Tag Archives: backcountry skiing

The Tempest

I’m really not a Shakespeare nut, but there’s a classic route in Kootenai Canyon just south of town with the same name. It’s long (33m) and reasonably hard (5.11b), and sometimes confusing. In a good way that’s kinda like life. Skiing Gash point on Sunday pointed to a few more of those lessons.

Sometimes life really bucks your expectations.


walking with skis

Walking with skis wasn’t the plan. Simon and Martin smile anyway and keep going.

Or maybe, you can’t see where you are going at all. Things feel cold and scary, and you wonder why you make the choices that you do.

gash point bitterroot, backcountry skiing, avalanche evaluation

Looking into a different sort of tempest. Simon and Madison evaluate the “spring skiing” on Gash Point.

But we smiled into it, and kept going. The cool thing I’ve noticed is that when that is the mantra, good things generally happen. It’s hard for me to admit that sometimes and I don’t know why.

powder skiing, backcountry skiing, boot deep

“Huh… look at all that fluffy stuff.”

(the skiing was really quite nice after all on Sunday)

Life can feel like a tempest sometimes- one that tends to obscure the important parts of ourselves, and our lives as part of our communities. Getting outside is what clears my head and gets me operating properly again.

It’s suddenly a beautiful spring in Missoula. The Tempest (climbing route) has been on my tick list since I first heard about it, but I’ve only touched it once. That first time humbled me, and I’ve avoided it ever since. I promised myself it would be a project this year. Just before I left home this morning I looked at the weather and texted my good friend Michael about climbing outside after work. I didn’t want to avoid looking at the route any more. We stole out a little early, warmed up, and got right to it.

The Tempest Kootenai

Michael clears the lower turbulence on the route.

I surprised myself when I hung all the draws without falling off. I can’t call it my first project of the season, because it only took me one go to send it cleanly. The send matters less than the lesson: with preparation, willingness, and a clear head things aren’t always so hard as they might seem.

It’s gonna be a good season.

“The only real limits are the ones we create in our own minds.”




The start to all good adventures.

The start to all good adventures.

I had about 12 hours between getting back from a full work week in Thompson Falls and getting into a car full of friends headed to the southern Bitterroot for a weekend of yurt skiing. It was my favorite kind of transition. More on Thompson Falls later, it’s about skiing now:

Bad habits from telemark skiing carry over. I'm still a back seat driver.

This weekend did not suck (Photo: Evan Smith)

Simon had texted me: “can you get next Friday off?” Knowing Simon, my reply was simple: “Whatever it is, count me in.” He had booked two nights at the State Line Yurt tucked just a mile or so behind our favorite ski resort, and had backcountry turns on his brain. Mel and Simon are an amazing adventure duo, and their friend Evan is a hard charging Jackson native. With a yurt and good snow, the stage was set. I felt damn lucky to be included.

The fun begins. I love the looks we get in a resort with big packs on.

The fun begins. I love the looks we get in a resort with big packs on.

The State Line Yurt is a revival of an old thing, and I had never had the pleasure of yurt supported skiing. After more than a few freezing nights in a tent, I can’t complain. A potbelly wood stove, ample mattresses, and a stellar kitchen setup made the living pretty plush.

New use for the crampon pocket.

New use for the Cilogear crampon pocket.

While we had packed a few party supplies, it was more fun to realize that my companions and I were all on the same page- we just wanted to tour. We skied hard all day, ate well, and slept immediately. We might be the first skiers in the history of yurting to carry beer back out with us. The touring was just too fun to miss.

Evan gets some.

Evan gets some.

We found quick turns on Friday afternoon just over the ridge and out of earshot from the resort. The north facing powder was deep and dry. Our excitement skyrocketed. None of us had really expected decent snow- friends and solitude were enough. With a little looking though, the mountains had treasure waiting for us.

The best of Saturday mornings.

The best of Saturday mornings.

Saturday we all agreed was for a longer tour, someplace we would never go without the yurt location. We headed south to Pt Hughes, and after some navigational arguments, found a spectacular burn with decent steeps. The views south into Idaho beckoned us on like sirens, but the snow held our attention and the turns were not to be missed.

If you don't GoPro, don't go... (or something). Photo: Evan Smith

If you don’t GoPro, don’t go… (or something). Photo: Evan Smith

We got back to the yurt just in time for a perfect sunset, and another epic meal. Mel and Simon prepped the whole trip at Costco, keeping things cheap, efficient, and tasty. Despite all the touring, I’m not sure I lost weight on this one.



