Posts Tagged ‘backcountry skiing’

Roaming on Rogers

April 23, 2009

I had the great fortune of being invited to Roger’s Pass for a backcountry skiing trip this winter. Reed Finlay and I got to tag along with, Steve Romeo from who was headed to the Cold Smoke Festival in Nelson, B.C. and then to Revelstoke.

We arrived in Nelson at the tail end of a 21 day high pressure spell that had left the surface snow wonderfully faceted. We knew it would not hold up well once new snow came, but for now it made for great skiing on all aspects.

Reed climbs Ymir

After a few days in the Southern Selkirks we were ready to meet up with Greg Hill and friends in Revelstoke, and get down to business on Roger’s Pass. We headed north into a large storm system that put an end to the high pressure and low danger. The avalanche cycle we all expected started in force and we kicked off numerous small and medium sized avalanches on the McGill Shoulder.      

The going gets good

The going gets good

The next day dawned high and dry, and with Aaron Chance and Greg Hill ready to go, we headed to the top of the pass. The weather was spectacular and we had assembled an all star team of backcountry skiers, but we knew we would have to keep our energy in check as the buried facets and surface hoar were likely to be reactive today. As a few of us stuck our heads in the snow to see what was happening beneath the surface we witnessed the sure sign of a disaster, 2 ridges to the east, a large avalanche released as a group of skiers made their way across it. Greg, a former ski mountaineering champion employed his high speed transition and was off skiing towards the site of the accident. 


Elk Mountains Grand Traverse

April 9, 2009
Homie and I near the top of Aspen Mountain

Homie and I near the top of Aspen Mountain

I recently competed in the 40-mile Elk Mountain Grand Traverse back-country
ski race. Holy cow! This race is tough. It was eye-opening. I liken it to an ultra-marathon, where you see people who you wouldn’t think could hold a candle to you in mountain adventures, passing you. This is an event you have to learn, because pure fitness isn’t nearly enough to conquer this race. The Grand Traverse is very serious, very committing and so very different from nearly any other competition I’ve done. You have to enter this race as a team of two because of the serious nature of it. The race starts at midnight, so you get to do the first 6+ hours by headlamp. We had good snow conditions this year, but horrible wind up high. My buddy Homie and I finished in just over 15 hours (the winners were under 10 hours!) You can read lots more details here, if interested:

Grays and Torreys Times Two

February 13, 2009

I’m training to do the Grand Traverse ski race, which is a 40-mile backcountry event that goes from Crested Butte to Aspen. Of course I should be doing a lot of backcountry skiing (duh!) but I’m a climber at heart and I can no more just go for a ski than I can go for a hike. If I’m doing either my next question is “What are we climbing?”.

Ideally I’d climb mountains with long ski approaches, but I’m not big on driving very far either. One convenient pair of mountains is Grays and Torreys. These are almost always referred to together, as once you have climbed one, it only takes 30 minutes more to climb the other. In the summer the roundtrip is 8 miles and 3400 vertical feet or so. In the winter you have to start down at highway and the total is 14 miles and 5000 vertical feet, of which more than 9 of those miles can be done on skis.

I climbed them both a couple of weeks ago with my Grand Traverse teammate Homie in 5h44m and we spent 10 minutes on each summit and some time chatting with friends on the way down. I felt by near continuous movement I could get this under 5 hours, so the next weekend I was back, alone. Unfortunately, the weather was much worse with colder temperatures and a biting wind. Then my goggles broke and I fell descending a rock-hard snowslope that I had no business being on without an ice axe and crampons. I nearly died as I cartwheeled towards the rock below and in fact honest thought it was over for me. Seconds later I was able to self-arrest.

Alas, I was still able to turn the trick, finishing in 4h39m and doing the last 3 miles on the snowpacked road in 11 minutes – you’ve got to love skis for descending! Now I’m thinking that with more fitness, perfect conditions, no mistakes, no falls, approaching 4 hours is possible for me. But more mountains are calling as well…

A full report is located here: