Finding Comfort at the Angle of Repose

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.

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Slide Mountain, NY: Finding Myself Alone

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.

Slide Mountain NY summit view

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.

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