Bookmarks | Been Outside

Enjoy an excerpt from "Been Outside: Adventures of Black Women, Nonbinary, and Gender Nonconforming People in Nature," edited by Shaz Zamore and Amber Wendler.
Mountaineers Books Mountaineers Books
February 06, 2024
Bookmarks | Been Outside
(Left) Illustration by Simone Martin-Newberry. (Right) Photo of Shaz Zamore by Harly Ellis.

This story is a love story. And it starts, as many do, in someone else’s clothes, on someone else’s board, with the guidance of patient friends.

Joe, a former snowboarding instructor and a close friend of mine, stood downhill describing balance and how to work the board’s four pressure points. Learning with me were my labmates, surfers who were used to boards and balancing. I wanted to learn as fast as them. I wanted to be better than them. I pushed myself harder than I probably should have, enchanted by the promise of a great beyond if only the basics could be learned.

By my third day snowboarding, I could successfully link turns (go from heel-side to toe-side and back again smoothly). Seeing this, my “mentors” took me up to the top of the mountain to “The Wall” and recklessly led me first off a small drop and then off-piste, into pristine, snowy wilds. “We have to get you on powder,” they reasoned, claiming that groomed trails, or “groomers,” were no place you wanted to spend your time on a mountain.

In the deep snow, I teetered and wobbled behind my friends’ smooth and graceful turns. I was unafraid to go fast but unsure of how to do so. I’d finally accelerate only to waddle, flop, or fall. I was consumed with the act of staying aloft. I blew snow away from my face, frustrated and hot as I tried again and again to find balance. There! One long, smooth turn and I started to think I could get the hang of it. I looked up eagerly toward my friends but found solitude. I called out for them. I called again. Silence. My first time on a real mountain, and in a blink I had lost the people who knew how to get me down.

So there I was, stranded in waist-deep powder with no tracks to follow. Other than the trees, there was not a soul in sight. I sat on my board, feeling overwhelmed and increasingly aware of the cooling dampness of my clothes. I hoped someone would come by and give me a nudge, or maybe some hand warmers. Only stillness abounded. Looking downhill, I figured that if I hugged the mountain to the left, I’d wrap around the ridge and eventually end up on a groomed trail. With fervor, I scooted on my snowboard, hands between my splayed legs, which I lifted up if I gained speed. For twenty minutes, I wallowed, waded, and scooted in the snow to no considerable avail. I looked up at my path and saw how little distance I’d traveled. I looked out into the valley, full of ponderosa pines capped with snow, tinged the faintest pink from the sun’s low seat in the sky. A sharp twist of fear. I wasn’t sure I would make it back before the resort closed. What happens then?

Would I be allowed down? Did I just live here now? I frantically scanned the vast Tahoe wilderness, feeling utterly small and helpless. And that was it. That was the moment the mountain broke me. I began to weep.

No, weep is an understatement. Everything about this moment was childlike, from my snot-covered face to the ragged taper of sobs as I eventually ran out of gas. I at least had found a glamorous place to be lost, alone, and increasingly cold. I realized if anything was going to change, it would be by my doing. I ripped a glove off to wipe some snot off my face. I looked up to the sky, swore loudly, and put my goggles back on.

I wobbled onto my snowboard and strapped my feet back in, shaking and shimmying in a vain attempt to warm up. I repeated: scoot, topple over, dig the nose of my board into the snow. I shoveled the snow off my board. I shimmied again and leaned impossibly (painfully) back so my nose wouldn’t dig into the snow. I scooched, teetered, and caught myself; my abs ached. I continued like this, empty yet furiously determined, until a shining moment. A first kiss. One long, smooth, stable glide. My despair was no match for that lilting feeling. I was floating, a particle among snowflakes, fluid and buoyant. Indescribably light, I was free.

Been Outside is available for purchase at our Seattle Program Center Bookstore, online at, and everywhere books are sold.

This article originally appeared in our winter 2024 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.