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.
The snow on the glaciers was still thick and the days were still growing longer. My spring schedule had filled with multi-day ski trips and summit climbs on Mount Baker. This time of the year was typical and we received our share of rain, snow, and over all wet conditions. As we transitioned from spring to summer my instructional courses and shred trips on Baker moved to summit climbs in the southern complex of North Cascades National Park. By then the wet spring weather had become a distant memory as we sweltered in the hot, dry, and smoky summer haze. Along the way the Exped Black Ice 55 Liter was my go to pack on shred and send trips up to 6 days in length.
When the Black Ice showed up in the spring at Pro Guiding Service I was stoked to see it’s waterproof design. After spending over a decade guiding big whitewater, I immediately recognized the benefits this pack would have in the commonly wet North Cascades. In a classic dry bag design this pack is made of an ultra durable but light weight TPU Laminated HD Ripstop with a large opening on the roll top closure. The functionality here is top notch. The roll top secures with either 2 small carabiners that clip to daisy chain style loops down the side of the pack, or with larger loads that fill the pack, you can get a couple rolls in, bring the ends together, and clip them with a separate male/female style plastic plug and pinch buckle. During the spring with our cooler wet weather I felt 100% comfortable leaving my pack rolled up laying outside the tent vestibule to keep space open for boots and stoves. Never once did any gear get wet inside.
In order to ensure waterproof performance the packs design has one large 55 liter tapered funnel shaped compartment, a small external waterproof zippered pocket, and a small internal pocket. In addition, a frameless design keeps the empty pack weight down, but with a removable ultra lightweight PE foam board it supports pack weight surprisingly well. No flaps, no drawcord openings, no brain. Using a classic brick and mortar packing style, I was able to stuff small soft items such as shirts and extra socks around medium sized hard items like a stove and fuel cans into the large main compartment. This would provide plenty of space for 6 days of gear on summer alpine climbing trips into Boston Basin and for as many days on splitboard mountaineering trips on Mount Shuksan.
The external waterproof zippered pocket has enough space for several small items such as a couple snack bars, map and compass, and the always critical blue bag. Over stuffing the zippered pocket could create a possible weak point in the waterproof performance of this pack fortunately the inside of the pocket is made of the same TPU laminated HD Ripstop so the inside of the pack will remain dry and protected if this were to happen.
Meanwhile the internal pocket offers a little organization for a few items such as more snack bars, a spare battery pack, and a bottle of sunscreen. After the main compartment is packed with all my gear this pocket becomes difficult to access. Another option is using the internal pocket to hold a 1.5 liter hydration bag or dromedary but there is no hydration tube port to the outside of the pack.
The simple waterproof tunnel design is effective but has limited organization options. A simple solution I have come up with is a small stuff sack for my regularly used items such as lip balm, sunscreen, tooth brush, and more snacks, that sits on top of my gear in the main compartment.
Compression and Extension
This pack is a stout 55 liters, large enough to carry enough gear for 5 or more days into Boston Basi in the North Cascades. But when it’s time to climb the West Ridge of Forbidden the Black Ice rolls down small. Even though there aren’t any integrated compression straps the pack rolls down tight enough to climb like a small summit pack while still maintaining space for a days worth of climbing gear.
Straps, what straps! This super slim, low profile pack allows a variety of strapping options for those must carry on the outside pieces of equipment. Additionally, low profile shoulder and waist straps provide just enough padding and weight distribution to carry the large loads. While any extra tail length rolls conveniently into velcro closures on the end of the adjustment straps.
First, this pack comes with removable compression style straps that allow custom arrangement on the 4 daisy chain loops running down the back and sides of the pack. Along with an adjustable over the top strap with a metal aluminum hook closure for a variety of arrangements. If you’re carrying a splitboard in “A” frame position or diagonal there are solutions, if you need to attach a rope on the outside there are solutions, snow picket access just clip it, crampons on the outside no problem. If you’re going for a day hike, remove all the straps and have a stream line pack that won’t snag on the drooping doug firs.
Next, the low-profile shoulder straps are padded and wide enough to distribute the fully loaded weight of a 55 Liter pack while maintaining low bulk and avoiding sponge like affect in wet conditions. At first, I was concerned with the padding packing out, but after a full summer of heavy loads this hasn’t happened. The floating sternum strap adjusts up and down easily and for my body shape and size I found the range to be a little limiting but still functions nicely.
In order to carry a big pack comfortably Exped used a removable seat belt style waist belt that connects with a coin and slot buckle. This modern buckle style is easy to use in the snow with gloves, so no snow clogging pinch to unplug buckle. The female coin slot piece is plastic while the male coin piece is aluminum. Throughout the summer I have seen noticeable wear on the plastic piece. It seems durable enough in materials and design to withstand being crushed if it gets stepped on. Thus more durable than a typical pinch and plug buckle but it has seen more wear than the aluminum component. Adjusting the buckle is easy as long as I adjust the metal coin, left side first, then after clipping the buckle tighten the plastic slot from the right side. I haven’t removed the belt to climb yet and in fact I prefer moving through vertical terrain with the belt buckled so my pack moves with me and doesn’t sway. But for those who prefer otherwise the belt can be removed easily and stored at camp or in the pack while scrambling, climbing, or sending.
Lastly, the pack easily carries an ice axe or two ice tools with a traditional loop and flip design for the head and a fish hook shaped shock cord toggle tightener to snug the shaft in place. Another design consideration I really liked is the large grab loop handle behind your head. This handle not only makes moving the bag around easy but when transitioning from ice axe use in moderate and steep snow couloirs to 4th class rock this handle doubles as a behind the back and head quick storage for a He Man, ninja sword, stow and retrieve security loop.
From Cascade deluges of rain and Andean snow squalls this pack has kept my gear dry all summer. Alpine climbing up steep snow couloirs, across classic rock ridges, down long gully rappels, and across broken glaciers to getting shoved under the back seat of a mini bus by an anxious driver in Caraz, this thing has held up incredibly well. Over all this pack has surpassed my expectations being able to adapt to any style I decide to use it. And seeing how it has survived a spring and summer of heavy use during work and on personal expeditions I believe strongly this pack will last for many more years of abuse.