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2013 B A C K C O U N T R Y



ATHLETE TESTED FROM INCEPTION TO SHRED. The best innovations are born from experience. The North Face athletes are constantly pushing limits on the world’s most challenging terrain—areas often at the highest risk for avalanches. By working with Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and other team members, we built our most technically advanced backcountry pack ever. We started with our best—the Patrol 24. Trusted by athletes, guides and ski patrol, we integrated the ABS Avalanche Airbag System to fit seamlessly into this proven design. The result is the revolutionary Patrol 24 ABS. It’s our most fully featured and capable backcountry pack. More than a pack, it’s a symbol of our dedication to never stop exploring.™

British Columbia, Canada Adam Clark Photo



Follow the path of this revolutionary new pack at





©2012 Oakley, Inc. | 800.320.9430 | OAKLEY.COM/SNOW GORE-TEX,® GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY® and GORE® are trademarks of W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.

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EPICS P. 018


A gallery of adventure from around the globe.

Remembering fallen friends.



How a 19-yearold Canadian keeps an industry in check.

Eight iconic lines beyond the rope.

VIA RAIL P. 064 A road-less trip through BC.

HUTS 093


Information and inspiration to plan the ultimate hut trip.

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KEY CAMERA SPECS 2.7K Cinema 30 / 1440p48 fps 1080p60 / 960p100 / 720p120 fps 12MP / 30 fps Burst Wi-Fi Built-In Wi-Fi Remote Included GoPro App Compatible Also available in White and Silver Editions.

Wear it. Mount it. Love it.™

LCD Touch BacPac™

Wi-Fi Remote

Pro Low-Light Performance

See more mounts + accessories at

The Frame Mount

Head Strap Mount

Handlebar/Seatpost/ Pole Mount

Chest Mount, aka “Chesty”

Helmet Front Mount

Adhesive Mounts




Showcasing the 2012 JP Pro Model & a laid out backie















TX97 TOUR MONTAGNE. The TX97 is first choice of the Kästle guide team. A lightweight, all-around touring ski with early rise rocker. As light as the market leaders in touring, but with the performance you’d expect from a Kästle. Freeride inspired side-cuts meet superlight core construction. Available in 167, 177, 187 cm

W W W. K A E S T L E - S K I . C O M

W W W . K 1 2 D E S I G N . AT

Athlete: Chris Davenport Location: Antarctic Penninsula Photographer: Jim Harris


photo credit: Dom DAHER // Tristan SHU - EIDER©


Val Thorens, France, Janvuary 2012

Photo: Blake Jorgenson Location: Whister Backcountry





Tess Weaver


Matt Harvey


Shay Williams Nate Abbott


Chris Hotz


Henrik Lampert


Damian Quigley Christopher Jerard Alison Larson Bryn Hughes, Chris O’Connell Mike Arzt, Eli Burakian, Chris

Christie, Adam Clark, Ian Coble, Lee Cohen, Oskar Enander, Mark Fisher, Bissell Hazen, Keoki Flagg, Ian Fohrman, Garret Grove, Grant Gunderson, Chris James, Blake Jorgenson, Court Leve, Mason Mashon, Paul Morrison, Bryan Ralph, Kaitlyn Schappert, Brett Shreckengost, Re Wikstrom CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Deliah Albee, Jessica Baker,

Mike Berard, Ingrid Backstrom, Erme Catino, Ian Coble, Lee Cohen, Mike Douglas, Olivia Dwyer, Leah Fielding, Kim Havell, Brett Johnson, Izzy Lynch, Joel Martinez, Brigid Mander, Megan Michelson, Devon O’Neil, Liz Onufer, Piper Phelps, Elyse Saugstad, Scott F. Wicklund FOUNDER & CEO ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER SR. ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE FINANCE DIRECTOR ADMINISTRATION & AR SPECIALIST PRODUCTION COORDINATOR

Bradford Fayfield Greg Wright Jason Smith, Nicole Birkhold Zach Berman Andrew Fuhrer Erin Gunther Mattie Girard

THIS ISSUE WAS MADE POSSIBLE WITH THE HELP OF Moscow mules. Strava. Alfalfas. Subaru. Joe & Keya. iChat. The Yoga Pod. Angloid. The Beyonce Juice Diet. Strathmore Tracing Paper. Sober October. Pizzeria Locale. Dropbox. Kale. The League Season 3. SUBSCRIPTION REQUESTS AND QUESTIONS: Please send all questions, requests and concerns to Freeskier Magazine at PO Box 469024, Escondido, CA 92046, call tollfree 1-866-916-6889 or visit CHANGE OF ADDRESS: Address changes should be sent along with a copy of your mailing label to PO Box 469024, Escondido, CA 92046, or call toll-free 1-866-916-6889 or visit with your mailing label available. EDITORIAL: Please contact: ADVERTISING: For advertising information, please contact Greg Wright, Storm Mountain Publishing Company, PO Box 789, Niwot, CO 80544-0789. TO CARRY IN YOUR STORE: Please call (303) 834-9775 and ask for the Circulation Department. Copyright ©2012 Freeskier magazine (ISSN 1522-1527). Freeskier is published by Storm Mountain Publishing Company. All rights reserved. The content of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express consent of the publisher. Printed in the USA. Freeskier is a trademark of Storm Mountain Publishing Company. Freeskier is published six times a year: Buyer’s Guide, October, November, December, January and February by Storm Mountain Publishing Company, PO Box 789, Niwot, CO 80544-0789. Subscription rates are $9.95 for one year (6 issues). In Canada, $29.95 (includes 7% GST); other foreign $39.95 payable in U.S. funds. Periodicals postage paid at Niwot, CO and additional mailing offices (USPS# 024094). FREESKIER MAGAZINE Storm Mountain Publishing Company *"Ê œÝÊÇn™ÊUÊ£ÎÇÊӘ`ÊÛi˜ÕiÊ ˆÜœÌ]Ê "Ênäx{{ *…\Ê­ÎäήÊnÎ{‡™ÇÇxÊUÊ>Ý\Ê­ÎäήÊnÎ{‡™n{È


