Tuesday, January 22, 2008


We live in an era where discoveries are either grand or trivial. Most of them don't seem to directly affect our lives so we don't dwell on them much. Until you make your own.

One of the great moments in backcountry skiing is when you make your own discovery - often with a few friends who truly share in the joy of the moment. I had that this week with Peg, Bryn and Jorie. We did a couple ski tours but one of them was to a nearby area that you can access easily from a friends property so we parked there to start our tour. It hadn't snowed for at least 10 days but it had been cold so we were hoping to find a little decent snow in the basin we were heading to. Our friends had never been there in the winter so didn't really know what we would find. We could see the basin from a nearby butte that we were on a few days before which sparked our curiosity about the area.

Our discovery happened in stages. First, as we climbed the north and east facing slopes of the basin, we found a well consolidated 3 foot base with 6-10 inched of medium density powder covering a long series of potential ski runs. Secondly, as we climbed a great route, the views and expanse of the little patch of heaven grew ever more grand. Finally, when we peeled off our skins, the snow that settled in around our feet was superb. We skied soft powder run after run in the 20 degree clear blue skies. And we were alone. The only other tracks in the area were those of the coyotes whose dens we spotted on our second day there. We made a great discovery - sure its a personal one that won't change the world but none the less, it changed us. We will be back to enjoy the fruits of this wintry valley again and again.
A video of the tour will be posted at: www.drtelemark.com

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Returning to Roots

Every once in a while I become nostalgic about the "old days" of skiing with skinny skis, leather boots and long poles. In the late 80's, when Peg and I started our cross-country to telemark conversion, we slowly progressed up the chain of gear that now has become a march of technology that never seems to end. Learning to telemark turn with short leather boots, partial or no metal edges on skis was a chore that I hope to never return to again. But, the physical work was amazingly demanding with the older gear and the strength required to pull off a day in the backcountry (or, God-forbid, a ski area) was exponentially greater than what it takes to telemark ski now. Perhaps we are fortunate though, that as we age and get busy in city life, kids and work, our time is not our own as often so having the new "stuff" lets us cheat our age and out of shape muscles a bit.

Today was a return to roots, kinda. We put on out XC boots and combi XC skis and took off up the Rendezvous trails just NW of Winthrop. 10 km up and 10km down on skinny skis, no skins, cable bindings of big plastic boots. Of course, the skis and boots we did have we capable of skating so after we schlepped up to Rendezvous Pass, we turn around and cruised the mostly downhill run with a combination of skating and classic skiing. The great thing to realize was how much fun it was to be out on a road tour, seeing other families and groups heading up and down the trail. Having light skis with great agility was fun and brought me back to the old days of backcountry touring to a degree. Sure, we weren't slogging up a steep ridge at Rainier in a blizzard, but the memory is there of the lightness and speed of gear that was made to cover distance, not carve up a steep face with graceful tele-turns. It is good to mix it up -- it surely reminds me that times are a changing, even in the backcountry. The beauty of it is that the backcountry doesn't change - the stark beauty, the wild weather, the snow that decides if it you can ski it or not. Time to head out again and see what awaits - in my new gear...