Mar 312017
 

Winter wilderness ski tour

Enjoying time spent in the deep mountains during winter months takes a bit of practice before becoming comfortable. My first attempt at winter camping happened during my senior year in high school. My best friend at that time, Andy, was working on his Senior Project which involved both snow safety and travel and I acted as his ski partner – happy to be along for the ride. Specifically, one component to Andy’s project was to build a snow cave and stay the night within its icy tomb. To accomplish this, we drove up to Donner Pass from our parent’s homes in the Bay Area, hiked in a short distance, and promptly built a snow cave as the light of day faded away to night. Being 18 years old, while I was packing I assumed my grand father’s WWII down sleeping bag would be great for our expedition and more than sufficient for sleeping in the cave and that the clothes I wore while snowboarding at Tahoe’s resorts would suffice as well. Needless to say, both sleeping bag and clothes were drenched by the time I entered the cave. That night, my first foray into winter camping, I suffered through four or five hours of shivering before asking Andy if we could retreat to his VW Jetta and spend the remaining hours warmed by the car’s heater. We did just that.

Winter wilderness ski tour

Today, at 42 years old, I have winter camping a bit more dialed. This past Monday I headed into the wilderness of Idaho’s mountains to enjoy four days of camping and skiing with two friends, one who had just flown in from city life in Baltimore. The first 36-48 hours of our adventure were under blue bird skies and starry nights. However, the remaining time was spent under stormy conditions which produced close to two feet of wet, Pacific like, snow. On our first storm day, day three, we made an attempt on a 10,000 foot peak climbing into the clouds and navigating by map and compass alone. Unfortunately, our route ended in a false summit and with building avalanche concerns and fading light, we retreated back the way we had ascended – happy with the attempt and wet from the effort and precipitation. The morning of our fourth day, we awoke to a splendid sunrise which teased us to try the peak again. However, within’ 30 minutes the sneak peak of light had disappeared and another wave of the intense storm obscured the range. That day, we persevered and chose to stay below the cloud layer near tree line so that we could enjoy some powder skiing!

Winter wilderness ski tour

Even though we had all the right equipment, by the end of the fourth day, 80% of our equipment was soaked through. Our allotted time away from family and work was to end the next morning. We decided late that afternoon that, instead of suffering through a wet night similar to the one I experienced back in high school, we should slip down the valley and back to the trailhead where my truck’s heater could dry our wet bodies. What with 24 years of enjoying the winter months as a backcountry skier, I’m finding that moisture management is still paramount to enjoying the backcountry and though I’m getting better at it, I’m still (happily) getting wet!

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Winter wilderness ski tour

Feb 012017
 

Backcountry skiing with kids.

It’s classic how two siblings, stuck in the house for a few hours, can turn on each other and raise the tension in a home. That was the case the other morning. So, I told ’em to get their backcountry ski gear together because we were headed outside. Their complaints about going started immediately and didn’t stop. Even while beginning the tour, my daughter slogged uphill with her arms limp and poles dragging. Ironically, once we started climbing up the slope we were to ski, their attitudes changed–the higher we climbed–the more positive and psyched they got. The view impressed them and they felt like they were on the top of the world. They also transformed from enemies to friends. I love what a little exercise can do for children’s brains!

Backcountry skiing with kids.

Backcountry skiing with kids.

Jan 192017
 

Skiing backcountry with kids.

My wife and I had our first kid when I was 29. Yes, I took photos of the birth–and helped deliver at the same time! No, I won’t be posting those frames. I remember wanting to have children early so that we could enjoy activities together. Though it’s taken a decade to get to this point, the kids are finally getting out a few times a year to backcountry ski with me. They are enjoying the experience, though one likes the up more than the other. For me, spending time together skinning up and watching them ski powder on the return is priceless. However, I do have to say that a lot of thought and concern goes into these kid tours.

For one, the thought of avalanches makes my stomach queasy. Though the kids do have transceivers and shovels, we don’t go into any terrain that might even remotely slide–it’s just not an option. I give them lessons on snow science, terrain, the flora and fauna, animals, and weather. I pick a tour that doesn’t max out their energy and bring lots of snacks and breaks. We also have some friends with kids who are also into getting out which helps increase the kids motivation!

Skiing backcountry with kids.

Skiing backcountry with kids.

May 132016
 

Skiing in the Boulder White Cloud Mountains of Idaho.

Just last year, President Obama signed into law the creation of a new wilderness area which includes much of the Boulder and White Cloud mountain ranges near my home here in Idaho. The other day, a few friends and I went in to ski an unnamed peak. The weather was more winterlike than Spring and the snow conditions in the couloir were less than ideal, but, being at 11,400′ in our Nation’s newest wilderness area is an experience not to be missed.