Tibet’s Mount Kailas is considered the holiest mountain on earth. The unclimbed peak is sacred to one-fifth of the world’s population. An ancient site of pilgrimage, four religions circle the 22,028-foot mountain in devotion to different gods. Travel writer Paul Theroux describes a pilgrimage as a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. “Every step along the way has meaning,” he writes. “Challenges will emerge. Insights are offered and a deeper understanding is attained. A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received

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and healing takes place. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes.” Of course, a pilgrimage can be secular in nature. Within each sport, a hallowed site lures dedicated enthusiasts. Surfers voyage to Indonesia, mountain bikers to Moab, boaters to the Grand Canyon and fishermen to Alaska. Every environment can be inspiring, but there’s something supreme about the mystique of the high mountains. The Chinese characters for pilgrimage actually mean “paying one’s respect to a mountain.” And if ever there was an act that induced meditation, it’s the methodical climb up a skin track. For backcountry skiers, our superlative pilgrimage is to

the Alps—specifically, a hutto-hut route between Chamonix, France, and Zermatt, Switzerland, known as the Haute Route. This is hut skiing at its finest. Every March, backcountry skiers from around the world skin from refuge to refuge where a soft bed, hot meal and glass of wine await. Julien Regnier planned our Haute Route journey. We would leave Chamonix on February 22nd, weeks before the huts opened for the spring season. We would carry our own supplies, sleep in unheated huts and drink water instead of wine. This trip would be more pilgrimage and less vacation. Julien wanted us to have the route to ourselves. The goal was the in-between, to ski the lines

[ SPIN |


between the huts that most Haute Route parties pass by. Our first three days were successful. Julien, JP Auclair and Callum Pettit skied the Couloir des Dorées, a visually stunning 400-meter line that dropped into Champex, Switzerland. Not until Verbier did the greater challenges present themselves. The temps skyrocketed to almost 60-degrees. Wet slides ripped to the ground. It was shaping up to be the most dangerous week of the winter. With six days and three huts left in our journey, we made the heartbreaking decision to turn back. The mountain gods allowed us to escape unharmed. Sadly, many of our friends weren’t as lucky last season. In this is-

sue, we honor nine avalanche victims who were experienced backcountry skiers. We assess last winter’s complicated snowpack. We take a train ride. We profile some interesting skiers, share some advice from the field, and offer inspiration to ski everything from your local sidecountry stash to the Alps. This season, do something that’s not easy. Skin instead of sitting on the lift. Splurge on an airbag. Take an Avy II course. When conditions allow, ski that iconic line beyond the boundary rope. Listen to your gut. Plan your first hut trip. Go forth, pilgrim, the backcountry is yours. Tess Weaver Project Editor


Angel Collinson, armed with her Agent AvaLung pack, readying to drop into another monster line at Knik River, Alaska.

3... 2 ...1... DROPPING! AvaLung速 Packs






The weather around Whistler can be somewhat relentless. Storms last for days on end, leaving the alpine locked away in a shroud of grey. The weather doesn’t stop us from getting after it, just puts limits on what we can do. This day we decided to explore the tree skiing on Millar Ridge in Pemberton. The whoops on the sled trail were absolutely horrendous which almost made the day trip not worth while. Almost. —Mason Mashon








“I would say my favorite part about shooting in Engelberg is the local knowledge I have gotten over the years,” says photographer and Engelberg resident Oskar Enander. “Things like consistent good winters with a lot of powder and a long season.” With a home base like that, it’s no wonder Oskar is creating amazing images like the Epic on page 26. A frequent contributing photographer to Freeskier, the Swede relocated to Switzerland a decade ago, two years before turning pro. Speaking about the shot of Lars Windlin, Oskar says, “I like the contrast between sun and shadow and the clean lines. The action makes the image come to life.”

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Last fall, Kim Havell moved from Telluride, her home for 16 years to Salt Lake City for the powder. Unfortunately, the snow never came. Never one to wait around, Kim picked up her things and moved to Jackson, where she currently resides. She dissects last season’s snowpack on page 46. Kim also interviewed her friends Bruce Edgerly and Kevin Quinn for “Things I’ve Learned” (page 50). Born in Tehran, Iran and raised in Hong Kong and New York City, Kim attended Brown University. She has since been a guide for several operations, has notched numerous first female descents in Southwest Colorado and has skied on seven continents.

Megan Michelson asked two women she looks up to share their wisdom for “Things I’ve Learned” (page 50). She also interviewed her friend Drew Tabke (page 38) and wrote “Backcountry Contests” on page 44. Formerly an editor at Outside and Skiing magazines, Megan is the freeskiing editor for while based in Tahoe City, California. She contributes to Outside, Women’s Health and Men’s Journal, among others. Megan claims she’s a retired telemark skier. In her past life, she filmed with Powderwhore Productions and competed in (and won) bigmountain competitions.




Devon O’Neil skis about 40 days in the backcountry each year, which made him the perfect person to test the six airbag packs featured on page 102. On page 48, he writes about avalanche related PTSD. “It actually helps to write about avalanches because you end up analyzing all kinds of scenarios that are applicable to your own life and experiences,” he says. The firsttime Freeskier contributor started as a newspaper man, contributing sports features to the L.A. Times and Boston Globe Magazine. He now covers skiing and other action sports for outlets such as from his home in Breckenridge.



