Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | July 27, 2010      

I’ll call him Bill, my environmentalist friend who apprises me of the apocalyptic consequences of just about anything a human being does — or sometimes even thinks. Bill and I joke around because he knows I’m a moderate and he’s sort of a fanatic. Actually, he is a fanatic.

Bill is the kind of guy who pretty much hates ski resorts, so he’s not a big fan of Sen. Mark Udall’s bill to encourage year-round recreation at ski areas. According to Bill, resorts are already “wilderness petting zoos” and we “don’t need to promote any more industrial recreation on public land.”

I tend to agree with Bill about the downside of industrial tourism. Only I feel that here in Colorado we have plenty of room and our existing ski resorts might as well operate as year-around resorts. So I’m a fan of Udall’s legislation. Sorry Bill.

One of our brethren backcountry skiers died while summer skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park this past Sunday. Lacy Meadows was on a solo trek and was found on a snowfield in the southern part of the park. Cause of death is unknown at this time but sources say he probably took a sliding fall on snow and hit rocks. Condolences to Lacy’s friends and loved ones. According to his friend Brittany Walker, “Lacy was from West Virginia originally, and spent some time in the army before moving out here to Colorado. He was one of the most genuine people anyone has ever met. He had an energy that was so positive and so vibrant. There are so many who are mourning his loss, and he will be missed hugely.” More here.

Another thing Bill and I were speaking about recently is the underground coal fire that is perpetually burning in the coal fields west of here. You can see the evidence of this thing when you drive west on Interstate 70 from Glenwood Springs, Colorado in the winter after a snowfall. You might notice the incongruous looking melted off areas in the hills to the side of the road, those are areas over the fire. Turns out coal fires are both natural and man-made. They are an environmental disaster that receives little attention, but produces an incredible 3% of the world’s annual Co2 emissions according to this article in Time Magazine. Why do I mention this? Just to put our exhaust pipes into perspective.

I’m tracking the possible first ski descent of K2. It sounds like Fredrik Ericsson is in a dicy situation with still a faint chance of success. He and companion Trey Cook are near the summit, have encountered some difficult climbing that delayed their schedule. and say they are NOT going to summit. But it’s not over till it’s over. Mainly, of course, this is K2 and the boys need to come back alive. That’s probably their focus now, as it is for nearly anyone who climbs high on that scary dangerous mountain. Latest is here.

Do you like the sometimes hokey but sometimes stunning ski sequences that Hollywood sometimes works into their action films? Sounds like there might be a good one in “Inception.” More here.

In what I think is big news for the backcountry skiing culture, Jackson Hole has slashed the price of it’s unlimited season pass. If you buy it as the early-bird deal this August, it’ll be $1,255. That’s a 25% reduction from last year’s price and the lowest you can get a full ride Jackson pass for since the 1980s (locals, please correct me if my numbers are off). Why is this news for backcountry skiing? Simply because the Jackson ski culture is in a large part inspired or even birthed from the big gnarly resort where skiing inbounds can prepare you for nearly anything you’ll encounter out of bounds. Thus, if skiing the Jackson resort is too expensive it drives the core skiers away, looses its relevance, and the culture could dry up.

Of course the best deal on a Jackson Pass is the senior version at $815.00 (ages 65 and over). It’ll be pretty funny in 30 years or so when a bunch of today’s young Jackson freeriders have aged and are up there with their cheapo senior passes, ripping it up on bionic knees, arcing turns on who knows what technology. There might be so many skiers using the senior pass by then that they have to put a speed limit on it, something like “only available at 65 years or older, no skiing over 35 mph.” More here.


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36 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Scott July 27th, 2010 10:14 am

    Two Thoughts:

    1) Everyone thinks they are a moderate

    2) My condolences to Lacey’s family.

    We have a lot of summertime accidents on permanent snowfields. Everyone, but especially skiers need to know that the snow conditions are far different than in the winter and that it may make most sense to climb even moderately steep fields with a belay. Crampons and an ice axe with a good self belay should be considered a minimum, because self-arrest may be difficult or impossible with current snow conditions, which will get even more challenging for self-arrest going into the fall. Unless the corn is deep, anything steep should be considered a no-fall zone.

  2. Lou July 27th, 2010 10:19 am

    Scott, indeed!

    As for summer snow, everyone does need to note that a fall goes much differently on slick summer snow. The accileration is sometimes suprisingly quick, and the snow of a consistency where a self arrest of limited value. One thing I’m concerned about in my own behavior is my tendency to use Whippets more and more and leave my ice axe on my pack. The longer pick of the axe, used in a classic self arrest position, is much more effective in some types of snow. And as you mention, doing self belay with the ax is key and can’t be done with Whippet’s.

