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RSW Living Magazine

It’s All Uphill From Here: Trading The Courtroom For Backcountry Skiing

Jan 24, 2021 02:30PM ● By KATHY MONTGOMERY

Attorneys Andrea and Christopher “Chris” Smith have taken their love of skiing and snowboarding to the next level: uphill.

The husband-and-wife trial partners at Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, P.A. in Fort Myers prefer backcountry or ski touring, where getting to the top of the mountain does not involve a chairlift. Instead, they hike up the mountain and then ski or snowboard down.

It’s an ambitious pursuit for Andrea, who grew up skiing in Wisconsin, and Chris, who had never skied until he met Andrea in a courtroom when they were with different law firms on opposing sides. 

“We visited her parents for Christmas about seven years ago,” Chris says. “They asked me if I wanted to go skiing and slapped some skis on me. The rest is history.”

But adapting to snow sports was not easy. On his first trip to Park City, Utah, Chris fell and cracked a rib. “Andrea waited for me at the bottom for about 30 minutes.”

Chris was not deterred, and snow sports became a favorite pursuit of the couple, who have been married since 2015. Eventually, Chris switched from skiing to snowboarding.

The Smiths built a home in Park City a year ago, with breathtaking views close to the mountains, that they try to visit once a month, even if only for a weekend. When they are not in Utah, the Smiths have traveled to Japan, glaciers on Mount Hood in Oregon, as well as mountains in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, California and Nevada, with the goal of spending 20 to 30 days a year on the slopes.

The couple discovered backcountry skiing, also called ski touring through Andrea’s brother Michael, an avid skier who lived in Colorado. “I visited without Chris and rented equipment,” she says. “I went and bought my own equipment that same day and had to explain to Chris when I got home why I had an extra pair of skis. I’ve been loving it from day one.”

It is an exhilarating, risky sport that Chris also enjoys, and the two are on their third season of ski touring.

To hike up the mountain, called skinning, long strips of heavy-duty nylon with fur on one side and adhesive on the other (“skins”) are stuck to the bottom of the skis. The fur allows the skis to glide over snow going forward, but also grips to keep from sliding backward. Chris uses a snowboard that splits into skis for going uphill. 

On ungroomed trails without ski patrol and nearby trained rescuers, ski touring is not without risks, including avalanches, cliffs, trees and different snow conditions, often with no other people around. The couple hires a guide who has area knowledge and is an avalanche expert. Backcountry skiers wear backpacks that weigh about 20 to 25 pounds to carry safety equipment, clothing layers, water, snacks and more equipment. They always have a beacon that broadcasts their whereabouts if they are buried in an avalanche, probe (to help probe for a skier who gets buried by an avalanche) and shovel to dig a buried skier out. 

The Smiths are pursuing level 1 avalanche certification that will help them identify unsafe snow and weather conditions, learn rescue techniques and allow them to tour without a guide.

A typical ski-touring day for the Smiths starts before dawn, when they climb 4,000 to 6,000 feet with a 25- to 40-degree pitch to ski down, usually two or three times in a day. 

Between 3 and 4 p.m., they come off the mountain and often head to a pizza restaurant, where Chris admits they may devour several pizzas. “It’s an incredible workout,” he says. “My wife is the queen of packing snacks. You eat all day, and you are still ravenous.”

To stay in shape for their vigorous mountain sport when in flat Florida, the couple does a lot of running, cycling and cardio exercises, as well as lifting weights. They look forward to taking what they consider their ideal trips: skiing the fjords in Norway and visiting the backcountry in Patagonia. They would also like to ski tour on every continent. 

“I think it helps to teach patience,” Chris says. “You hike uphill for three hours to get to the top. It causes you to concentrate and unplug. You get the thrill of fresh powder, and it’s a way to share our love of nature together.”

Kathy Montgomery has been writing about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live here for more than 30 years.