YOU’RE NOT ACTUALLY SUGGESTING PEOPLE SKI WITHOUT BEACONS? All the momentum toward backcountry safety equipment, while great, it’s a double-edged sword. Airbags are great, but people are going to make bad decisions because of the technology. If you don’t feel comfortable going into the backcountry without a beacon and making decisions that will keep you as safe as possible, then you shouldn’t go out there without a guide.

HOPE THAT I DON’T NEED IT. YOU’RE SAYING YOU WOULDN’T TAKE THE LIFE VEST? I’d refuse the life preserver, stand up and scream, “But we’re over Texas, and there’s no water in sight! We’re all going to die!” But seriously, I’m not saying that this gear is useless. In certain situations, it can save lives. But people think because they have their level one avalanche training and their gear, they’re safe. But that’s not enough. No gear can be a substitute for the good decision making that keeps you from needing your rescue gear in the first place.







SO YOU WON’T WEAR AN AIRBAG PACK? I do have one, and I will decide when the appropriate time to wear an airbag is. I just don’t see the benefits from the technology lining up with the risk that you’re taking. IF SOMEONE OFFERED ME A FLOATATION DEVICE IN CASE THE AIRPLANE CRASHES, I WOULD GRAB IT AND

SO IF NOT RISKS AND DANGER, WHAT SHOULD THE CONVERSATION BE ABOUT? The final chapter in all avalanche books is psychology. It’s more decision making and goals. The conversation among the group shouldn’t be, “How much risk can we take and get away with?” It should be, “How can we be 100-percent safe and still have fun?”

ARE THERE ACTUALLY PLACES LEFT THAT HAVEN’T BEEN EXPLORED? Sure, in Washington, which is why I moved here from Utah. In Utah, it’s so hard to get somewhere where you can’t see another skin track. But in Washington, you may have a difficult approach, but then you get to a place where you have to figure out where to go, and you see no signs of other humans. DO YOU THINK ABOUT DYING OR GETTING HURT IN THE BACKCOUNTRY? The risk in backcountry skiing is on my mind all the time, but I believe that too much of the conversation is about that stuff. If people are talking about how dangerous it is and all of the accidents, I think that almost accomplishes the opposite. Instead of keeping people safer, if the discourse is about danger, it pushes people into it. I TOTALLY DISAGREE. Take shovels, beacons and probes. People say you need them because it’s so dangerous out there, and there might be an avalanche. So people are like, “Okay, let’s get that stuff.” But I think people should be able to ski without shovels, beacons and probes because they should be making decisions about the environment and terrain they’re in as if they don’t have that equipment. If you don’t have that gear, you’re not going to ski an avalanche path or do any of these things that technology and the scene push people to do.

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YES, I’M STILL RECORDING. IF I WERE READING THIS, I MIGHT THINK YOU ARE A SUICIDAL IDIOT, AND THAT YOU’RE SAYING, “IF I MESS UP, I’M GOING TO DIE. THERE’S NO CHANCE OF SURVIVAL.” I bet saying, “If I mess up, I’m going to die,” is statistically more accurate than the idea a lot of people have about backcountry hazards, which might go something like, “If I mess up, I’ll be buried under three feet of snow for a few minutes before my friends dig me out.” That’s the story that the ski industry has been telling in the last few years, and it’s total crap. If you mess up, you might not die. That’s the true story.


WHAT DRAWS YOU TO THE BACKCOUNTRY? I don’t like people telling me what to do. In ski areas, you have rules, ski patrol, and so many things that decide what you can and cannot do. In the backcountry, the best experience for me is having an idea of where I want to go and not using a guidebook and not getting too much information and having an authentic adventure. That’s my ideal.

SO YOU’RE A HYPOCRITE? I guess so. To be honest, I rarely ski powder in the backcountry. People say you have to go and ski powder—that’s the sickest. But maybe that’s the hype that’s killing people. I think back on the last five years, and I’m almost always avoiding deep powder. I’m going out just to be in the mountains and find a nice route through some peaks or a cool traverse or ridge climb. I think that part is lost on a lot of people. My ultimate goal is still to ski powder, but only after all of these other variables and objective hazards come together. THE HEADLINE OF THIS STORY IS GOING TO BE: DREW TABKE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO WEAR YOUR BEACON. Are you still recording? What else can I say that is going to be controversial?


Drew Tabke has been competing in bigmountain contests for the last eight years. In 2011, he won the overall title on the Freeskiing World Tour and last winter, he placed second on the Freeride World Tour. When he’s not competing, Tabke spends about 80 percent of his time in the backcountry, notching first ski descents in Washington’s North Cascades or in Chile’s Andes, where he spends three months each summer. Tabke, 28, spoke to us about his thoughts on the state of the backcountry while eating a burger at a pub in Seattle.






J E S S McMILLAN A MODEL OF STRENGTH AND PERSEVERANCE On May 10, somewhere just shy of the summit of the South Sister, OR, Jess McMillan stopped hiking and wondered whether she was having fun at that moment. It had been one of those days—you know, the kind where you wake up at 3 a.m. after having climbed and skied five volcanoes and some 23,000 odd feet of vertical over the previous six days and you’ve been hiking for 11 hours in snowmagnified spring heat, and you’re almost out of water. She was exhausted. Not to mention a raven had unzipped her pack and helped itself to her entire lunch a few hours earlier. “At least he didn’t like gels or Shot Bloks,” she recalls.

