Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Backcountry Photo Book

After years of saving money, accumulating gear, falling helpless into basins of powder and scratching the surface of avalanche awareness, I finally started creeping into the backcountry. Backcountry skiing, or touring, means heading out into ungroomed, untamed wilderness: no lifts, no trails, no patrol, no avalanche control. It's big, and wild, and requires a lot more involvement with the environment, as well as real communication between group members. Each trip requires checking avalanche conditions and weather forecasts, and understanding the slope, aspect and cardinal directions of your tour. 

But the biggest difference between touring and downhill is this: if you want to ski down, you have to skin up, which can feel like a lot of work.
Katie Paulson Photo
The blue sky euphoria and primal happiness of carving slow, well earned turns in heavy snow is unparalleled. It feels like you've skinned into the far reaches of the world, but really you're just a quick drive down I-90 and you can be home for dinner. The best part is I've only just started exploring, so everything is brand new. 

Here are some shots and stories from the past few days:  
Kaeli. Katie Paulson Photo
Chris and his god damned legendary moustache 
Katie Paulson Photo
One of my oldest friends in Seattle, Katie, visited last weekend, all chaos and confidence in colored tights and skin tight base layers. She's the girl who pulls off all her clothes and skis naked when the sun is out. (Katie finally started keeping track of her adventures here.) She stumbled into my apartment at seven in the morning, throwing avalanche gear and bright jackets into her backpack. In the middle of last minute route planning and weather checking and loud laughter she paused, scratching her head, and declared, "You know what? I think I was at Denny's at four in the morning last night. I can't remember." I'm just standing in my living room in long underwear, blinking, still groggy after nine hours of sleep, staring at my friend as if she were some bright, exotic creature from another world.

"Katie...how much sleep did you get?" 
She shrugs. "I'm not sure....two?"

For anybody keeping score, Katie is younger then me.

Somewhere in the middle of our sparkling blue and white day in the Alpental backcountry, she came across her toothbrush in her backpack. "Oh, thank God!" She said, and started brushing her teeth. "This will get rid of the whiskey. And whatever I had at Denny's. Bacon, I want to say?" Then she spit and plunged ahead. I followed behind, laboriously, my breath and heartbeat and the hiss of fabric through snow the only sounds.
We were heading into it, the boat girl and I and a few others, when the little metal parts of Stef's bindings came springing out in all directions. Despite multiple tool kits, we couldn't get her skis together again. She had to turn around and head back to town. Our look of defeat:  
Jeremy and I went for a half day spin yesterday up Hyak. This boy is extremely athletic, all lanky muscles, his life a whirl of nonstop ice climbing and cragging and skiing. The fact that I could *just* keep up with him on the uphill was a big win for me. I was very happy with myself and even convinced him to celebrate with sweet potato fries and barbecue at the North Bend bar and grill. In general, he's a reserved gentleman, but he opened up, finally, like a jack in the box, after I'd say four years of work on my end. "You were never asking the right questions before," he said, cracking up. 
That's what skiing has done for me this year, opened everything up. It's transformed this season from a winter I didn't wanted to start into a winter that I don't want to end. 


tdoug said...

Good for you!!! So jealous - I traded in mellow mid-week powder days for a job. Shred some fresh for me & enjoy!!

Sarah said...

Amazing and beautiful and freeing!

And I love it!

Catherine said...

This is great and I love the photos!!

Craftysquirrel said...

Skiing looks awesome, I miss backcountry skiing post baby - she's six now but I just feel too much responsibility when I go anywhere with much avalanche risk to really enjoy it. Bring on the day when she can join me! So hanging out for fresh tracks cause it's summer here - hope you get more days like this before your winter ends.

Tonya said...

I love reading about your adventures! I am somewhat of a sissy girl, to put it mildly. My poor dh can't even get me to go camping in our pop up with him and the kids lol I enjoy seeing and hearing about your adventures, especially when they involve mountains and snow. We have swamps, not nearly as beautiful or majestic. And again with the good looking guy friends ; )

Melina said...

I managed to find a job that allows for some mid week shredding (or swearing and plowing down trees slowly and ungracefully) but the payment is steep- constant winter travel on planes to the midwest! woohoo!

Melina said...

thanks Sarah. it is pretty freeing....once you get passed the 'i'm completely out of shape!' lactic acid burn ;)

Melina said...


eh, I wouldn't go calling yourself a sissy girl! I manage to do this stuff while avoiding the real dangerous stuff. ha, yes, some of my guy friends are achingly good looking. and more interested in rocks and snow than anything else.....if you know what i mean...


Darlene said...

I LOVE your adventurism!!!!!

matropolis said...

The picture with the legendary mustache, is now one of my favorite pictures.