Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | March 12, 2010      
2010 Backcountry Ski Racing

Click to enlarge poster.

Firstly, know that the 10th annual US Ski Mountaineering National Championships, thanks to Marmot, will be held March 20th at Jackson resort. This year’s even promises to be bigger, better and badder with a tougher course, superb organization, a terrific title sponsor (Marmot), and more. Here are the links for your informational pleasure:
Event website

Course maps & descriptions


Also on the rando racing front. Tomorrow the Wasatch Powder Keg will take place at Brighton resort in Utah. While sadly limited to 150 participants (groan), the race division course looks good with 5,000 vert of climbing, the obligatory booter, and an entirely new course. Should be fun to spectate, and best wishes to all racers.

Well, the WildSnow Denali backcountry skiing expedition has kept me busier than a one legged guy in a jumping contest (no offense to you one legged guys out there). Amazing how many issues crop up when you want to do an excellent rather than lackadaisical job organizing an Alaskan glacier expedition. Things like wind screens for our larger snow melting pots, whether to use a thin foam tent-floor cover or not, setting up ski boots so we don’t get frostbite if it gets super cold, not to mention exactly how does one dress for something like this? In a few weeks we’ll ramp up the blogging about all that, which will be fun. And we’re still planning on blogging from the climb using our satphone system, which has been tricky to set up but appears to work.

Meanwhile, up in the Northeast, a very cool historical ski race has been resurrected. According to local newspapers, the Thunderbolt Race is the “the most extreme thing to do in Berkshire Country.” Hearkening back to it’s origins more than 75 years ago, Thunderbolt is a rowdy schuss down a narrow slot cut though a forested mountain side. Participants hike up and ski down. More than a hundred volunteers are making it happen. Like I always say, who needs ski lifts, or “dangerous” groomers for that matter? (I covered Thunderbolt in my book, WildSnow, so read the history there if you’ve got a copy.)

Colorado is always doing it’s best to live up to being the place with the avalanche danger. This past Wednesday that rep was kept alive by the death of 20 year old snowboarder in a sidecountry gully just west of Arapaho Basin Ski Area. The rider and his two companions carried no avy rescue gear and had to dig the victim out with by using their snowboards as shovels. Sigh.

In the Northwest a few days ago, a potential backcountry disaster had a better outcome, with some amusing sides. Apparently two men at Crystal Mountain in Washington inadvertently skied out of bounds down to a closed highway. So they slogged 9 miles to an open road, asked a motorist for directions back to Crystal, then attempted to shortcut the trip back and turned in exactly the wrong direction. Another 13 miles later the pair walked into a ranger station at Mount Rainier National Park. I’ve always enjoyed the view of Rainier from Crystal, but never thought of walking there.

That’s it folks. Thanks for the fun week of backcountry skiing blogging, and have a good weekend!


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


15 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Merlyn March 12th, 2010 10:50 am

    Lou –

    I thought you might find this interesting: a completely backcountry ski mountaineering race – the Esplanade Epic at Golden Alpine Holidays:

    My wife and I are entered in the 5 km race. We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, rando racers, but this looks too fun to pass up!

  2. steveo March 12th, 2010 12:36 pm

    Another cool rando race in Stemboat on April 3rd. This is the second annual. Check it out here:

  3. Brent March 12th, 2010 12:44 pm

    I finally shelled out the $$$ for some rando race boots… now where can I get one of those nifty race suits? Yer just not a rando racer unless ya gotcha one of those nifty suits.

  4. Jonathan Shefftz March 12th, 2010 3:40 pm

    I was planning to patrol for the Thunderbolt race, but unfortunately it got rescheduled to a weekend I’m teaching an avy course. (And unfortunately I couldn’t help out with the rescheduled prep day b/c I was putting on a rando race.)
    The prep that has gone into the race is very impressive — I skied there Sun & Tue under better conditions than I’ve ever seen there before. Plus they put up the much-needed signage that the State could never do. (Zillions of confusing trail intersections.)
    Unfortunately, rain is now coming in for race day…

  5. Lou March 12th, 2010 7:49 pm

    Jonathan, sorry to hear that, I was assuming you’d be there and looking forward to your report. It’s an historic event holding that race again. Just amazing, really, considering the forces that are arrayed against human recreation vs preservation.