Luckily, McMillan’s strength reserves run deep. The blonde 33-year-old big mountain skier, born and raised in Jackson Hole, grew up ski racing and hiking Teton Pass. After earning degrees in forestry and business while on the ski team at University of Montana, she succumbed to “the typical ski racer burnout,” and moved to Ashland, OR, to focus on kayaking for two years. She couldn’t stay away from Jackson long, though, and soon found herself on the hill coaching. One day she realized she wanted to be skiing, not standing there watching others do it. After a fourth place finish in her first freeskiing contest at Snowbird, she took second place in the IFSA World Tour the following year, and won the whole tour in 2007. Her current successes—filming for Warren Miller and Storm Show the past two years while remaining a dominant force on both freeskiing tours and balancing various ski mountaineering projects—are no doubt due in part to her notoriously difficult training regimen and a serious work ethic. PG. 040

Jess is an incredibly hard worker and dedicated to her sport,” says Crystal Wright, one of McMillan’s ski partners in Jackson and 2012 Freeskiing World Tour Champion. “I love skiing with her because I am continually pushed and always working toward being a better skier. Also, she is one of the toughest ladies I know mentally and will push through anything.” McMillan became a certified Pilates instructor a few years ago and teaches classes in the summer months before heading down to Las Leñas, where she has skied each of the last eight years in a row. She then focuses hard on ski season training in the fall, which means four days a week at the elite Mountain Athlete program in Jackson doing everything from lifting, sprints, jumps, rope climbing to crossfit, plus three to four days of Pilates and either a run, hike, or bike ride four days a week. “Over the years everyone has called skiers athletes,” says McMillan. “But big mountain skiers don’t typically train like world cup ski racers, and at the time I wasn’t training that way either. I decided that if I was going to call myself an athlete and allow others to call me an athlete, I wanted to be an athlete. The training has made me feel more [ PROFILES |

like an athlete mentally and physically.” It’s also made her incredibly resilient. A high-speed tomahawk early in the 2011 season left her with seriously injured C-1 and C-5 vertebrae in her neck, to the point where some specialists considered her lucky to be alive. Her doctor predicted an eight month recovery, but she rehabbed hard and by April was feeling strong and getting restless. It had just dumped four feet in Jackson and she had been eyeing Fat Bastard—a notorious whopper and TGR movie mainstay—for some time. She sent it and had a small tumble but considered herself healed and went on to place first at the Chilean Freeskiing Championships a few months later. This determination, plus her positive attitude made her a natural choice when Chris Davenport was looking for partners for his Volcano Tour this past spring. “Jess has as good an attitude as one can have out in the mountains,” says Chris, “She is really strong and confident, a tough woman, and willing to push herself. But her optimism and stoke is really what was so important for this project.” McMillan and Davenport were the only two to do the whole tour—15 volcanoes in 14 | FREESKIER ]

days for a total of nearly 80,000 vertical feet and 141 miles of skiing on every volcano from Mt. Shasta in California to Mt. Baker in Washington. They lived in and drove a huge motorhome, were sponsored by Whole Foods and consumed many Hulk Smoothies (ingredients in this concoction include Maca powder, bananas, and kale) and were joined by various friends for different peaks with up to eight people staying in the RV at one time. During such a grueling trip, the fact that McMillan experienced only that one exhausted, questioning moment on South Sister is especially impressive. As she rested and contemplated, Davenport poked his head over the ridge from the peak just above, and yelled, “Are you coming?” Jess sighed. “Yes, I’m coming!” Chris hollered, “Well then keep walking!” “I’m walking, damnit,” she muttered, and continued upwards. Soon she was ripping her signature powerful turns back to the land yacht, forgetting she ever even questioned herself. “You get to the top, and you ski down, and it’s amazing corn and you’re like, yeah, I was having fun the whole time.”







ON RACING UPHILL AND CREATING A BRAND Imagine it’s 6:30 a.m., 10 degrees and you’re in spandex. The shadow of the mountain you’re about to ascend reminds you that it’ll be hours before warm sunlight appears. Then you start. You huff and puff, sweating on the inside, battling frostbite on the outside for 25 miles across Aspen’s four ski areas, 11,000 feet of climbing and 12,500 feet of descending (on skinny rando race skis). Those were the conditions Aspen’s Pete and John Gaston experienced during the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race last March. The 25-year-old fraternal twins won the race as a team with a time of 5 hours, 28 minutes, 23 seconds, beating an elite group of experienced adventure and endurance athletes. The brothers have a penchant for going fast uphill—specifically, on skis and mountain bikes. As teammates and individually, they’ve captured titles at the Grand Traverse, a 40mile backcountry ski race between Crested Butte and Aspen and at Pierra Menta, one of the largest ski mountaineering races in the Alps. They have won the 24 Hours of Moab, and in September, John beat Lance Armstrong at Crested Butte’s Alpine Odyssey 100 mountain bike race. They may be blessed with athletic genes and a high tolerance for pain, but the brothers modestly maintain that these endurance races are part of a lifelong goal they share, the same goal that first got them hiking Aspen Highlands Bowl as youngsters: to spend more time in the mountains. “If you spend your days in the mountains, you have to walk uphill,” said Pete, who recently passed his second of three exams on his way to becoming an AMGA ski mountaineering guide. “Only you can determine how long it takes. If you can climb two peaks in one day, it’s twice as much fun.” PG. 042

The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Connecticut natives grew up skiing Aspen Highlands, where their family owns a home. They didn’t race or compete in freestyle events. “Our parents let us choose what we wanted to do, so most of our time was spent ripping around Aspen Highlands,” says John. “I actually hated hiking the bowl at first, but then we got into the big-mountain movement when we were 18. We wanted to ski big lines, but we didn’t live in Alaska. We lived in Aspen, and we had the bowl. “ While hiking and skiing, the brothers started noticing a distinct hole in the market between affordably priced 2L gear and backcountry-specific 3L technical styles. “You either had to choose style, fit and price and sacrifice waterproofness and breathability, or spend upwards of $500 on a true technical piece, which were all designed, marketed and priced for the older generation, with tighter fits,


boring color options and price tags too expensive for the 16- to 30-year-old ski bum.” After graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder, the brothers founded Strafe in fall 2009. After a year of design and development, they entered the market in December 2010. Strafe pants, jackets and one pieces feature a 17-stitch-per-inch thread count, one of the highest in the industry. Their membrane is rated at 20K/20K, coupled with SoftTouch backing, which achieves a new level of comfort in 3L gear. This season, Strafe switched to a different variant of Gelanots hybrid shell fabric, that increased durability and only gained 10g/m2 of weight. “It’s really an incredible fabric,” says John. “To date we have yet to see a more durable, full stretch, 3L fabric on the market. It truly does perform like a hardshell in terms of waterproofness but offers a stretch even better than most softshells.”


