Cold temps above treeline and in the shade kept the snow cold, chalky to powdery, lower down slope conditions varied from corny to crusty. Views sprawled across the deep glaciated mountains of the Chugach Range from the maritime zone surrounding the small port town of Valdez Alaska. Including the mighty Meteorite, the expansive Wortman’s and Deserted glaciers, all the way to the continental mountains of the Wrangell St Elias. In the week prior to and throughout the AMGA Advanced Ski Guide Course & Aspirant Exam we were treated to generally clear visibility and stable snow conditions. These great conditions allowed us to stake claim on a variety of classic Thompson Pass descents such as Tones Temple, Berlin Wall, Cherry Couloir, and many others while developing as professionals in one of the greatest freeride zones on earth.
After a full season of shred a diverse group of well-prepared guides converged upon the Chugach Range. Traveling from renowned ski zones in Iceland, Japan, Tetons, Sierra, Rockies, and the Cascades. These men and women brought an amalgamation of skills and insights gained through years of dedicated experience. Tossing bombs and ski cutting in ski area snow programs, fast pace turn and burn mechanized ski guiding, self-reliant human powered touring, and rugged steep ski mountaineering experiences led quickly to engaged discussions. Climatological snowpack metamorphism, targeted snowpack observations, and weather patterns, were factored to create our daily avalanche hazard assessment, danger ratings, and subsequent run lists. Not only were the course candidates well versed in all things snow sliding but so were our instructor/ examiners. Forest, Amos, and Mike delivered direct feedback on technical skills and application but also on a variety of perspectives of client care, the soft side of guiding. Even with ultra-diverse personalities, goals, and experiences all of the candidates and instructors created a supportive learning environment that fostered an opportunity to progress and succeed.
During the advanced ski guide course, the art of track setting and transitions were improved. Once that art was hard-wired, we focused on a mountain sense that enabled safe ascent lines and rad fall line descents. To practice mountain sense, we went and booted up the Stairway and Karat Chutes on Mount Dimond. While increasing our vulnerability to avalanche and overhead cornice and rockfall hazards we made accurate assessments on slope stability, wind loading, and rise in temperatures to maintain a suitable margin of safety. When practical we busted out the rope and added a complimentary element to the ski discipline. The rope provided security and granted us access to challenging and complex terrain on the Worthington Glacier. Another technical skill we applied was the short rope. While scrambling along Berlin Walls 4thclass mixed rock and steep snow we moved together prepared to brace a slip or short pitch when needed. Lowering and belayed skiing techniques opened up more terrain options. On the firm summit slopes of the Python high client rewards were achieved. Not only were client rewards achieved but guide security and perhaps as important, guide rewards were achieved. Throughout the course, we were given immediate feedback on our movement skills. Skiing mellow glacial pow, steep settled buff, and refrozen below treeline schmoo requires a diverse shred technique, mainly shred to inspire! Technical skill application, risk management, and client reward go hand in hand in hand. As a result, we climbed cool summits, enjoyed soft turns across the glaciers, over snow-covered moraines, and down glacial tongues into the valley.
Since we received and applied quality feedback, spent a week improving, the candidates understood our instructor’s expectations, so we moved confidently forward with the assigned guiding objectives. Socked in milky clouds and moderate snowfall rates met us for a day of guided assignments and to our surprise the instructor team proposed the option to start the aspirant exam a day early. The initial shock was quickly overcome and the candidates deliberated then accepted the proposal. A quick mental shift and the team prepared to perform at their best and at least, comparable to the level of a certified ski guide. Risk management, client care, technical systems, application of those systems, terrain assessment, mountain sense, professionalism, movement, and instructional technique were practically applied to achieve our daily shred objectives and achieve our aspirations to become Assistant Splitboard/Ski Guides. Through the aspirant exam process we demonstrated and were assessed at a standard to which employers and clients can be assured. Every candidate demonstrated the skills necessary to guide on complex glaciated objectives thus opening up additional opportunities. Most definitely the advanced ski guide course and aspirant exam was 10 days of turning it on.