Somewhere in the course of skinning I remarked to my companions “I’ve hit a state beyond excitement, and I can only describe it as bliss.” It makes sense to me that the silent physical work of skinning, followed by the pure rush of downhill powder turns adds up to a singular, superlative experience.

The best kind of tired.

The best kind of tired. (Photo: Evan Smith)

Sunday we skinned over to Saddle Mountain for incredible looks north at the Bitterroot valley, and hopefully more great snow. The views delivered, but the snow didn’t. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect. Clouds rolled in, adding texture to the sky and snow to the Pintlers- topping our together felt like the perfect end to the trip. We got a few great turns on some south facing corn as we headed back to pack up, and caught the tow rope in the resort before it closed.

Snow not required for fun. (Photo: Evan Smith)

Snow not required for fun. (Photo: Evan Smith)

I’m gonna say it to set the bar (and cause it was true): I think this was the most fun I’ve ever had on skis. I cant wait to see what’s next.

Live to Ski

In March of 2012, the adventure sport community lost an icon. Steve Romeo’s mantra was “live to ski” and he made the phrase synonymous with backcountry skiing in Grand Teton National Park. I didn’t know him, but he was an inspiration to me and many others. Transplant becomes local becomes legend. I have the deepest respect for people that truly live every day for their greatest purpose. For Steve, it was simple- “live to ski.” Thanks Steve.

Skiing is the question. Yes is the answer.

Skiing is the question. Yes is the answer.

Another appointment with the foot doctor last week made it abundantly clear that ice climbing is simply out of the question for this season. Consequently, my winter focus has shifted significantly to skiing. I think I’m starting to understand what Steve was talking about. Good thing I bought new toys.

Scarpa Maestrale boots, BD Drfit Skis, Dynafit Speed bindings, and BD Ascension skins. The real deal.

Scarpa Maestrale boots, BD Drfit Skis, Dynafit Speed bindings, and BD Ascension skins. The real deal.

I’ve made the switch. After a 5 year experiment in learning to telemark ski, the new boards are mounted with Dynafit AT bindings. With my foot still healing from surgery, having AT bindings means skiing no longer requires lunges and remains possible. Lunges, jumping squats, running, and definitely, certainly kicking ice boots are out of the question for a much longer time than I expected.

The best days.

The best days.

Creekbed wallowing.

Creekbed wallowing.


I won’t lie, I was a little sad not to go to the Bozeman ice festival last weekend. That said, the “consolation” prize was every bit as good. Saturday at Lost Trail resort with 3 awesome friends, and 3 laps in the Crystal Theater on Sunday. Work is slow and with school out, partners seem abundant- so I’m headed out for more tomorrow. I’ve always loved skiing, now it’s just time to live it.

Do your diligence, even when you are "sure".

Do your diligence, even when you are “sure”.

Apres Ski- Missoula style.

Apres Ski- Missoula style.




(I’m behind on posting, welcome to catching up on the adventure)

A few weeks ago I met some people at the Bozeman Ice Festival that really know how to have fun.  Despite going to Australia this week (oh yeah, didn’t see that coming did you?),  a spontaneous visit to Salt Lake City was on order for Christmas weekend.  A huge thank you to Sarah, Peter, and Brit for being amazing hosts.  While Salt Lake is known for Mormons and the Wasatch front, elves are apparently a big deal too:

Cousins Peter and Brit show off the latest fashions.

Cousins Peter and Brit show off the latest fashions (exterior door shown for scale).

I rolled in on Saturday afternoon, and after a quick hike to check on ice climbing conditions, Sarah and I joined in the Santa pub-crawl mayhem.

Well... someone needed to step up and be Pimp Santa.

Well… someone needed to step up and be Pimp Santa.

Despite a great outfit, I bailed on the pub crawl relatively early with thoughts of ice climbing on my mind.  The ice was surprisingly poorly formed and thin, and while Sarah and I ticked 3 of 4 pitches on “The Great White Icicle” (WI 3, 4p), eventually my judgement won over, and we headed for Brit’s hot tub and a fun little jam session with a few other folks.

Thinner than it looked.

Thinner than it looked.

