Fine Glacier Dining: Planning Food for the Ski Expedition

Post by blogger | July 7, 2015      

When I talk to people about the many ski mountaineering expeditions I have been on, one of the first questions is: “What do you eat?” Well, food obviously. The real answer is not that simple. Numerous factors must be considered when planning food for an expedition: taste, nutrition/calories, weight, ease of preparation and more.

It is important to make food that you actually look forward to eating. If you don’t like the food that you have, you won’t eat that much of it, which will adversely affect your ability to perform at high physical output. This is especially true at altitude and cold weather. For the SkiTheBig3 expedition and on Mt. Hayes we went with some more exotic cuisine to break up the routine.

Breakfasts are easy for me. It is my favorite meal. I love eggs and hash browns and anything mixed in with them. There are many types of powdered eggs that are surprisingly good. For these two trips we went with Ova Easy Egg Crystals. Highly recommended.

Lunch is another easy one. It has to be simple and easy to eat throughout the day. We mixed a bunch of Honey Stinger products (chews, waffles, and bars) in with different types of trail mix, Cheese-It or Wheat Thin crackers, and a Snickers bar.

Dinner can be tricky. It is easy to fall into a routine where everything tastes the same. The key is diversity. Pad thai, curry and other Indian foods were mixed in with the regulars like burritos, quesadillas and pasta. This ensured that it would at least take a little longer to get bored with our dinners. I think it is also important to eat a hot dinner to help with staying warm while sleeping. That may just be in my head, but it works for me.

Thanksgiving Day dinner on Aconcagua, Argentina 2009.  Slightly different from the usual spread.

Thanksgiving Day dinner on Aconcagua, Argentina 2009. Slightly different from the usual spread.

There are many different viewpoints as to how many calories are needed per day for an expedition. I imagine it depends on what you are actually doing day-to-day. Since I am mostly in cold weather environments and high altitude I prescribe to the idea that there cannot be a limit. The higher the calorie count the better. When in a cold high altitude environment your body is eating an absurd amount of calories while at rest. It is using a ton of energy to keep warm as well as fighting effects of the altitude. Then add in the fact that for long periods of time you will be exerting yourself at a high level. On the Kahiltna and Mt. Hayes we ate roughly 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day.

Nutrition is another important factor (and something we emphasize here at WildSnow dot com). You can easily dump a ton of calories into your body, but if it’s all junk food it is not going to do your body good. Just like at home, it is important to eat well rounded meals. Carbs, proteins, fats and sugars all need to be taken into account. This is obviously harder to do on an expedition, especially when you need to carry everything on your back, but it is certainly possible. Dehydrated foods make it easier. I always try to make sure that meat (or a meat equivalent, high in protein) and veggies are put into breakfast and dinner. Lunch usually consist of lots of grains, and sugars. Grains like couscous and pasta are great for dinner; they help fill you up.

For most expeditions the food that you bring will have to be carried with you. This complicates things. Bringing well rounded meals packed with calories that also taste good can get heavy really fast. Luckily the amount of dehydrated foods available is incredible. The trick is finding what tastes good. Meat, veggies, eggs, tomato sauce, and anything else can be found. Then it is just a matter of spices and what to put them with. Couscous is great. It is super light and fast to make and can be made with basically anything. When weight is less of an obstacle, for instances like base camp meals, Tasty Bites Indian Food is amazing. They taste great and are easy to make.

For Mt. Foraker on the SkiTheBig3 expedition we had to carry about 6 days worth of food in our pack. Weight was of the utmost importance. Here is what we brought:

  • Breakfast –- “Quick breakfast” consisted of organic Pop Tarts, and instant oatmeal. This was for our summit days or any alpine starts. For other days we had what we simply called grains: Cream of Wheat or granola with dried fruits and nuts and powdered milk. We simply poured the powdered milk in with everything in a bag, divided it up in our mugs, added hot water and voila! Breakfast.
  • Lunch –- This was basically the same every day no matter what: Energy foods from Honey Stinger, trail mix, crackers and a chocolate bar like Snickers.
  • Dinner –- Thanksgiving and shepherd’s pie (we did get sick of the Shepherd’s pie though): Ingredients like instant stuffing, dehydrated turkey and veggies, instant mashed potatoes, and instant gravy. This was in a bag and simply put in a pot with hot water. Not the most nutritious thing nor the best tasting, but its weight was key for the long days on Foraker where every ounce was felt.
    Ease of Preparation
    After a long day of climbing that last thing you want to have is an in depth, time consuming meal prep. Anything that can be made fast is key. Having hot soup before every dinner is wonderful. It gives you something to start on while the rest of dinner is being made, and helps to hydrate as well.

    Freeze dried Thanksgiving dinner is a favorite. Tasty Bites packages can just be put in boiling water to cook. Couscous is quick. Add water and let it sit for 5 minutes and you are done. There are some days where this is not too much of an issue, like storm or rest days where all you have is time to prep your meal.

    For the most part you don’t want to spend hours cooking when you could be sleeping. Organization is key. Finding ingredients and measuring things out is not fun to do when you feel like death. Everything should be ready to go before you even start your trip.

    What we did on the SkiTheBig3 trip was prepare everything in Anchorage. We measured everything out and separated it into days. So a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner for all four of us was put into a bag and labeled. This way each morning we could just grab a bag and have our food all ready for the day.

    Ski Plane Base Camp in the Tordrillos.  When the plane takes all your food in and you have to carry nothing you can go big with food prep.  Double bacon cheeseburgers on a glacier are pretty tasty.

    Ski Plane Base Camp in the Tordrillos. When the plane takes all your food in and you have to carry nothing you can go big with food prep. Double bacon cheeseburgers on a glacier are pretty tasty.

    The best tools for eating.  GSI Fairshare mugs with 40 Below insulators.

    The best tools for eating. GSI Fairshare mugs with 40 Below insulators.

    Readers, we know many of you are experienced multi-day expedition skiers. What are your food tricks? Nutella? Celery? How do you deal with individual likes and dislikes? Leave comments.

    Stock up on Honey Stinger here.


    Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


    6 Responses to “Fine Glacier Dining: Planning Food for the Ski Expedition”

    1. Kristian July 7th, 2015 1:52 pm

      Last week on Rainier, I used Gu, salted almonds, BelVita blueberry biscuits, instant coffee, decaf tea, instant oatmeal packs, precooked Oscar Meyer bacon packs, Hormel hard salami packs, small wheat tortillas, and Backpacker Pantry dinners. The dinners take over 20 minutes to reconstitute at altitude. Put them sealed under your outer layers for warming goodness.

      And an MSR Whisperlite International for melting snow. Plan on about 18 ounces of white gas fuel per person per day. A four quart/liter aluminum pot is handy for scooping/melting snow and also stowing your food.

    2. Phil July 8th, 2015 1:55 pm

      Thanks for that post. It is always interesting to see what other people choose on long trips.

      Food choices really depend on the type of trip. A base camp trip or a trip with little travelling doesn’t need to consider food weight nearly as much as a point-to-point expedition where you are travelling most days. Trips like the Foraker climb require different choices again (fast cooking, light). A weekend trip has few constraints. The food choice also depends on how you cook your food (just add boiling water, or actually cook it).

      On our longer trips (typical would be a 3 week traverse, perhaps with 1-2 food caches, sometimes no caches) we haven’t used the commercial dehydrated foods for many years.; they all seem to end up tasting the same and you often need 2 (or more) for one person in terms of calories. They also don’t allow for adjustment for dietary requirements – and it seems that is more and more common with my trip partners. It is really quite easy to dehydrate much of your own food or ingredients and there are many sources of dried ingredients that you can put your own meals together with. And they are almost guaranteed to taste better… Get a book to start (e.g., Fork in the Road) and experiment.