Thinking back to when I decided to pursue snowboard guiding it wasn’t even really a thing. Splitboards were a gimmick, people didn’t have them, avalanche education was in its infancy. I remember the laughs of old schoolers who would scoff at the thought of a snowboard guide. Asking, “What are you going to do? Snowshoe?” At the same time a few snowboarders were carving the path. After persevering through the early days of splitboarding and mastering the split magic the only laughs I hear now are from the colleagues I’m ripping turns next to. I love being surprised by having 5 splitters on the course. Every one of these guides have contributed to the art of split guiding during a time of rapid snowboard guide development. Numerous times throughout the course I smiled while thinking how grateful I am for receiving the F.O.R.G.E. Scholarship, how much snowboard guides have progressed, about the people who laid the foundation for all splitboard guides, and how proud Rick Gaukel would be of all the AMGA apprentice, assistant, and certified Splitboard Guides.
When it rains it pours but when it snows it dumps. First the rain drives people away but for those willing to stay around get to see that when it snows it dumps. This is what draws folks in to shredding the Mount Baker Backcountry. Sometimes prime conditions show up on weekdays, providing deep snow, gray bird visibility, and mild crowds. Other times the best opportunity maybe on the weekend when there is time off work or friends are available to rip. When it’s prime, the low hanging fruit of the Table Mountain Zone is irresistible and the feeding frenzy of a weekend back country pow day ensues. In order to make the most of your time this is where not to go on a weekend in the Baker Backcountry.
“what does Blueberry mean to you?” And if I could summarize the responses it goes something like, “that bowl, that chute, that cornice” while pointing in the direction of Artist Point. So, for the sake of this description I’ll refer to Blueberry Chute as the relatively moderate bowl on the skiers right end of the giant cornice along the ridge below Artist Point. Vague enough… Consequently, this is a go-to line for anyone from Heather Meadows or the ski area looking to get low investment turns. Subsequently, on a pow day there is a lot of traffic and you can expect to have people dropping in on top of you. This slope has been the scene of many avalanche burials over the years and during poor avalanche conditions this slope has run the entire 750 vertical feet to the lake. When the ski area is tracked, and you want some freshies don’t go to the chop and bumps you are likely to find on a weekend in Blueberry Chute.
ski area boundary you decided to zig zag a zipper skin line back up underneath these big lines. If pow days, steep terrain, and fun with friends is your bag then this is another place not to go on a week end in the Baker Backcountry.
A great tour is heading out to Herman Saddle or Iceberg Lakes. Often times there is a track dropping out of the parking lot towards lower Bagley Lake. This area is a hive of activity, but be diligent, you are traveling underneath overhead hazard. You start to see the flying bodies of the bros and brahs that chuck their carcasses into the air off big booters below Grandmas House. Sledding kids shoot out of the trees with beanies over their eyes as they slide into their run out on the lake. And finally, the big avalanche paths of Mount Herman that crash down the Boulder Field, into the gulley, and onto the lakes creating dangerous terrain traps are places not to go on a weekend in the Baker Backcountry.
There are numerous reasons to venture into the Mount Baker Backcountry. From big lines, to booters, to snowshoeing and sled riding this winter time playground is fun for all. There are guide books, online forums, and local knowledge that can tell you where to go. But on your next weekend off, during the next powder frenzy, when the low hanging fruit looks ripe hopefully where not to go on a weekend in the Baker Backcountry will help make your next visit a little less rotten.
Splitboard Courses and Trips 2018/2019: One the Most Comprehensive Splitboard Programs in the Nation
It’s no news to any of us that skiers and snowboarders use terrain differently. From berms and banks to bumps and ruts there is no doubt that we use the mountain differently. As a self-proclaimed stubborn and passionate snowboarder, I have always believed that it has to be done, developed, and refined in order to progress the sport of splitboarding. Through the "I wallow so you can follow" attitude we can now use terrain in the most efficient manner meaning less traversing, more fall line, and quicker turn arounds to our next run. Working with Pro Guiding Service based in North Bend Washington and The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) we now offer one of the most complete splitboard curriculum’s in the country.
Alpental Valley, and the legendary fall line Baker Backcountry. This will allow participants the opportunity to choose a venue they love or mix and match to experience more of the Cascades.
So, if you want to do a touring course one weekend then do an avalanche course 2 weeks later at Crystal Mountain, we have it. If you want to tour at Baker, then do an avalanche course in the Alpental Valley we can do it.