    Problem is once you start skiing down all that is out the window. Unknown if Lacy was climbing or skiing down.

  3. Ken Hensel July 27th, 2010 11:55 am

    Lacy was a super guy and great skier. He always had that big grin on his face. The mountains and the Loveland Basin family will miss him. Hopefully he will save some fresh snow for the rest of us when we get to the snow field of heaven. RIP.

  4. Lou July 27th, 2010 12:11 pm

    Ken, thanks for your words.

  5. dongshow July 27th, 2010 1:59 pm

    “Why do I mention this? Just to put our exhaust pipes into perspective.”

    Well according to the University of Michigan our cars and trucks (both for buisness and private use) account for 34% of C02, and should be easier to deal with then massive out of control underground coal fires. I’d suggest we stay focused on dealing with the big piece of the pie and hope that can mitigate against the small sliver coal fires make up.

  6. Lou July 27th, 2010 2:36 pm

    Dong, I have no idea if reducing of transportation C02 contribution by 3% would cost less or more than putting out the coal fires ). I think that would be a difficult number to come up with so let’s not jump to conclusions.

    Also, an immense amount of C02 is produced by aviation, agriculture and manufacturing. Perhaps putting out some coal fires would actually be a cheaper way to reduce some C02 than changing those sources? Or perhaps we should be tackling all sources?

  7. Caleb Wray July 27th, 2010 4:34 pm


    Do you find it difficult, as a professional writer, to maintain a serious tone when addressing your rebuttals to the name Dong?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  8. Lou July 27th, 2010 4:44 pm

    Oh, years of this and I actually have fun shortening those goofy names people come up with. If he wants to be called Dongshow, I certainly have the right to call him Dong, don’t you think that, Dong?

  9. Bob July 27th, 2010 6:34 pm

    Ski resorts = “wilderness petting zoos” <- that was funny.

    Sad news about Lacy Meadows.

  10. Clyde July 27th, 2010 7:14 pm

    “As for summer snow, everyone does need to note that a fall goes much differently on slick summer snow. The acceleration is sometimes surprisingly quick, and the snow of a consistency where a self arrest of limited value. One thing I’m concerned about in my own behavior is my tendency to use Whippets more and more and leave my ice axe on my pack. The longer pick of the axe, used in a classic self arrest position, is much more effective in some types of snow. And as you mention, doing self belay with the ax is key and can’t be done with Whippet’s.”

    I’ve always considered Whippets an under-designed product that is more for show than performance. Too short of a pick that isn’t compensated by enough surface area to be effective when it counts. The Ramer SA grip is still the best but it seriously needs a re-design. LL licensed it but is pissing away their dollars when it could be so much better. Alas there isn’t enough market for this kind of product for any companies without passion to do it right.

  11. Lou July 27th, 2010 7:46 pm

    Clyde, exactly. Really, I’d like to see BD sell two versions, a longer and a shorter.

  12. Andrew July 27th, 2010 9:26 pm

    I don’t know about Whippets being for show Clyde – I’ve used them to stop hundreds of falls and even Louie Dawson stopped a big one with them. Maybe you just aren’t using them correctly.

    I’m all for ski resorts doing whatever they want all season long – alpine slides, bungee, mountain bikes, etc.. as long as they keep it within their boundaries and stop trying to expand.

  13. Mark W July 27th, 2010 10:41 pm

    Sorry to hear about Lacy’s death. Summer snowfields are tempting, and we’ve got plenty of ’em in CO. I climbed one a few weeks ago, and the thought of self-arrest was always on my mind. Skiing back down would have been amazing, but I wonder if self-arrest–by whatever means–would have been more than difficult.

  14. Caleb Wray July 27th, 2010 11:58 pm

    The whippets don’t make me feel very comfortable, but I have to say they have worked the few times I needed them, except the time when I just had to stand the hell up and ski out of some ice like a functioning human. I would recommend two, since you can’t tell how you are going to fall and on what type of snowpack….

  15. Clyde July 28th, 2010 10:04 am

    Heck, even the Leki SA grip works, sometimes. The whippet is worse than the Leki on softer snow but better on hard stuff. A pair of whippets is better than nothing but it’s still an inferior design. Even the old dual prong BD thing was better than whippets, despite suffered from too much plastic and other errors. Grivel went Euro and screwed up a good concept with the Condor. The Ramer/LL is better than any of the others in a much wider range of conditions; it just has a lot of room for improvement (more metal, better shaping, improved strap). Alas I doubt we’ll ever see a good SA grip on the market–too expensive for too small a market–unless some upstart takes it on.