      One standard item in my menu list: Salmon jerky, green curry (paste or dried – experiment with the amount), dried coconut milk, dried lemongrass dried green beans or peas & red peppers, rice or pasta. Tasty and very light… Takes no longer to prepare than cooking the rice/pasta.

      It was mentioned very briefly above, but a pre-dinner soup is standard. Light, fast to prepare, rehydrates you and replaces salts lost during a hard day, warms you up….

    3. john July 11th, 2015 6:25 am

      try the Instant Indian food like chana marsala. miso paste for miso soup. both are light fast and keep you moving.

    4. Jim July 15th, 2015 2:52 pm

      On recent trips this past season to the Tordrillos and Denali Park we brought a Coleman camp oven that sits on top of a propane stove or whisperlite. We baked bread, pita bread, pizza, apple tarts, cookies. We brought flour,salt sugar and yeast and kneaded and let it rise. It saves space compared to pre made bread, and doesn’t get crushed. It also provide a emergency food buffer. Its surprising how easy it is to make bread. Without an oven, one can make pita bread easily in a pan. It was a great way to pass time on weather days. This is only for plane camping.

      We brought a lot of bacon, as on cold days, the body seems to crave the fat and its a way to get enough calories in your body. We also brought meat for stews, potatoes, carrots. Soups every day before dinner is a great way to keep warm and avoid hunger crash while cooking after a long ski day. A nice technique is to use the freeze dried food as a base, and add in fresh potatoes, carrots, onion. Parsley and lemon can really zing an otherwise bland preprepared meal. We brought in 5 dozen eggs. Butter is big, lots of butter is good to flavor everything.

      The old sourdoughs used to live an entire winter on a bag of flour, salt, coffee and a slab of bacon.

      Carrying your food is a whole different challenge which I leave to the younger guys.

    5. Jim July 15th, 2015 3:01 pm

      I’ve been making my own Soylent, or what I call superfood. It is ideal for ski touring. There is a do it yourself website with recipes and a nutrient calculator online. Its made of protein powder isolate, olive oil, maltodextrin, dextrose, minerals, potassium citrate electrolyte, vitamins, chia seeds, masa harina all available mail order on popular sites. I blend mine as an athletic energy food which contains all the nutrients needed to survive. I mix a 240 grams litre in a bottle which makes 1000 calories and drink it as I skin up every 30 minutes or so. Your body can only function with such exertion for 2 hours before glucose supplies in the blood are depleted. That’s the feeling you get of hitting the wall. At that point, without further nutrition, the body start using muscle and brain tissue for energy. Drinking quickly absorbed complex sugars, with some protein, and oil allows the carbs to absorb directly through the stomach lining for rapid conversion to glucose and steady constant energy. The stomach cannot process heavy food during exercise because the blood has been diverted away to the muscles, so rapidly absorbed foods are optimum for athletic performance and avoiding bloat and after lunch tiredness.

      I premix the daily pack and vacuum pack them. In the morning before the tour, I mix my litre bottle which provide me hydration and nutrition on the go for the day. Its also great protein for muscle recovery and rebuilding at the end of the day.

    6. Jim July 24th, 2015 7:54 pm

      Anton, What area did you ski in the Tordrillos? Thanks.

    Anti-Spam Quiz:

    While you can subscribe to comment notification by checking the box above, you must leave a brief comment to do so, which records your email and requires you to use our anti-spam challange. If you don't like leaving substantive comments that's fine, just leave a simple comment that says something like "thanks, subscribed" with a made-up name. Check the comment subscription checkbox BEFORE you submit. NOTE: BY SUBSCRIBING TO COMMENTS YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO STORE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INDEFINITLY. YOU MAY REQUEST REMOVAL AND WE WILL REMOVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITHIN 72 HOURS. To request removal of personal information, please contact us using the comment link in our site menu.
    If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.

    :D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
    Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after approval. Comments with one or more links in the text may be held in moderation, for spam prevention. If you'd like to publish a photo in a comment, contact us. Guidelines: Be civil, no personal attacks, avoid vulgarity and profanity.

      Your Comments

      Recent Posts

    Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version