With a direct sales distribution model, Strafe fulfills the majority of its orders through its online store and showroom. Prices range from $180 to $600 (for a 3L one-piece). “By not having to adhere to traditional wholesale pricing and markups, we’re able to give the end consumer a significant price break,” says John. They opened a showroom at the base of Aspen Highlands in November 2011. It’s a loungy place where people can grab an espresso and hang out. Customers range from big-mountain and backcountry enthusiasts to park skiers to moms on groomers to ex-World Cup racers who like the quality of the fabric. As for Peter and John, 2012/13 season plans include ski mountaineering in Chamonix, Morocco and British Columbia as well as racing in a handful of ski mountaineering races here and abroad in hopes of qualifying for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team.

I’m beautiful and you love me.

Fat is beautiful. Especially when you’re tearing up the backcountry. And once you go fat you never go back.

2013 Men’s I-Rock








medals will be awarded for a new backcountry ski film contest called Real Ski Backcountry. Athletes will put together a backcountry film segment throughout the early winter and the winner will be announced in France.

Barlow is sitting in his office in Utah, talking about the growing push to hold big-mountain contests in backcountry terrain in order to give athletes and spectators better snow conditions.

The FWT has held events outside the boundary lines of resorts like Revelstoke and Telluride for several years now, and in August 2011, they held their first truly backcountry contest at a cat-skiing operation in Chile. The new six-stop Freeride World Tour (FWT) includes a final day on Mount MacKenzie, in Revelstoke’s sidecountry. The Kirkwood stop features a competition in the Cirque, a permanently-closed area. And all of the European stops, including Chamonix and Verbier, feature sidecountry venues.

For years, big-mountain contests have been held inbounds at ski resorts like Jackson Hole, Snowbird, and Crested Butte. Which meant that without a fresh dump of snow, venues were often tracked out or hardpack before the contest even began. But in recent years, a rising number of event organizers, including the Freeskiing World Tour, the X Games, Red Bull, and others, have opted to host contests in backcountry terrain. Case in point: In March 2013 at the Winter X Games in Tignes, France, PG. 44


Red Bull’s Cold Rush contest, which has taken place since 2007, has been held at BC’s Red Mountain ski area, then in the backcountry at BC’s Retallack cat-skiing lodge, and since 2011, at Silverton Mountain. [ CONTESTS |

This trend to move outside the gates may create more powdery contest conditions, but it also spikes the risk level and the cost of putting the event on safely. “From an overall event look and feel, backcountry terrain provides a better experience,” says Barlow. “But it takes a lot more resources to put an event on in the backcountry. There’s definitely a bigger element of risk—you need weather to cooperate, you need to run helicopters to the top, it’s a lot more complicated running avalanche routes, and it all takes more time and money.” As for the increased avalanche danger of having a contest in uncontrolled backcountry terrain? “The most complicated part of running these backcountry events comes down to snow safety and patrol,” says Barlow. Adds former FWT champion Angel Collinson, “Of course one of the inherent risks of having a comp in the backcountry is avalanche danger. You are running a bunch of people on a slope that hasn’t had control work or | FREESKIER ]

skier compaction on it all year. That said, the event organizers do control work before the event and take all the necessary measures that it’s safe.” Even with the risks, Collinson says she’d prefer to have contests in the backcountry. “There are a lot of advantages to having it in the backcountry—the conditions are usually better and it has more features and more room for line creativity than inbounds comps,” she says. “But I like competing in both types of events. Inbounds contests can be more relaxed because athletes are more familiar with the terrain.” Freeride contests will continue to take place within resort boundaries, but in the future, expect to see more contests taking place in uncharted locations. “I see contests working in both arenas— ski areas and the backcountry—because there are a lot of advantages to working in an organized ski resort,” says Barlow. “But there’s a lot of sidecountry terrain at ski resorts that we can start looking at to get the best of both worlds.”

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The numbers weren’t good. Last winter, the lower 48 experienced the fourth warmest winter since record keeping began more than a century ago. Twenty-seven states had temperatures that ranked among their tenth warmest ever, and California had its driest winter on record. The season was marked by the lowest national average resort snowfall since 1991-92. According to a Snowsports Industries America survey, 50 percent of responding ski areas opened late last season and 48 percent closed early. Dry spells and infrequent, small storms developed a weak and dangerous snowpack that plagued many of the country’s mountain communities. Due to bigger abnormalities and fluctuations in their respective patterns, Utah and Colorado’s early season snowpack contained persistent weaknesses that remained throughout the winter. “The early November snow in the San Juans sat and rotted out, becoming weak and faceted,” says Matt Steen, Northern and Southern San Juan Mountains forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “These early conditions PG. 46