Sarah isn’t as into backcountry skiing as I am, but fortunately she’s got some great friends.  Matt C, Hasen, Tyler, and Matt X, thanks so much for letting me join the fun.  It was dumping powder in the Wasatch, and while that pushed us on lower angle slopes, we still had an amazing day of skiing.  Sarah had lunch on the table when we rolled home, and suddenly my cello was in hand while Matt C sang Talking Heads.

Doing due diligence in the avy pit.

Doing due diligence in the avy pit.



Christmas Eve finished cooking a stellar meal with Sarah, then a small gathering of friends hosted by one of her former professors.

My drive home featured dry roads, and clear skies, so the hours passed quickly. Even with all of the outdoor sports centered in Salt Lake, I’ve spent very little time there.  With friends like these, I suspect I’ll be back soon.

Somewhere south of Dillon, MT.

Somewhere south of Dillon, MT.

Adventures? Yes…

… I am still having them, but  my motivation to write about them has been low.  Sometimes we all need a break from blogging.  A summary of adventures, in rough chronological order over the last two weeks:

Country swing dancing at the local cowboy bar.  Gotta give them credit, the band (County Line) was ripping.

Cowboys just love to dance.

Plenty of hiking and trail running on a few of the local trails now open for the season, including my first trip up Mt. Jumbo.

Mt. Jumbo is finally open for hiking!

Lots of contracting work.  Crawlspaces, gas piping, big power tools, the works.  Feels good to start to figure some of it out.

It is strangely gratifying to put a 6" hole in the side of someone's house...

This is how you prevent a gas leak, before you turn on the gas...

A little rock climbing on a day of unlikely weather.  I was glad to get into Kootenai canyon and start identifying a few projects for the season.  Steve is a beast.

The rope hangs, after two whippers on the crux...

And today, a little backcountry skiing at Lolo Pass with a new partner.  Many thanks to Jake for hiking a lot, never complaining, and making some good looking turns.  Glad we could make the most of a “variable” day!

The weather couldn't make up its mind on Lolo Pass today...

Today was not a powder day, but might have been everything else.

Lolo Pass Backcountry Skiing Day 2

Got out for some backcountry skiing with solid partners in Ross and Gwen.  It was a warm, beautiful day, and as I will try to always do, here’s the video to our avalanche pit test, which I screwed up when I cut it (but that does say something about the snow stability).  On the video I mention we had a collapse at CT13, but I should have said CT14 (if you count and watch the video…).  Temps were warm (~35-40deg) and we were about 2 miles northwest of the Lolo Pass SnoPark (at an area I think called “the Gash”).

Slope aspect was 300deg northwest.
Slope angle was 26deg.
Strong layers observed at 30cm, 90cm, and 120cm.  Be careful out there!

Gwen gets down to get the scoop on avalanche conditions.

Ross, Gwen, and Willow ready for a beautiful day of turns.

About to exercise good judgement.

Lolo Pass Backcountry Skiing

Note, for the regular readers, this is a more technical post for conditions at Lolo pass.  Sorry to spam your inboxes, at least there are pretty photos and y’all know I’m being safe.

Making the best of a grey day. Looking at Montana from the Idaho border.

I skinned out of the Lolo pass recreation area to the peak just southeast of the parking lot- I was solo, so conservative skiing and careful avalanche investigation were the themes of the day.  I dug two avalanche pits, one on the south aspect, one on the north aspect.  Videos from my tests are below.  It’s been a long time since I dug a pit and may have forgotten some of the process, but there’s only one way to remind yourself.  In each case I picked a location that I thought was indicative of avalanche terrain, but in which I had immediate access to anchors and with minimal snow above me (essentially just below the rollover) in the event of a slide.

It seems like the snowpack is definitely more consolidated from the high avy danger earlier this week, but there are some prominent layers, wind affected snow, and wind affected loading.  I skied the north facing aspect on mostly +/-20 degree terrain back to the cross country trail, and felt no instability (granted, there wasn’t a whole lot of snow either!).  If you have feedback on how I can make my pit tests more useful, please post to comments.  This is about being safe and having fun.

The South aspect pit was dug in 100-108cm of snow, down to the dirt.  Slope angle was approx. 29 degrees, and the aspect was 160 degrees SSE.  Here’s the video.

The North asepct pit was dug in 130cm of snow, but not quite down to the dirt.  Slope angle was 33deg, and the aspect was 350deg N.
Video #1
Video #2

(at time of publishing the videos weren’t quite done uploading, so give it a minute…)

Courtesy of the Forest Service, a little below average, but good for checking your expectations.