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|
"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.