After a spending the winter season implementing the skills learned during the touring and avalanche courses our progression leads us into long sunny days, big 7,000’ descents, and stabilizing snow of spring time corn on the big mountains. During the Splitboard Mountaineering Courses participants will learn the fundamentals of camping on the snow, traveling on a glacier, crack fall rescue, and navigation. Even more advanced skills such as moderate to steep snow climbing, rappelling, white out navigation, and rescue sled construction will be introduced. This 4-day course takes place on the glaciated volcanic peak of Mount Baker with a culmination of a summit climb and descent. This venue offers a variety of route options and descents. Our mountaineering course has the condition dependent option of traveling to Mount Shuksan.
To compliment all the courses and instruction, I offer single day trips with the goal of traveling through terrain and getting in long, steep, and deep runs. These days can take place when conditions are good and short notice bookings are encouraged. This means if the forecast looks good and a pow day is nearly guaranteed you can book as late as the night before, 2 nights prior works great too! Group rates apply and private days are available especially if you have a special request such as avalanche mentorship or riding the White Salmon Glacier on Mount Shuksan's massive western escarpment.
Even more, with Pro Guiding Service we are offering lift accessed backcountry shredding at Baker, Whistler, or Crystal Mountain. Additionally, we offer splitboard trips to the big mountain mecca of Valdez Alaska, sailboat accessed fjord shredding in Andalsnes Norway, and high elevation summit shreds on Pico de Orizaba in Mexico. Check out Guided Exposure's Calendar for dates!
After 23 years of experience and years of program development we are proud to introduce one of the most comprehensive splitboard progressions in the nation. From first timers to seasoned splitters we have left nothing out. If you are looking to get out on single day guided trips during big pow days, shred gigantic lines on the big mountains, or quit your job and become an international shred bum we have something for everyone.
Baker Splitfest 2018
were poked, jammed, and pitted for the simple enjoyment of shred.
The official start to Baker Splitfest was Friday evening. As the split tribe descended upon the fern and moss laden soggy nook of the North Cascades in Glacier Washington. Throughout the night, the host of the event, Chair 9 Pizza and Bar, turned out pizza pie after pint and rippers chatted with vendors about products while free demos were setup for the following days clinics and tours. At the same time splitters greeted each other, listened to the avalanche forecast and “state of the snowpack”, and registered for the weekends tours and clinics.
The night silently faded, then the morning beckoned rippers up to Heather Meadows. Gradually, the parking lot filled with splitboarders from all over the country. They would try their hand at some of the best advanced and expert backcountry in the nation. This area has a long history of ground breaking snowboard progression and the immediate Bagley Lakes Cirque holds some beginner and even more intermediate terrain. But for those looking to challenge themselves what really shines are the big lines that may define their snowboarding lives. Fortunately, professionally guided splitboard tours and skills clinics launched out of the parking lot and introduced the willing to this gem we call home. Kick turns and pow slashes were preceded by layers of sunscreen, cruiser skin tracks, and welcoming camaraderie Excited splitters slid out on new demo gear towards Artist Point, Herman Saddle, Table Mountain and deeper into the Mount Baker Wilderness towards Ptarmigan Ridge. Lap after lap of pure powder pleasure, P cubed, depleted energy reserves, and splitters trickled back into the parking lot. As afternoon wore onto evening, Chair 9 kept the stoke high with frothy refreshments pouring down thirsty throats, as shredders shared stories of steep lines with snow filled grins.
Saturday night is a Splitfest highlight. Demo gear exchanges take place with new setups, a splitboard transition competition rallied under the white tent, and of course the raffle. This is an opportunity to purchase tickets for a chance to win prizes from sunglasses to splitboards. All with the purpose of supporting our local avalanche forecasting center, The Northwest Avalanche Center.
Day three had cast a shadow weariness after a night celebrating this sub-genre of snowboarding. The mountains put on a new kit with light snow falling and a milky white fog drooped, sagged, and draped across the Bagley Cirque limiting visibility on the steep treeless slopes. Even so, crews of splitters flittered uphill to Heather Meadows for another day of adventure exploring the legendary Baker backcountry. Where, when, and how entered the thoughts of the uninitiated. For those of us accustomed to northwest ping pong ball shred conditions, moving through flat light and fog comes with experience and the territory. For those unfamiliar, finding well contrasted slopes can be challenging. Thankfully, we were able to bring my guided split crew into a zone that had less fog, rocky contrast, and quality turns in cold snow. The split crew was rewarded with a classic, rarely traveled, circumnav and a phenomenal climax to everything Splitfest has to offer.
