Category Archives: backcountry
Last year I scared myself skiing the Wasatch backcountry. The reported avalanche danger varied between “considerable” and “high”— and it had been a particularly fatal year. Although I skied with a guide, I still got somewhat lost in my own fears and uncertainty. Part of my trepidation came from a lack of avalanche knowledge and experience.
I’ve never been very good going along for the ride or following the leader. As a kid, I recall keeping myself awake during long car trips to ensure that the adult driver didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. I need the sense of control that only understanding provides.
With this background, I spent a recent weekend in the Adirondack High Peaks taking a Level 1 avalanche course from the American Avalanche Institute and Cloudsplitter Guides out of Keene Valley.
In late January, I headed for Slide Mountain, at 4,180 feet the highest peak in the Catskills. I had just finished a grueling stretch at work and was eager to get out of the city. I went alone. As I skinned up from the parking lot, I had to rely on the sporadic trail markers and hope that the predicted fog and “wintery mix” would hold off. The trail had some snow, and lots of exposed rocks as well.
As I climbed I considered whether backcountry skiing is merely a way to access unskied lines or something different altogether. I’m sure it means different things to different skiers, but for me it’s about being in the mountains and escaping.
When I was younger, I’d spend my days at Killington skiing the bumps under the chairlift: Cascade, Needle’s Eye and Outer Limits were my go-to spots. I was good, and I knew it. The pleasure was in the show. I dug hearing comments from the lift above me or sensing admiring eyes.
Ski Day 10: “Backcountry skiing” means different things to different people. When I started skiing, it meant skiing on state land and making tracks in ungroomed snow. At first, we followed trails marked by the state.
As we became more confident, we’d set off with a destination in mind, a USGS topo map and a compass. Other times we’d look for hunter’s paths to follow, which are seemingly everywhere in the our corner of the Adirondacks.
In the last ten years, I’ve been drawn into lift-served skiing for several reasons. For one thing makes skiing in November possible. Plus, with a young child, it’s just easier. And yea let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. All that vert, and in between runs you’re chatting it up with friends and family. It’s easy to like it.
Skiing outside resort boundaries holds an increasing appeal to me, and it seems I’m not alone, considering the abundant backcountry gear options available in traditional ski shops and numerous mentions in the mainstream ski press.
For me, it’s a desire to explore new venues for my ski lust and to try new things along the way. Moreover, owning a condo at Solitude, Utah – where there are great lift-assisted backcountry options at the summit and many more at Brighton just up the road – definitely helps stoked my interest in earning turns outside the resorts.
Backcountry skiing is also growing here in the Northeast. One could reasonably argue that the smaller amount of snowfall in most of the region consequently limits the backcountry options. I would counter that the prevalent hard-surfaced artificial snow conditions found at many ski areas actually increase the allure of traveling further (usually north) to find alternatives.