  16. Andrew July 28th, 2010 3:28 pm

    Self arresting in soft snow is for people who never learned how to ski.

  17. Lou July 28th, 2010 8:01 pm

    Andrew, that has the ring of truth :angel: !

  18. Randonnee July 28th, 2010 11:36 pm

    The Whippets work well for skitouring in my experience. I have used them to self-arrest one highspeed fall on firm snow, glad that I had Whippets

    Andrew I cannot resist- ” I’ve used them to stop hundreds of falls “- really? Do you fall that much? Ouch!

  19. Christian July 29th, 2010 1:16 am

    I have considered whippets, but have a few concerns:
    – it seems like it is more likely that I will hurt myself on the whippets than actually being saved by them….it kind of makes “running with scissors” seem like a sane and safe activitiy.
    – when falling on skis, what I need to focus on is to get up on those skis. Getting into a self arrest position does not seem to make it less likely that I would end up on my skis….
    – when I fall on skis, I do so because I am out of control…and I seldom know what hit me before I get up

    I do think the whippets look nice for skinning on icy traverses and for booting…but an ice axe might be a better alternative.

    Andrew: I am with Randonnee on this – have you really used the whippets to stop hundreds of falls? Seems like you should take a good look in the mirror and consider what you are doing. I admit that I am a cautious skier…with 100+ ski days a year, I guess I have fallen maybe 20 times the last 10 years. 10 of those have been serious falls, and 5 of those have ended in some kind of injury/being hurt. In none of the falls would a whippet have helped me, as they have taken place at high speeds.

    A side note: The Norse godess for skiing was named Skade. The Norwegian word “skade” translates to injury…a coincidence?

  20. Tims meribel skiing July 29th, 2010 7:42 am

    That’s pretty amusing! Although you get injuries with all kinds of sports so to say skiing is very dangerous isn’t really fair.

  21. Hans July 29th, 2010 10:38 am

    Lacy was an incredible guy to head into the mountains with. I skied one of my first spring couliors with him years ago and it was one of my favorite ski days of all time. He’s going to be missed for a very very long time by the Loveland ski crew.
    Hope the powder is bottomless wherever you are amigo.

  22. Lou July 29th, 2010 11:12 am

    Thanks Hans, I didn’t know Lacy but now that I’m hearing about the kind of guy he was, man…

  23. yugi April 8th, 2013 2:25 pm

    I would love to have whippets on standard (NON-adjustabe) ski poles.

    I realize that the BD adjustable poles actually work (not like others) but for me it is just another point of failure for something i will never use.

  24. Lou Dawson April 8th, 2013 3:06 pm

    Yugi, yeah, they need to sell some sort of Whippet grip that can be retrofit to non-adjustable poles. Quite a few people use non adjustable poles, myself included.

    I have yet to see someone actually adjust their adjustable ski poles other than doing it once when they buy them and ski them the first time. Pretty funny, really. They’re one of the most unnecessary things most backcountry skiers think they need (grin).

    What’s sad is all the money and energy companies have devoted to adjustable ski poles. Just think, they could have used those resources for something useful like a hat that converts to a bathing suit.


  25. Erik April 9th, 2013 12:58 am

    I’ll agree 100% about regular ski poles adjustment features being useless, but I use the short side of my whippets all the time. I cut the lower half down so that the max length is about 130cm (I ski them at 125) which makes them collapse to around 75cm… perhaps the perfect size for climbing steep snow.

  26. Lou Dawson April 9th, 2013 6:24 am

    Erik, I’d agree that Whippets are an exception. We’ve been doing the same thing for years, cutting both shafts so max extension of the pole is our normal skiing length, and they collapse as short as possible. They’re way too long in stock form, in my opinion. Lou

  27. Hans April 9th, 2013 9:27 am

    I’m surprised I’m the first one to speak up here, I guess AT really does stand for Aging Telemarker, : P, but as a tele skier adjustable poles in the BC are totally clutch. I adjust mine every single climb as I like using a low stance so shorter poles are way easier.