Reluctantly, crews of splitboarders headed downhill, leaving behind the high walls of North Cascade snow, back down to the green valley below. Again Splitfest descended to Chair 9, drank and sipped pitchers of brew, chowed hot pizza pie and cheesy burgers all while sharing the stoke that Baker Splitfest provides. Contacts, connections, reacquaintance, and more importantly friendships and camaraderie were forged during this regional splitboard pilgrimage to the legendary Baker backcountry. Thanks to all the event sponsors, gear and swag donors, Chair 9 Pizza and Bar, and Bob Rodgers for organizing Baker Splitfest 2018. See you all in 2019 while spreading the love of split!
It is with great excitement that we are now offering splitboard courses in the Central Cascades! We have partnered with Pro Guiding Service conveniently located in North Bend Washington at the base of Snoqualmie Pass. The intro to splitboard courses will have two fantastic locations and offer either 1 day or 3 day instruction in a 4:1 group setting. We can also arrange private instruction outside of the scheduled dates.
During the 1 day course you will be introduced to the skills necessary to move through the mountains on a splitboard. Eager first timers and never evers will go from timid to confident, while experienced splitters will go from confident to competent.
The 3 day course is where movement skills get hard wired and well thought out backcountry tours are developed. After these 3 days you will be able to fill day after day, season after season with deep soft powder snow.
Our 1 day and 3 day courses are offered at two different backcountry venues. Our first course of the season will be held at Alpental on Snoqualmie Pass. This area offers easy access from Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport as well as the east side of the Cascades. In addition, we have a 1 day and 3 day course at Crystal Mountain. This classic mountain delivers with great access, large vertical, high elevations while soaking in the incredible views of Mount Rainer.
Both the 1 day and 3 day courses are a 4:1 ratio meaning each participant will receive ample individual attention. In this way everyone will benefit from their time in the field. Even better get your entire crew together and build a breakthrough team dynamic that will be prepared to track out your favorite zones!
Click the buttons below to choose one of our weekend courses.
Or contact Guided Exposure directly to schedule a private day.
1 day 3 day
Alpental January 7th February 24th-26th
Crystal February 11th January 20th-22nd
Green ferns wave and tree leaves flutter overhead the spring cloverleaf and cherry tree flowers have bloomed. Along the green flow of the Nooksack River the sunlight reflects in calm pools, off babbling flumes, and over cascading waterfalls. Punching the gas, Daniel and I accelerate uphill past snowmelt fed curbside creeks and old growth deadfall dripping in moss. We pass the White Salmon base area and in March the walls of snow were 15 feet high but as we continue above 4,000' the walls are now 5 feet high and there is much less snow than I thought there would be. Last month I was in Colorado where they clearly are a month or two behind and when I left we were getting regular 14” dumps of snow. But here in the North Cascades passing Picture Lake, the Mountaineers Baker Lodge, and chair 1 to park at Heather Meadows it is warm, sunny and by maritime standards dry. At this point we are committed to our trip by dropping off our shuttle vehicle at the end of the Watson Traverse.
This 17 mile traverse was originally done on a day in 1939 by Dwight Watson, Erik Larson and Andy Hennig (http://alpenglow.org/skiing/baker-2004/index.html). When they pioneered this route they started low in the valley near Glacier Washington. Now we have the privilege of driving 8 miles up Glacier Creek Road to the trailhead at 3,600’.
At the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead a few cars were in the parking area, but as afternoon wore on to evening the lot slowly filled with ambitious climbers. One of them would be our 3rd team member Jack and eventually later that night Carl, our fourth team member had arrived. By the time we shouldered our packs at 5 a.m. Saturday morning there were dozens of climbers and skiers booting up the Heliotrope Ridge Trail. Meter deep patches of firm snow slowly melt into puddles and muddy trails lead us through the first switchbacks. The four of us continued boot packing up to the Hogs Back camp with splitboards and skis on our packs. By this time we had caught several groups that started earlier than us and we all gravy trained to 5,400’. Gradually the rosy hues of sunrise filtered onto the summit ice cap of Mount Baker. At the same time we put our splitters and mr. chomps to work and skinned onto the Coleman Glacier. Below the looming and ominous black buttes, Lincoln and Colfax, up to the 9,000’ Coleman-Deming saddle our exquisite contours, allowed us to avoid numerous crevasses while we effortlessly passed many groups. After a several hours of causal skinning we reached the saddle, took a break, and reviewed crampon and ice axe use. As we exited the lower angle slopes of the Coleman Glacier and entered the steeper frozen snow slopes of the Deming Glacier we developed great crampon foot work with ski poles in hand eventually trading those for ice axes for our final 1,700’ push up the Roman Wall.