became the foundation of the snowpack for the rest of the season.” Colorado’s San Juans saw a six-week period of avalanche ratings of “considerable to high.” Snow built up rapidly in February, stressing the fragile base and some of the largest slides in recent history were observed. The Wasatch notched its third lowest snowfall year on record. Snowbird and Alta, Utah, known for featherlight snow and consistent storms, also had persistent avalanche conditions. Like in Colorado, an early snowfall in October set up a poor, weak base with rotten depth hoar that would haunt riders for the season. “The weak grains of October continued to be a player through the last weekend of April when wet slabs were pulling out the entire season’s snowpack on the rotten layer,” says Dave Richards, an Alta patroller. Large and consistent snowfalls tend to flush out weak layers through avalanching or insulating and consolidating. With little snowfall in Utah, the base continued to weaken and the [ SNOWPACK |

compromised layer sat at a tipping point for skiers and control workers. Hence the unusual widespread avalanching that occurred throughout the season in the Wasatch. In California, Tahoe didn’t get an inch of snow in December, a dry spell unprecedented since the 19th century. “Our snow depth at our main study site went to zero centimeters on January 13, the first zero snow depth in January here ever,” says Randall Osterhuber of the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory. A small rainstorm deposited 4 millimeters on January 26 and led to a prolonged and pronounced weakness in the snowpack that kept instability high for much of the remaining winter. The layer was to blame for Tahoe’s two avalanche fatalities (a skier on March 1 and a snowmobiler on March 2). The East Coast suffered too. Killington, Stowe, Sunday River and multiple other resorts saw some of their lowest totals ever. While the rest of the country was snow | FREESKIER ]

starved, Alaska and Washington were buried. Alyeska notched 865 inches for the season and Mt. Baker set records in March with 260 inches of snowfall. Meteorologists attributed the unusually mild weather in much of the United States to the jet stream. The polar branch of the jet stream kept cold, Arctic air bottled up farther north than usual. “In terms of snow quantity, quality, stability and flyable days of beautiful weather, it was by far one of the very best seasons,” says Tordrillo Mountain Lodge heli guide, Lel Tone. “We broke all-time records in Anchorage and Girdwood for seasonal snowfall totals by mid-March.” From a scientific perspective, the snowpack of 2011-12 was complicated but at the same time simple. Across the country, the cycles and avalanches came down to the snow science fundamental that “shallow is weak.” In a low tide snow year, when snow science breaks from the norm, the human factor determines the risk level and margin of safety—an ever-variable equation.

Photos: Adam Clark

< SKI CROSS MITT Skier: Elyse Saugstad








By the time Brett Gray stopped moving, the avalanche had carried him 1,200 vertical feet. He had been entombed in darkness and crushed by the massive pressure, choked by snow and—in a merciful twist of fate that likely saved his life—shot into the air like a cannonball as the avalanche rumbled over a knoll, moments before it compacted. Gray looked around the deposition zone, almost unable to comprehend that he was only buried to his chest. The debris was the width of two football fields, hardened like bedrock and up to 25 feet deep. Amazingly, his sunglasses still clung to his face. It was March 19, 2012. A minute earlier, Gray had dropped in on virgin powder that blanketed the north face of the Schoellenhorn, an 8,742-foot peak in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Three of his friends, including their guide, had already descended. On Gray’s fourth turn, the mountain started moving like a tidal wave. Gray, a 53-year-old snowmaker and former ski patroller from Breckenridge, CO, is no stranger to avalanches. Many years ago, he dug a four-day-old corpse out of a massive debris field in his hometown. But he’d never come so close to dying in one himself. The emotional toll was substantial. He spent the PG. 48



rest of his week in Switzerland popping sleeping pills and skiing in the grip of terror. When he got home, he broke down and sobbed with his wife. He stopped popping pills to stave off dependency but couldn’t sleep through the night for a week. “I would wake up and think about it, and the adrenaline would sweep over me and just take over,” he says. “I was reliving it over and over again: the snow, the choking, the darkness. I kept thinking I was going to die.” He pauses for a minute. “Yesterday was bonus day number 119.” Gray’s experience highlights a rarely addressed but very real factor in avalanche accidents—post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of society associates PTSD with war, for good reason, but it’s just as persistent in other aspects of life, including activities we do for fun. According to a study published in a German medical journal in 2002, after an avalanche accident, 28 percent of survivors suffer from PTSD. Completely buried victims are more prone to the disorder, with 41 percent experiencing symptoms including compulsive memories, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, nausea and feelings of guilt. The study primarily found the PTSD to be temporary, but for one in five com[ PTSD |

pletely buried survivors, the symptoms persist for years. One victim who requested anonymity for this story said he still gets “super freaked out while skiing,” more than two years after he survived a full burial for seven minutes. That accident, in Colorado’s San Juan Range, claimed the life of his friend. For weeks afterward, he watched movies to distract his mind from the horror he experienced. It took him 18 months before he felt comfortable skiing in avalanche terrain. Now, he says, “I’ll look at a line that I want to ski—something I would’ve destroyed before my accident—and wonder, will I have the balls to do that again?” After world champion big-mountain skier Andrea Binning narrowly escaped a large avalanche in 2006, she spent four months working with a sports psychologist hired by her sponsor, Red Bull, in Austria. “I was trying to trick my mind not to carry the accident with me,” she says. But all summer, the image of the slide remained as fresh as the day it happened. The following February, she got back on skis to film in Alaska. “I felt the most fear standing on top of a peak on my own,” she says. “I just didn’t feel like the snow would be stable after my accident. I thought it would all crack up.” | FREESKIER ]

These are typical signs of PTSD, says Michael Ferrara, a veteran ski patroller and first responder in Aspen, CO, who suffered from PTSD for nine years before breaking down emotionally in 2009. Now he helps others seek the help he never sought himself. “The first thing you need to do is understand that you’re not going to be OK. That’s normal,” he says. “You’re going to have these images going through your head. You’re going to have insomnia, sadness, the classic 1,000-yard stare. This stuff, watching your friend die, is supposed to mess you up.” Ferrara recommends victims reach out to their local mental health center (most counties offer help via phone or in person) and resist the urge to abuse alcohol and drugs, which often compound the problem. The Colorado Depression Center employs counselors who specialize in PTSD, he says. Ferrara even found a local therapist who dealt with victims of violence but was able to apply the same treatment strategies to him. Other advice? “Get exercise. It gives the adrenaline pumping inside you a place to go,” he says. “Get outside. Roll around in some flowers. Get some sun. Don’t dwell on the darkness and sadness. Go see that life has beauty to it.”



