Thursday, January 27, 2011
As we all know, Steamboat is known for it’s resort skiing and campaign powder. What most folks don’t know about is the skiing outside of the resort, where our powder lasts all year. It is the Local’s secret. As a back country skier, you don’t have to rush up early to get the only powder runs, or wait in line with countless folks, or feel the need to push the limits and duck the rope for that small taste of untouched snow even though a ski patroller is standing yards away waiting to catch you.
No, back country skiing calms that need for powder at any time of the day. It is there, waiting for you, and that is why back country skiing is so addicting. You know it is there, and you want a bigger slice of the pie each time. It’s also a heck of a lot more dangerous; you expose yourself to avalanches, severe weather changes, and getting lost. You can’t go inside to warm up; on average, I’m outside 9 hours at a time, and hike an average of 5 miles each day just to get to the mountains we want to climb. You have to be one of two things to access the back country; knowledgeable or completely stupid. And the completely stupid, which do exist and go skiing without BC knowledge or the tools to save their lives, don’t last very long.
I for one, prefer to stick with the knowledgable folks. Backcountry skiing means you don’t tune out the world and turn up your Ipod while cruising down groomers. You are constantly listening to the snow for cracks and whoomps and signs of avalanche danger. Ski patrollers are replaced by companions with shovels and probes, and instead of ropes telling you what is out of bounds, you can only rely on your own knowledge and the beacon strapped to your chest to save you from trouble. But oh, the rewards!
I started back country skiing last season after I was certified in my level 1 Avalanche course in Crested Butte (who I highly recommend if you are looking for your certification), and this year is the first year that as a true born and raised local, I have not had a season pass. It also is quite seemingly one of the best seasons of my life. I love the knowledge and the learning and the thrill of excitement that comes with back country skiing, and even better yet, I love the bonds of trust formed with other skiers, who have to rely on you to save their life, and you must rely on them to save yours, and the entire party has to trust each other to make good judgement calls.
My ski stash is up North of Steamboat in the Zirkel Wilderness. I don’t use sleds to access these areas; its amazing where your legs can take you and how much more rewarding each turn is.
Last weekend was spectacular! This year we have one of the best snowpacks I have seen in the past few years, and it makes each run that much better. I will admit; I did turn down a run down a known slide path with a slope of 40 degrees on a Southeast facing slope when we found a scary layer about 4 feet down. While it would be a hard layer to trigger, if it did go, it would have been catastrophic. Instead, we skied some North facing slopes (which is odd, usually the North slopes are more dangerous than the southern slopes due to their cold temperatures.) Our run we named “Call me Brit”. Here is one of my skiing partners taking an amazing line down “Call me Brit.”
(Copyright Rory Clow, roryclow.com)
Am I sad that I don’t have a ski pass this season? Absolutely, I miss the convience. But while my ski days are fewer, my powder shots are greater.
For those of you that don’t have the back country knowledge or the equipment, you can still have an amazing time on a back country guided trip from Steamboat Powdercats. They are a fun, reliable group that relys on Cat Skiing (You don’t have to hike, they give you a ride!) to get their clients to some of the best powder Steamboat has to offer.