your itin­er­ary or let them know where you’re going if you plan on going alone. If you’re going into a new area, stay with­in your bound­aries. A com­bi­na­tion of longer nights and low­er tem­per­a­tures make it espe­cial­ly impor­tant to be cau­tious this time of year. Don’t let the short­er days set you back, now is one of the best time for soak­ing a few last rays of sun­shine before win­ter sets in.