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Eli Burakian

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You only get 26,320 days, more or less. How will you spend them?


They were husbands, fathers, sons, uncles and best friends. They were ski patrollers, professional skiers and experienced backcountry travelers. They shared a passion for skiing and

adventure. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The mountains took them away. It left communities in Washington, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana reeling. We asked the victims’ friends and families to honor them in writing. For many, it was a healing process. Mike Berard tributes the master of stoke, Chris Rudolph. The wife of Montana skier Mark Albee remembers her husband’s happiness. Crested Butte friends ap-

Chris Rudolph


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Avalanche Stevens Pass Washington February 19 2012

When he passed away skiing Stevens’ slackcountry in February, it hit the community hard, not only because we lost a friend, but because Chris lived his life the way we’d like to. We looked up to him. He knew it was never about where you were. It was how well you did while you were there.


Chris Rudolph owned the mountains. With an omnipresent, mischievous smile, he found joy in the smallest of pursuits. He kept those around him fueled with his endless reservoir of stoke. The last time we met, we stayed up late into the night drinking cheap beer and talking about his ongoing role as the Ambassador of All Things Rad. Chris was the director of marketing at Stevens Pass and the resort’s biggest cheerleader, but not only because he worked there. He truly loved the life he’d carved out for himself in the mountains. He was heavily involved in the Leavenworth outdoor scene and was pushing to introduce elementary-school students to skiing through the Outdoors for All Foundation. He raised funds for the High Fives Foundation. He was learning to speed fly. He was planning an Alaskan heliski trip. At 31, he was re-learning backflips on his skis. The man never stopped. Until this winter.

preciate John Knox’s zest for life. Jessica Baker honors her mentor, Jim Jack. Eric Henderson describes the path of Steve Romeo. Three local friends revere Johnny Brenan. Lee Cohen tells the story of Jamie Pierre. Chris Onufer’s former wife depicts his life in Jackson. The best friend of A-Basin patroller Andre Hartlief remembers his first year in the mountains. Though last winter was their final, the legacies of these nine men live on.

This winter, I’m going to make deliberate attempts to live like Chris. To enjoy every day on the mountain, even in the rain. I’ll struggle up steep bootpacks and sweat my way up skintrails with joy and continue to scare myself just a little bit on each descent, all in pursuit of that same infectious energy he showed me. I’ll remember that it’s the turns and the people you make them with that matter, not where they are or what you wear when you do them. And at the end of each impossibly adventurous day, I’ll toast Chris with reverence. You did it right, my friend.

Jamie Pierre


Jamie Pierre was the most fearless person I’ve ever known. Not only because he skied off ridiculously huge cliffs with seeming wanton disregard for his own well-being, but because he approached life itself with that same fearlessness. It sounds like it couldn’t possibly work out for anyone, but Jamie lived with a total truth that may be incomprehensible to most human beings.

You’d hear talk of Pierre being more of a hucker than a skier. Rest assured, Jamie was one of the best skiers out there. He was catlike nimble, changing things up on a dime if necessary and greasing it fluidly without batting an eye. Photographer Brent Benson called Jamie the best skier he ever saw, period. Reggie Crist summed it up when he talked about Jamie ripping a line called St. Pierre’s Cathedral on Mt. Emmerick in Haines, AK. “Most folks remember you for your big hucks, but I will never forget watching you throw down the biggest, baddest line I’ve ever witnessed.” Some people didn’t see the best side of him, but they didn’t know the real Jamie Pierre. His tell-it-like-he’s-feeling-at-the-moment manner got him in trouble more than a few times. But those who knew him knew a sweet guy, a genuine person who actually cared enough to let his feelings show. Sure, a little too much at times, but that was the real Jamie Pierre, everything out on the table.

Avalanche Little Cottonwood Canyon Utah November 13 2012


The limit was drawn when it came to his loved ones. He revered his wife Aimee and knew she would kick his ass any time it came down to it. And he adored his children without fail. His family was by far the most important thing in his life.

Throughout his ski career, all Jamie wanted was acknowledgement and recognition of his skills as the skier he was. I hope he’s looking down on us right now and sees the adoration, love and respect that he always thought he was fighting so hard to earn. Yes Jamie, we know. And we won’t forget.

Chris Onufer


It was the family trip to Jackson Hole his junior year of high school that settled Chris’s future. After graduating from the University of Maine, Chris arrived in Jackson with one suit and a job interview—trail crew at the Jackson Hole Ski Corporation. He got the job but was advised to ditch the suit. This was the start of his 19-year career at Jackson Hole, working up through the ranks of lift operator and tram maintenance tech to his recent promotion to tram maintenance manager. His dedication to and work on both the old and new aerial tramways was unparalleled. He even helped celebrate the new tram’s grand opening in December 2008 by rappelling out of the tram car dressed as Santa Claus.

Off the clock, Chris hiked, climbed, ran and skied the Teton Range. His intense love for high places grew in the last five years, and ski mountaineering became Chris’s true passion. Over the last six seasons, Chris’s winter pursuits grew to higher and more technical terrain. After multiple Teton descents, Chris began to look beyond his home range, traveling to Shasta, Whitney, Rainier and Denali. If you saw the twinkle in his eye, you knew he had just been in the mountains or was planning his next trip.


