The concept of “wild snow” inherently encompasses a broad spectrum of terrain and activities. From a quick jaunt to the sidecountry to a multi-week traverse of one of countless glaciated ranges, backcountry skiing is a beautifully diverse endeavor.
Our community celebrates a luxury cruise ship in Antarctica, a fifth of whiskey and a storm-bound week in the Yukon, historic structures high in the European Alps, and a ten minute hike just above the lifts in sunny Utah, all united by the fact that we’re equipped slippery-under-foot. That being said, there is a clear emphasis on the “sexier,” more accessible side of glisse-alpinism. The connection is understandable; more time is spent in more accessible environments. Plowed highway passes, huts and lifts, helicopters, and the like “grease the wheels” of the vast majority of backcountry ventures.
While I and probably many of you appreciate Lou’s advocacy for ever increasing access and a reasonable application of the Wilderness Act and ethic, let us also enjoy our wildest snow. With Northern Hemisphere winter approaching, trip reports trickling in, and gear reviews getting more and more hits, give some thought to sneaking in a remote tour this season. You need not charter a plane or slog for days or “skip meadows” to get your fix. The great United States is blessed, unlike many other mountain regions of the world, with paradoxical-sounding yet true-to-form, accessible wilderness. With a heritage of wilderness skiing, remote and rugged terrain in each of our mountain states, and a backpacking culture, this is something we ‘Mericans can be good at. Grab your JetBoil, your Megamid, a 3 lb down bag and head way out there. Or tighten down your TLT5’s, start early and slog out the “approach” to some huge peaks. You will find terrain that seldom sees a track. Access will be more difficult and you will earn far fewer GNAR points. You and your companions will most likely be alone, your photo uploads will have to wait for a return to 3g, and you may be carrying your camp on your back.
What we’re calling “wilderness skiing”, as alluded to above, can encompass big day trips to the obscure, weekend overnights to quiet corners, or multi-week expeditions to the greater ranges. In any case, you will find the heart and soul of the wildest wild snow. Allow this author to stoke the fire and reflect on a handful of photos and many trips into the wild.
With modern, lightweight gear, abundant fitness and fast snow, trips that were once considered multi-day expeditions can be busted out, even in short mid-winter days.
The “classic” overnight experience, the weekend camping trip, is unheralded to say the least. If these overnight trips are defined by camping, then camping is defined by your shelter. Tent, floorless tarp, or dug in, one need not be uncomfortable. On the contrary; do it right and you won’t sleep better than is possible on the ground and in the wild.
There’s no place like Alaska for your first (or twentieth) ski expedition.
(WildSnow guest blogger Jed Porter is a full-time, year-round mountain guide in Bishop, California. He wouldn’t say no to a turns-all-year schedule, but he sure enjoys the variety of mountain adventure that life in the High Sierra provides.)