  28. Jeff Parker April 9th, 2013 11:53 am

    Yes, I don’t get the adjustable pole fetish either. Had them for years (still in the garage, actually) and what kills it for me is not only that I rarely took the time to adjust them, but the huge increase in swing weight over my skinny little fixed length carbon poles just ruins the downhill experience for me. So you get to haul more weight up the hill and have less fun going down.


  29. Lou Dawson April 9th, 2013 5:21 pm

    Hans, you are the exception. I’ve skied backcountry with tele skiers for years, and seeing them actually adjust an adjustable pole was a rarity, just as rare as with AT skiers. I guess the point here is if they work and get used, then perfect, but it’s disappointing to see people spending their hard earned money on something they’ll never really use..

  30. Buck April 9th, 2013 5:57 pm

    Adjustable poles as a”fetish”? Just because you can’t imagine or see a use case for them, don’t project your ignorance onto others.

    Here in the Tetons I adjust my poles every single tour. The approaches/exits are flat and being able to double pole with long poles on the exits saves energy & gets me to work earlier. And the occasional kicker skin or kickwax approach is much easier too. I recently started using some Voile Charger BC’s, and kick & glide with those using a long adjustable pole is a game-changer. Whether it’s a flat exit from the main grand teton park routes out of Taggart/Death Canyon, a 3.5 mile flat approach/exit to Teewinot, or an even longer approach crossing Jackson Lake to what is some of the best terrain in the Lower 48, or spring time when you can double pole/skate for miles on frozen valley crust & lake surfaces, an adjustable pole is a valuable tool in my BC skiing quiver. It gets me more miles for the same energy, better recovery for the next huge vertical day, more energy to deal with unexpected problems that lead to late days in the BC. When the sh*t really hits the fan, an energy reserve in the backcountry can turn into a life saver.

    Your skiing may not be my skiing, but by so casually dismissing the potential efficacy of an adjustable pole as a “fetish” all you do is broadcast your own ignorance and possibly your ineptitude. I hope you have fun putting those “skills” to use in your skiing.

  31. Jeff Parker April 9th, 2013 7:18 pm

    Buck, chill out. I’m sorry you didn’t see the humor in my post. Have a nice day.


  32. Hans April 9th, 2013 8:02 pm

    ^agreed. Buck this isn’t TGR 🙂

    Lou-I’ve had the same pair of BD Traverses for going on 6 years now and they work fine. I’ve had to replace the lower shafts a few times but that’s it (through no fault of BDs, I just seem to break things). As our agressive friend from the Tetons mentioned first, I tend to use them a TON on the flats and have other tele-friends that I’ve heard really missing their adjustables on tours. Maybe it’s a front range thing?

  33. Lou Dawson April 9th, 2013 8:04 pm

    Really, I thought the use of the word “fetish” was pretty clever and good writing. And yes Buck, as acknowledged above, some folks use adjustable poles and adjust them. As you do, which sounds quite effective. Lou

  34. Matt Kinney April 9th, 2013 10:20 pm

    To add some humor to the adjustable pole debate.

    Here’s a recent picture of an aged telemarker caught tree hugging with a Ramer Self-Arrest Adjustable pole last Friday at the end of a long day couloiring. They were real handy. They also had an exchangable alpine grip. Bad news….they are obsolete.


  35. Buck April 10th, 2013 1:24 pm

    Jeff, sorry you didn’t see the humor in my post, too. I was laughing when I called you ignorant. And Hans, no , this isn’t TGR, that’s why the derision is hidden behind more literary terms like “fetish” and seemingly playful prose like ” Pretty funny, really. They’re one of the most unnecessary things most backcountry skiers think they need (grin). What’s sad is all the money and energy companies have devoted to adjustable ski poles. Just think, they could have used those resources for something useful like a hat that converts to a bathing suit.”

    The sneering derision is still there, slightly disguised. At least the TGR maggots would state it directly.

    Back on topic, another fantastic use for an adjustable pole is in combination with a snow saw that’s built to accept the lower shaft of the pole. Fast and clean isolation of snow pit walls, when you are solo or don’t want to bust out two probes and some cutting cord. I’ll take that functionality over a hat that converts to a bathing suit any day. Your opinion may vary.

  36. Greg April 11th, 2013 10:20 am

    I’ll admit that I use adjustable poles, but that’s because I’m cheap and use the same BD trekking poles for hiking and skiing, and it’s nice to be able to change the length for hiking in shoes, vs hiking in ski boots, vs skinning, etc.

    Also, I grew up a cross-country skier, so I’m used to using longer ski poles for the flats/ups, and it’s nice to be able to shorten that up for the descents. But that’s me.

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