backcountry skiing

Mountaintop Experience

Mountaintop Experience

When you're at a Christmas party and someone suggests hitting the mountain the next morning at 5:30am, make your decision wisely... 

Those Sweet Spring Days

Field Report No. 20160315BA

Topic: The three-in-one season

Conditions: Rock-radiated heat

COMMENTS: Bolstered by chatter of songbirds, accompanied by the clicking of a raven, I pulled on my helmet, rock shoes, and harness for the first time outdoors this year. Snow's breath braided with heatwaves off the crag; I peeled off layer after layer until I bellied-up to the rock in tights and a tank top, my grateful arms stretched like a horizon line beneath the sun's white light. As I stood there, bathed in spring's first clean warmth, I reflected on the past few days' outdoors time. Two days prior I'd snowmobiled in the pouring rain (and two layers of soaked hardshells) to ski at the pass. Yesterday I took my week's long run in a blizzard with my hood up. Spring in the Methow is a manic time. With all the options it can be challenging to choose the appropriate activity for the day's conditions but today I chose correctly. 

KEY FEATURES: Snow audibly melting. Dry rock acting as a proximal space heater. Birds and deer reawakening, flushing from their winter hovels to eat and photosynthesize. Depth-of-field granted by a hawk's high peal. 

RECOMMENDATIONS: After checking ski, rock, or running route beta in the Winthrop Public Library's stash, snag a soy chai and a cup of soup at Rocking Horse Bakery and jet to the nearest south-facing crag, muddy trail, or north-facing ski route. Word to the wise: Methow Cycle and Sport carries the widest array of sport fuel in the valley. 

The Winter We Wanted

The Winter We Wanted

COMMENTS: Since the time change in November, we’ve been squeezing our eyes closed tightly and hoping for the winter that never fully arrived last season... 

A Life of True Luxury

Field Report No. 20160107BB

Topic: Pregnant powder skiing

Conditions: Frigid and stable

COMMENTS: Today my dream line laid just on the shudder side of the shade of an orange backbone of granite. It was moderately steep and entirely untracked, all 3400' of it. Despite having worn my 6000m layering system on the sled ride to the pass the wind whistled right past my two puffies and softshell down my unzipped pants, split where my five month pregnant belly lolled out in the bitter cold the entire skin up. Topping out in a forlorn, proud notch above 8000' I had the feeling I always have in places like these, one of wanting to root in and build myself a nest amongst the scrabble of stone and ice to ride out the night's show of tiny lights. I dropped in to the couloir, the biggest and most intimidating I've skiied yet, and worked hard racing the day's death to its treed outflow. Night siphoned away the intrepid blues replacing them with impossible rose and lavender as we strapped skis to the sled and flowed down to the valley, windchill reaching well below zero.

KEY FEATURES: Parka-penetrating, eyeball-freezing-open, screaming-barfies-inducing cold. The kind of peace only to be found twenty miles from a car in fresh-deep powder. 

RECOMMENDATIONS: If you don't tote a snowmobile of your own plan on hiring a guide or better yet a heli from North Cascades Heli which is conveniently located next door to the lavish Freestone Inn. After a long day's leg-stretch in the silent vicinity of the Liberty Bell Group cozy up next to the fire in the Freestone's dining room and enjoy any number of cocktails from their new menu.

Krumholtz and Chai

Field Report No. 20151231BB

Topic: Speaking with a mountain
Conditions: Cold smoke

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COMMENTS: The soul heals a little at a time. Rhythmic uphill thumping then losing it all slicing through cold smoke on the way down helps.

Today I reached the shadow indicating my entrance to the draw between buttes a few pushes earlier than I did yesterday indicating the subtle extension of the day's sun. Soon the mountain's fold swallowed me gratefully and I was up to my tingling scalp in the exhilaration of a lonely silent ski. I contemplated, I wrote this poem and that's words in the air, I feathered out bony wings so that I'd be prepared to fly down from the unremarkable summit when my aerobic work was done for the lap. How many times have I moved to one staggering mountain zone or another or performed my artistic alpinism in the world's greatest places only to settle on the tiniest humble hill as my object of daily worship? It must be these forgotten solitary places that keep their secrets best.

KEY FEATURES: The best powder in the Methow, silence ringing in my ears, and views spanning from Washington Pass to the Okanogan--an excellent way to survey coverage to plot one's next backcountry venture. Talkative krumholtz and rooibos chai to keep me company. Cristalline suspended water vapor dancing on the huff of a breeze makes it all a bit more magickal.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Après-ski, splash out on the S.O.B. at Arrowleaf Bistro to celebrate the close of another year with your loved ones. My voracious and discerning appetite always agrees with bacon mashed potatoes, a rare sirloin, and artfully-paired wine in their charming space.

Earn Your Turns

Field Report No. 20151222RC

Topic: Freshies
Conditions: Fluffy

PROCEDURES: Wake up really, really early. Meet up with one of your best friends. Drive, with good coffee, to the nearest mountain, which happens to be Mt. Spokane. They now allow uphill travel  so skin up near the ski area's Lodge 1. Achieve the exercise and views of a vigorous snowshoe hike as you make your way to the top. Look out into the valleys. Talk for a moment. Then point your skis downhill and shralp the gnar, as they say.

Do a second lap before uphill travel hours are up, because this is some of the best powder you've seen 'round these parts in quite some time.

Return home for hot chocolate, and to teach your sons some ski skills in the front yard. Maybe in a couple decades, they'll meet up for a morning like this.

Follow these procedures, or a similar series of activities, and you'll be doing winter vacation correctly.

FROM LEFT: Landon Crecelius with son Lake; Oden Lochhead with dad Drew.

FROM LEFT: Landon Crecelius with son Lake; Oden Lochhead with dad Drew.

The first snow

COMMENTS: My car strove to meet the distinct line of the season’s first storm as I pointed toward Washington Pass. Monoliths on both sides