  6. Mark W March 13th, 2010 8:14 am

    Brent, try Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden. They’ve got a great website also.

  7. Mark W March 13th, 2010 8:16 am

    Some of the greatest ski pioneers in America raced the Thunderbolt many decades ago. Glad to hear such a race has come back.

  8. Jonathan Shefftz March 13th, 2010 7:42 pm

    I heard the race went off well today, despite the deteriorating weather. (Left Mt Washington late morning under warm sunny skies, to return to western Mass in chilly rain — what a strange reversal of the usual contrast!)
    I have a few pics posted here of the TBolt right after the pre-race prep:
    … although they’re mainly of a neighboring line.
    I summarized some of the prep in the captions.
    Also, out of curiosity, on our first run we skied without stopping to see how long it would take. We weren’t racing it, and our legs were still a bit beat from racing each other up & down Magic Mtn 3x times the prior day for the rando race (with all the descents on Red Line, the first-ever long & difficult descent for a NE rando race). Nevertheless, we made it down much much faster than anyone would ever consider skiing it for fun, and the trail was very fast because of how the volunteers had buffed it. Took us about six minutes. When I got back home and looked up the history of racing there, among other records, I was humbled to read about another fellow Amherst College man who skied it in less than half the time it took us, at only 2:26, in . . . 1936!?!?!

  9. James March 14th, 2010 7:11 pm

    Just a shout to all the Canadian and American teams that raced in the Pierra Menta (France) these last 4 days. The PM is one of they most demanding and prestigious races in all of skimo racing. Montana boys Brandon French and Ben Parsons took 36th overall which is an amazing result for a North American team. Damn solid gents to boot.

  10. Lou March 15th, 2010 6:53 am

    Congratulations Brandon and Ben! That is just wonderful! Wow, North American racers have come a long way in a very short time. Look out Euros!

  11. mtraslin March 15th, 2010 8:37 pm

    Nice James!

    I have been getting constant emails from friends I grew up with in British Columbia and Washington that were wandering why we were not competing at the Worlds in Spain?
    Andy just won Alpental again,three time champ and seven years in row on the podium!

    Congrats to the Americans, and yes they have come a long way!

  12. Paul March 16th, 2010 11:34 pm

    Lou – you may have already been following the Revelstoke Sledding Avalanche but incase you haven’t been the latest development is that the RCMP (Cops) are talking about potentially charging the so called organizer and the guy who set the slide off and killed two – may not change any thing in the States but I think it is somewhat of a dangerous precedent to set and on that would obviously extend over to the self propelled world.

  13. Lou March 17th, 2010 7:05 am

    Paul, yeah, the thing to remember is there is always the possibility of someone charging someone with criminal negligence. The DA can always do that if they feel like it… In my opinion there is a line a person crosses when you go from being innocently involved in a tragedy or accident (in the backcountry or in civilization), to that of being responsible or culpable. Lots of gray area in there, but it definitely gets to a point where the balance tilts and we have laws for that sort of thing that can be implemented and enforced.

  14. Jane Meribel May 26th, 2010 8:35 am

    Just goes to show that accidents can happen very close to you. That’s why it is so important to carry the right gear, and the best gear when it comes to safety stuff.

  15. Jonathan Shefftz October 27th, 2010 12:22 pm

    Just a shout out to anyone who might be following this thread for the Thunderbolt reference that the newly formed Thunderbolt Ski Patrol is on the lookout for support, whether new members or donations of first-aid gear.
    An initial website is now up (url is exceedingly obvious as well as searchable) with some basic info.
    Pretty much all the members right now have their primary patrol affiliation somewhere else, but you can also sign up just for the Thunderbolt patrol. The biggest hurdle is OEC, which is essentially the NSP equivalent of EMT-B. (Enough alphabet soup for you?)
    And remember that you can always get involved too through the Thunderbolt Ski Runners (see prior comment re website).

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