Shaina Maytum Alien Sneeze tutu

One Woman’s Alien Sneeze is Another’s Backcountry Accessory

“That thing looks like an alien sneeze,” my friend Anna said to me at the end of a river trip. “It’s disgusting.”  The “alien sneeze” is a once-lime green tutu that I have had for more than 20 years. I got it when I was eleven years old for a ballet performance, back when I thought that dancing on my toes was a good idea. I kept it, at first out of nostalgia and later out of the realization that it was an excellent adventure item.

This tutu is so disgusting because I have been recreating in it my entire adult life: on backcountry hut trips, on river trips, to parties, at the only 5K I ever ran.  It has become an integral part of my outdoor attire, almost as important as a good rain jacket or a favorite hat.

It’s much more than a fluffy tulle accessory, however.  A backcountry tutu is so fantastic because of its origin: Ballerinas wear tutus, not river rats.  They are designed to highlight the bodies of lithe dancers, not for backcountry skiing.  Over the years it has become for me a symbol of fun and friendship and connection with other women. The central activity at a friend’s cross-country skiing bachelorette party was tutu making in a yurt, because how better to celebrate an important life transition than with piles of tulle and ribbon?  

Anna made the alien sneeze comment on the final day of the last river trip we would take together for a long time.  She was a new mom and would be moving from Colorado to Montana the next week.  To acknowledge this, we took turns rowing the last four rapids of the trip together, the rower wearing the tutu. It was the last time I wore it.

Last year, I got a new tutu.  It is red and a little bit sparkly, and is ushering in a new phase in my life. I recently wore it on the maiden voyage of my very own river raft, which is a matching cherry red color (merely a happy coincidence, I swear).  I can’t bring myself to throw the old one away due to its long and storied history, but it has settled in at the bottom of my costume bag.  I look at it fondly now and again, stained brown with river water.  

I’m clearly not the only person to wear a tutu while adventuring.  Men and women alike wear them to races, on the last day of the ski season, or to sporting events.  Maybe they have some kind of significant symbolic history or maybe wearing one just feels awesome. Get your own tutu, preferably in your favorite color with a wide spandex waistband and plenty of tulle.  May you wear it on enough adventures that it becomes completely, utterly, fabulously disgusting.

About the Writer

Shaina Maytum lives, teaches, and writes in Carbondale, CO.   She loves boating, skiing, and hiking, especially if there are costumes involved.

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