Onto the wind buffed and iced ridge line above the crevasses of the Deming Glacier, across from the conga line of climbers on the Easton Glacier Route, under a sunny rainbow colored halo, we duck stepped then crossover stepped while gazing up at the Roman Wall. Near the top the angle eased and we made our last few steps onto the enormous summit ice cap. Finally on top we relaxed with lunch, conversation and accomplishment. After a short break we wandered over to the 10,781’ Grant Summit, soaked in the views of Shuksan, Takobia, and Tahoma then headed back towards the Roman Wall. At this point we said goodbye to Jack and Carl since they were descending back to the trailhead via the Deming and Coleman Glaciers. As for Daniel and I we would stay the night atop Komo Kulshan and descend the Park Glacier in the morning.
Soft swooshing grains of snow and crisp ice crystals pattered against the tent as they tumbled south across Komo's vast ice cap. The wall of snow on the windward side of the tent deflected prevailing winds creating fluted drifts and small piles under the vestibule. The immense brisk alpine darkness fell away to broken scattered islands of pulsing artificial light far below. Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Vancouver indistinctly melt away into the lowlands as warm rosy and orange hues spread across the cool black, blue, and violet pre dawn sky. A night spent high above the Pacific Coast overlooking the Puget Sound, Straight of Juan De Fuca, Straight of Georgia, the Salish sea gazing upon the Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver and the San Juan Islands felt like observing a newly discovered civilization while in orbit.
First thing in the morning we ventured out to observe current conditions. I wandered over and peered down on the Park Headwall. It had been wind scoured down to hard melt freeze crust mixed with pockets of drift that hung over gaping bergschrunds and crevasses. Looking over at the original party's descent route, the Cockscomb, hanging snow fields fell off into giant open holes, a maze of snow bridges covertly could provide passage to those willing to hang it out there. That's when it became clear that the skiers right line on the Park Headwall entrance was dirty and the Cockscomb entrance was filthy. Safe passage on either route would have been at least contrived and at most dangerous, despairing, or deadly.
The forecast for our descent was a bit warmer than the day before. Since we anticipated snow conditions to soften our camp was packed, harnesses were racked, splitters assembled and we were strapped in ready to descend off the 10781’ summit by 10 a.m. Embarking down the most reasonable entrance onto the Park, we found enough softened snow on the upper Boulder Glacier to slide a turn, to edge, to maintain control during our onsight of the Watson Traverse. Down the summit cone with ice axes in hand, following along the summit cliffs we slowly slid turns on sun kissed snow south east for 600' until a passage north would grant us access through crumbling volcanic scoria. Along the rock ridge separating the Boulder from the Park, across the first snow bridge, over a concealed crevasse at about 9,900’, the snow varied from sun softened to wind buffed dust to coarser hard packed melt freeze crust. Even though traversing further left would have linked in directly below the dirty right line on the Park Headwall we aligned above our next landmark simply dubbed "the bulge." This next section of ridge divided the glaciers and lead us down a moderate ramp for the next 700’. Next we continued on the south side margin avoiding a series of big holes. Then far above the Park Cliffs and lower ice falls we previously identified snow bridges at 9,200’ that would lead left and take us across the dished out center of the Park Glacier towards our next landmark the blue ice block. Traversing mid glacier, below the headwall, under hanging seracs, across ramps, bridges, and slopes we ended up slightly lower than anticipated. So we boot packed 25 yards above the blue ice block as we were soaked with an overwhelmed feeling of admittance into this colossal landscape.