Skiing in the Boulder White Cloud Mountains of Idaho.

Skiing in the Boulder White Cloud Mountains of Idaho.

Skiing in the Boulder White Cloud Mountains of Idaho.

Skiing in the Boulder White Cloud Mountains of Idaho.

Skiing in the Boulder White Cloud Mountains of Idaho.

Skiing in the Boulder White Cloud Mountains of Idaho.

Jan 262016
 

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

The foothills to an amazing mountain range end about 300 yards from my back door. I’ve been exploring this range for years and just last weekend was able to spend time in a drainage I had never been in before…on skis. On our ascent up to treeline where we spent the night, a storm was finishing off about 4 inches of new snow which had fallen on top of an already soft powdery base. Waking up the second day, we found the storm breaking up with clouds and snow squalls passing through like long interval waves. The high peaks were showing signs of snow instability: slab slides, sluff slides, depth hoar in the pits; we didn’t push our luck and stayed at treeline skiing among the white bark pines. Here are a few images from the trip…

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

Backcountry skiing in Idaho

Dec 212015
 

Skiing and Landscape photography in Idaho

This December Idaho has been on the receiving end of Old Man Winter’s kindness. Multiple feet of beautiful snow has fallen making for a winter wonderland. While the white coat looks good on our mountains, a danger has been lurking underneath-an unstable layer of snow keen to trigger avalanches. With that said, if you are willing to be cautious and knowledgeable about the snowpack, there are still areas and slopes to ski. Matt Leidecker and I headed out into the mountains north of Ketchum, Idaho, just last week and enjoyed a few runs of amazing powder! I hope you all are getting your fair share of freshies too!

Skiing and Landscape photography in Idaho

Skiing and Landscape photography in Idaho

Skiing and Landscape photography in Idaho

Skiing and Landscape photography in Idaho

Apr 182015
 

Spring Skiing in Idaho

The juxtaposition between the comfort of the office environment from which I type this post vs that of the alpine couloir I was in just 30 hours ago is, in simple terms, strange. Yesterday, my body and mind traveled from a precipitous 50 degree ski run to the comfort of my home in a few hours. It makes me think that perhaps the alpinists of old had it better than me and my contemporaries in that both the ascent and descent from civilization took longer, and thus, an easier time for their brains to adjust; they enjoyed more time spent in the mountains. Now, these quick trips into the backcountry feel like the extreme version of a ying-yang circle of existence, polar opposites that somehow placate one-another. Obviously, I’d take more time spent in wilderness, but I won’t complain about time I’ve enjoyed therein.

This past week I had the great fortune to find time to ski with good friends in the mountains of Idaho on two different outings. On both occasions, we were able to enjoy nights spent on the ground and days in the open (to paraphrase Doug Robinson). The weather contradicted itself wonderfully in that we traveled through snow squalls, enjoyed blue bird skies so calm lakes became mirrors, heard Sand Hill Cranes echo their mating calls from marshes into a myriad of canyons, and found silence unlike any other. The snow was good, if not great, and the camaraderie unparallelled.

Here a few images from these adventures….

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Spring Skiing in Idaho

Jan 262015
 

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Curiosity and intimacy are two words that help explain my love of mountains. I remember back in the mid-90’s when I climbed Hyalite Peak, Montana, and at the summit just loving the quenching feeling for the curiosity I had for the knowledge that told me what was on the other side. As exhausted as I may get on some of these climbs, learning the way the peaks and their canyons, rivers, and ridges all interconnect makes for a deep level of intimacy that I have not yet tired of.

Backcountry skiing is truly a vehicle that stokes this passion. Yesterday, Chris, Russel, and I enjoyed a tour that linked up a long section of ridge and got me back into a section of the Smoky (no e here in Idaho) mountains with views I had not seen before. As always, having seen this new terrain-I’m curious to learn what lays even further back!

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

Ski Tour in Idaho.

May 202014
 

Couloir skiing in Idaho.

Just on the other side of most any high alpine peak or ridge lie the strikingly beautiful shafts of snow which are isolated by rock walls and are better known as couloirs. In french, it means “passage” or “corridor,” and in terms of ski mountaineering, it means a portal into the ephemeral world of steep and exciting turns. There is a little cirque up north that offers a half dozen or so little couloirs that are fun to get into. Matt Sylvester and I went up for some of these tasty turns one stormy day late this Spring.

Couloir skiing in Idaho.

Couloir skiing in Idaho.

Couloir skiing in Idaho.

Couloir skiing in Idaho.