The silence, the solitude, the vertical gain, and of course… the deep powder. When it comes to skiing, spending a day touring around in the mountains is hard to beat. For something as simple as sliding down a field of snow, backcountry skiing is tremendously complex, physically exhausting, and gear intensive. For those three reasons I can’t get enough of it.
Every ski tour starts at the beginning of the season with the state of the snowpack. Understanding how the season’s snowfall layers up and where the weak layers exist . The morning of a tour, you wake up and immediately check the avalanche forecast report. Noting the summary, dangerous aspects, then diving into the specific weather reports, potential hazards, and any recent avalanche/observation reports. Meticulously digging into the details so that we can come up with a safe travel plan into the mountains. The plan is basically just a route of where will we tour, based on the report and current conditions.
Then comes the gear. I’ll be honest, I love sports and activities that are heavily gear intensive. And not only require lots of gear, but also require you to be technically efficient with all of your gear. Dialing in that gear starts well before you reach the trailhead. But once you click into your toe-piece to start touring, all the noise goes away. Anything that doesn’t involve the avalanche conditions, ski conditions, or backcountry travel tends to go by the wayside in my mind. Complete focus, but relaxed at the same time. Those first few strides, when your heart rate begins to spike, you enter this mental state. A state I tend to stay in the entire time I’m in my bindings.
The quietness is really what I treasure most when touring. The only sounds in the air are the clicking of the bindings, the whizzing sounds as the skins slide on the snow, and the heavy breathing that usually accompanies a steep skin track we tend to take in the Wasatch. There’s no noise from the crowds, no lift lines, no tracked out runs, and no time crunch to catch the last lift. Quietly, we just trudge our way up the slope, sliding one ski in front of the other. Poles extended to help us keep longer strides. The only real excitement comes on a tight kick turn when your ski doesn’t quite clear the turn start to slide downhill. But other than that, and the occasional chatter of the radio from a nearby party on the same channel, it’s pure exhaustive-bliss.
Reaching the top of summit or peak is usually the best part of any day in the mountains, right? When you’re backcountry skiing, the summit is only the start of the fun. After you’ve just worked your ass off to get up to the top of the line you’re planning to ski, you get to now enjoy some of the most euphoric skiing you’ll ever do. I mean, the whole point of backcountry skiing is to go places where people aren’t, and ski entire lines that are untouched. For the most part, that’s exactly what you get.
You reach down to pull off your skins, crank down your boots, throw your shell back on, and toss your pack over your shoulders. A process you repeat over and over again throughout the day. But once you drop into your line and carve that first turn, it makes every bit of vert worth it. That feeling of effortlessly floating over waist deep powder, is the exact opposite of fight against gravity to get up there. Sliding down the side of the mountain, with snow flying passed your smiling face. The inaudible sounds of, “Yewwww!!!” uncontrollably leave my mouth. Pure, indescribable stoke.
I hope one day I’ll have enough days skiing through powder that I’ll eventually be able to describe it. Being an East Coast skier, that floating feeling is too new to me. Every time I ski a new line in the backcountry, it becomes it’s own experience. The harder you work to get to a line, the more rewarding the skiing becomes. Even if it’s a low-angle, shallow snow field, I can still have an all-time experience. Sure, maybe one day I’ll only want to ski far peaks on deep days, but right now it’s like climbing my first 5.10a. This whole new world of possibilities have been opened up to me. And that is like the endless possibilities ahead of me in the Wasatch.
I can’t wait to see where my skis take me.