Once we reached the lower Park directly below the Cockscomb we cruised turns down 2,100’ of moderate slopes, weaving a path among frozen trap doors, on snow that was like sun softened butter, a popsicle left in the fridge, like an almost frozen beer slushy that’s just soft enough to slurp out of the can. Surfing down to a prominent black rock horn at 7,000’ we exited from the Park Glacier and continued our descent north east another 1,300’ below Portal South onto the Rainbow Glacier at 5,700’. A single complex descent included fall line turns on hard pack to corn snow, ice axe plunging traverses over snow bridges and crevasses, a short kickable boot pack next to the house sized blue ice block. Weaving, slashing, buttering, axe spike dragging turns on a never ending glacier took us down nearly 5,200’ from the Grant summit into the Portals. Congratulatory hoots and hollers exuded between sun drenched ear to ear grins. Feeling the beating afternoon heat we transitioned to split mode, and began our sweaty one hour ascent to the pass in between Portals West and East. Meandering along Ptarmigan Ridge we descended the Sholes Glacier in split mode, climbed 800’ up to point 6,332’ at the headwaters of Wells Creek where we had lunch and melted snow for water.
An alternative in great conditions would be to stop where the Park, Rainbow and Mazama Glaciers intersect and climb over Portal South to Portal West then descend the Sholes glacier for a 1300’ run. This adds a fair amount of ascent but the reward is another great run.
By this time the snow had softened to sloppy slurp slush on a firm frozen bed surface which made good turns but also focused and deliberate skinning. Another 1,300’ run down smooth corn, through a short rock chute, over roller slopes, under Lasiocarpa Ridge and the sentinel Coleman Pinnacle, took us into the Wells Creek drainage. The next couple of hours we were like bouncing human sing along balls while traversing in split mode below Ptarmigan Ridge, up to the Table Mountain Pass, under South Table, across Artist Point, over rolling humps of snow, next to the deeply buried summer road, back into the closed ski area, down old groomed trails, split skating with out skins, along flat trails, past families, hikers, snowshoers, finally we arrived at Heather Meadows.
A buzz of activity at the parking lot greeted us. Daniel and I traded our heightened mountain senses for relaxation accompanied by cold Washington ciders and beers. The Watson Traverse took us 2 moderate days covering approximately 17 miles with one of our runs descending nearly 5,200'. This is truly a classic repeatable ski traverse over a legendary Cascade Volcano in one of the best split boarding zones anywhere.
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The Wind River Range was shrouded in clouds and the sun cast a rosy evening hue against the sky. Passing by Rock Springs, Pine Dale and Bondurant dusk drew darker and the road gradually became wet, drifted, then snow packed. I was greeted in Jackson Hole for the American Mountain Guide Association Ski Guide Course with the wrath of inversion and negative 25 degree temps but the cold quickly faded. After meeting Tom at the Stagecoach we drove up the winding road, skinned out the sunny south side of the parking lot and shredded some of the great linkups that are possible through out the Teton Pass zone. The inversion kept the south aspect snow in great shape and after a few laps we discussed the next day objective with a couple cold ones at the Stagecoach.
The following morning started with an ambitious alpine start of 8 a.m. and before I knew it we were in Grand Teton National Park packed, skinned, and caffeinated, charging uphill across the frozen Bradley Lake under Tepee Pillar, into the meadow, below Nez Perce and the east and west hourglass, looking up at the east face of the Middle Teton, in the iconic Garnet Canyon. Our long haul among spectacular scenery was rewarded with wind blown recycled powder on a moderate line called the cave. In the high-handed winter alpine, among mountains that make legends or break wannabes, shredding down a cliff lined chute, traversing high across snow covered crumbling canyon walls, jibbing rock skipping fall lines, back to the toe of the canyon, slashing steep open powder cloaked cliffs dripping in ice we exited the mountains. Groups of shredders trickled, rolled, bounded, onto the frozen stage of Bradley Lake chatting about our lines, our stories, and shared our laughter, smiles, and excitement after a day of skiing.
A rest day and systems check followed before we went to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for our first day of the Ski Guide Course. On the first day after the group delivered introductions and received a briefing on the coming 12 days we enthusiastically loaded onto Big Red and shuttled up nearly 4200’ to the top of Rendevouz bowl to warm up for our movement skill evaluation. So we bombed down the mountain trying to keep up with Course Leader Rob Hess. Our next couple laps included bumped out bowl skiing through mountain top fog, ski school style groomed slide turns, and tight, steep, chute shredding all with a video recording of our every turn. We reconvened at the base area and reviewed the video of our runs, discussed coaching methods for our clients, and called it a day.
The following days we filled Big Red to access steep powder slopes, bowls, and chutes plummeting 4,200’ while learning the finer points of the invisible rope. It was easy to keep rewards high and white rooms freshly painted among the rock lined chutes, faces, and forests we guided.
To conclude our mechanized backcountry down guiding days we stayed inbounds and built snow anchors and managed lowers with Mike Poborsky. This was a great day since we tried a variety of lowering techniques using us snowboarders as guinea pigs. Since we are turned sideways the pull of the rope on the harness can be awkward, it torsionally rotates the riders at the tie in. So we rigged an equalized tether to the uphill side of the rider, then we practiced being lowered regular or switch in other words tip up hill or tip downhill. Even though we were lowering on a rutted and difficult slope the 3 splitters (Tom , Frank, and Jere) had the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of each technique. While it's still debatable I believe an equalized tether with the splitboard tip uphill, switch lower, worked the best.
Meandering through the moraine and snow covered willows, ascending through old growth forest among braided skin tracks, skinning through boot deep blower in alpine meadows, onto near tree line ridges looking up at the Grandest of Tetons and down to the elk refuge thousands of feet below we ascended to our first touring objective in Grand Teton National Park, namely 25 short. Mike Poborsky explained and demonstrated, then we practiced the finer points of track setting and turning techniques. A quick but thorough snowpack evaluation along the way led us to the top of this classic "low hanging fruit." Long, open, evergreen lined, powder filled slopes descends into the deciduous and bare treed meadows to the valley. At the bottom a little one foot skating with poles, through frozen wetlands led to split mode skating back across the groomed skate ski track and the trailhead.
On our seventh day we headed back into the park and skied Albright Mountain, another Grand Teton National Park classic. This more committing objective gave everyone a chance to refine up and down guiding skills. This grand outing above timber line, plunged down through stiff wind slab and the summit chute, onto Albright's shoulders and slalom pine groves and meadows, we ripped fall lines that left us with huge smiles filled with light dry Teton blower.
After recuperating with a day working on technical skills, including sled construction, lowers and load transfers we finished early to take care of any last minute details before the long awaited multi-day yurt based tour. The course itinerary and progression worked great as we transitioned from mechanized guiding, then touring, and eventually multi-day hut based access. The next day we met in Victor Idaho, drove up to the trailhead, and headed up to the Baldy Mountain Yurt.
At this point in the course everyone has been applying new skills, developing old ones, and generally feeding off of each other and our instructors. After reaching the yurt we settled in, began working on beacon search skills and building snow shelters. This quickly led to evening when we found ourselves in the toasty wood stove warmed yurt, wearing comfy down booties, preparing fresh stir fry, while Ullr provided peppermint and cinnamon refills. Nearly a week into the course good conversation and networking, satisfied appetites and thirst, were accompanied with a healthy dose of the winter pattern, El Gordo.
The next morning Gordo and Ullr kept spirits high with powder stoke and delivered a fresh foot of snow. The two groups set off up the wandering ridge line, peering for positive visibility and condition assessments. After traveling through snow blowing meadows near tree line we descended back to the yurt, snacked, then headed off to some low angle hot lap glory. The remainder of the day consisted of storm snow analysis, collecting data, gaining feedback, and the occasional hoot and holler that echoed off trees as ear to ear grins blasted through repeated face shots.
Our last night at the yurt and a sense of conclusion set in as hot drinks and conversation complimented a hearty dinner. Then finally it was our turn to dig, build and sleep in our snow shelter. Through trial and error Brendan and I attempted to replicate Rob Hess's shelter. We constructed a large snow shelter with an all important wind blocking door that proved to be cozy. Morning greeted us with a warm hearty breakfast and loads of coffee and tea. We vacated the yurt then Mike thoroughly covered mechanical advantage raising systems. The time finally came for our final descent of the trip. Hauling overnight packs up through ridge line glades and meadows, we transition to dreamy powder fields and onto the meandering skin track, eventually we reached the weir and crossed the shallow stream back to the road. This long descent provided great snow, a bit of on sight route finding, and a variety of split board techniques to manage the variable terrain and slope angle. Once back on the snow covered and packed road we skinned and skated back to the cars where we unloaded packs, changed clothes, and headed to the nearest watering hole, to feed, refresh, and generally relax after 11 days of knowledge, experience, networking, and fun hog having good times.
Our last day was brief but perhaps the most influential. As part of being stewards of the national forest, national parks, and public lands, we had a Leave no Trace discussion. But this wasn’t a lesson on the 7 LNT guidelines, as guides we should already be implementing this with clients. Rob led the discussion on what this means in regards to the direction of the American Mountain Guides Association and the perception of the organization in the eyes of the public, the land managers, and the international community.
As stewards it is our responsibility to demonstrate what sustainability, conservation, and land use is. It is up to us to exemplify this message to our clients, to other groups, and to land managers so that we express the absolute value of hiring an AMGA trained and certified mountain guide. Of course as AMGA trained guides and instructors we have technical skills and interpersonal skills, some better than others. But we also have a responsibility to positively influence the public about the impact and value of our actions while connecting with the landscape we travel through.
Next the Pursuit has a gore tex insert to keep hands dry in moist environments. During moderate to high level aerobic out put such as skinning with clients to charging with friends in cooler temps, the gore tex insert is breathable while at the same time prevents tool chipped melting ice shards from permeating and soaking your hand. If thats not enough the pursuit has stayed dry while hand digging in maritime snowpacks looking for surface snow instabilities.
As for the stretchy pretex shell, well it's durable while being supple enough to have range of motion and dexterity. In addition to that the leather palm and finger tips have shown little sign of wear after weeks of abrasive rope handling, pole clenching track setting, and sharp metal edge split board transitions.
What's more, the cuff of the glove can be pulled over your jacket sleeve and cinched with a draw cord, then snugged up tight on the wrist strap to prevent snow from getting into the sleeve or your soft shell hoody, waterproof hardshell, or classy wool sweater. The Pursuit is also sleek enough that the drawcord can be cinched around your wrist, tucked under a jacket sleeve, and then snugged tight with the wrist strap so it won't fly off after tomahawking down your project line.
Through out November winter storms have been rolling across the western United States leaving deep blankets of snow across all mountain regions. The parched Sierra is reveling in good early season snow conditions, as the San Juans in Colorado have been reaping the outcomes of “El Gordo” the pet name of this years persisting El Nino pattern.
In the Northwest there has been a steady stream of precipitation. Fortunately the Mount Baker region has been on the cold side of this flow. According to the Heather Meadows Telemetry which is 4,210 feet above sea level there is a 34” base and on Pan Dome which is at about 5,000 feet the base is at 60”. These measurements are from with in the ski area, a small sample of what is really out there.
As the winter's snowpack builds I start getting anxious about my annual pilgrimage to the classic zones near Mount Baker, such as the Bagley Lake Cirque. On any given day this zone holds more easy to access world class riding than anywhere else. Even though from the parking lot, many tracks are visible, its important to remember that this area has many objective and subjective hazards including but not limited to enormous avalanche paths some of which have been ‘the last run.’
First, we leave Heather Meadows up an hour long skin to a short but steep snow climb to the top of Table Mountain. From here we dive down a classic north face line called Little AK. This line relentlessly drops for 1,300 vertical feet to the valley floor with slopes near 55 degrees. Steep, deep, and full on welcome to Baker B.C.!
At the bottom of Little AK we glare up at second run of the day, namely Diamond Trees. This 1,100’ east face plummets 45+ degrees through open glades, tree lined chutes, and gullies. Beware of these slopes since sluff management is a required skill and this is not a classroom. One wrong turn into moving snow and you may find yourself in the body capturing tree strainers near the bottom.
Our third run lies 1,500’ above us on Mount Hermans South East Ridge. From Hermans false summit we escape into the snow globe that is the south bowl. A short fourth run down 500' north slopes takes us to a quick 700’ skin track cruiser up to Hermans south sub-summit. From here east facing 40 degree slopes descend powder filled bowls, over wind lips and off a steep cliff playground before reaching a moraine called the dragons back.
The fifth line of the day takes us back up to Hermans South East Ridge summit for another steep line. From nearly 5,700’ we descend 1,500’ down steep 50 degree steps and benches and over cliff drop zones up to 25’. Creatively named the Lot Line this slope demands a variety of riding skills and intricate route finding to lead back to, you guessed it, the parking lot.
This is one of my favorite full day tours that requires technical skills including route finding, skin track setting, and sluff management. It's physically demanding with full day pace management and a total of nearly 5,100 vertical feet. Fill in the steep expert lines with deep blower pow while possibly following the skin track of one of your favorite pro riders you may have the best day of your life!