With his perennial smile, Chris loved to make people laugh. Whether on the tram dock or a carriage ride above, Chris was a constant and loyal fixture. He was recognized as the man who would always lend a hand, whether at the Village assisting in all aspects of mountain operations, in the mountains as an experienced backcountry partner, or as an EMT and firefighter.

Avalanche Grand Teton National Park Wyoming March 8 2012

Chris was a true character, from his Varnets and visor to his signature moustache and telemark turns. You could find him anywhere in the Tetons—jumping into Corbet’s, paragliding overhead, rafting the Snake or skiing the Grand. He was always ready to “get after it,” and he never let a day slip through his fingers.

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Mark was experienced, strong and cautious, and had respect for the mountains. He and his younger brother, Iain, who was with him at the time of the avalanche, took every measure to minimize their risks. They were regarded by many locals as the leading experts on ski touring in the area, and in their two decades as ski partners, they had spent more than 1,000 days skiing together. Mark was my beautiful husband and I lost him. He was also a son, brother, father, uncle, cousin, brother-in-law and friend. And an owner of two beloved beagles.

Avalanche Jewel Basin Montana February 1 2012

Everyone in our community knows he died doing what he loved best. It wasn’t just skiing down the mountain that he loved, it was getting to the top and looking out. That was when he felt spiritual.

My son and I moved from an unfinished straw-bale house without running water to a tiny home with Mark. As life went on, Mark and I got married and built a beautiful home. On summer evenings he would drink a beer outside and tell me his plans for the “yard,” which was ten acres of thick woods. Our love was obvious and ever present. The last three years in our home had been the happiest years of his entire life.  I know this with certainty, and I find great peace in knowing he was truly happy when he died. 

Jim Jack

My faith in humanity was solidified by the many people who didn’t even know Mark but who risked their lives to find his body. And a special thank you to the ones who did know him. I know that must have been so hard. I would have never known this, but seeing him one more time gave me a chance to talk to him and tell him I would love him forever. I don’t believe in angels with wings, but I am certain they wear ski boots.


Jim Jack, the man with two first names, stepped in to my life at my very first big-mountain freeskiing competition in Kirkwood, California at the turn of the millennium. I met him at the event registration as a fellow competitor, and he was undoubtedly the most outgoing individual in the room. Instantly warm, caring and invested in his fellow freeskiers, Jim Jack became an instant friend.

Avalanche Stevens Pass Washington February 19 2012 We spent the rest of the weekend with a posse of ripping skiers, shredding the best lines at Kirkwood and partying at night. I remember a friend saying, “They don’t call him the mayor of Alta for nothing!” He kept the atmosphere lighthearted and enjoyable even in the most pressing and nerve-racking moments. I ended up winning that competition, and I can honestly say Jim Jack was a big influence in my success from that point forward.


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As Jim Jack became one of my best friends, we traveled the globe for freeskiing competitions, from Alta to Les Arcs to Whistler and every mountainous region in between. He was always positive, always ready for a fun time and always there for

you when you needed him. When Jim Jack made the transition to judge, he never lost his cool. Still the most fun guy to be around, with a smile at every turn. Last February, when I heard the news that Jim Jack was one of the three people who died in the Stevens Pass avalanche, I broke down. How could we lose someone so precious to our ski community—and so suddenly? All the memories of Jim Jack flooded through me: his smile, his smooth skiing style, his laugh, his fervor for life, the community that he had formed around him, and so much more. We have lost yet another amazing member of our community, but we cannot deny the legacy he has left behind for us. All of us were enriched by Jim Jack’s unyielding positive influence and commitment to the very core of our sport. His spirit lives on in all of us. May we continue to spread his cheer.


Johnny Brenan didn’t die last winter skiing in Washington. Dying is what happens to your batteries. Johnny was the guy everyone wanted to be around. Anytime he called or showed up, you knew good times were right around the corner. As a local contractor, he literally left his mark everywhere in Leavenworth. “Off the Couch Johnny” was up for anything. Whether skiing, skinning, mountain biking, building a deck, fixing a screen door—he was there and loving every minute of it. Johnny was the first to volunteer, the first to offer to watch the kids, the first to commit to a plan and the first to bid high. Johnny was all in. Johnny was a friend. He would give anyone the shirt off his back, a hand with a project or his truck for the day. From his first-chair pals to every child in his family’s big circle of friends, Johnny was friends with everyone and watched out for all. Whether it was heavy machinery, special fixtures in Seattle or new ski gear, Johnny always knew where to get it. He was Leavenworth mafia—in a good way. He always knew what time the poker game was, who was going for the freshies and where to meet for coffee. Johnny was game for anything and didn’t want to miss out.

Avalanche Stevens Pass Washington February 19 2012

After meeting his future wife in Breckenridge, Colorado, he brought her home to Washington so he could patrol at Stevens Pass, build a business and start a family. Johnny became a busy man building homes and businesses, but he never stopped skiing. His happy grin would shine through his snow-caked beard no matter if he’d just ripped the perfect line or eggbeatered down some Cascade crud. When Johnny picked up telemarking, his skills really started to show. It even earned him 15 minutes of fame on a Rossignal poster. He hardly cared; Johnny B. just loved to ski. Many days you’d find Johnny and his whole family skiing and sleeping out of his RV at Stevens.

Johnny figured out early in his young life what was important to him and did an incredible job at “living the dream.” Above all, Johnny was a devoted father and husband. He loved his girls. He passed his passion for skiing on to his daughters—when he watched them ski, his face would light up with love and pride. Johnny didn’t die in the mountains. He lived his life. We’ll miss him in ours.



Anybody who knew Steve Romeo knew that he despised summer. He wanted every month to be February. His passion for fresh snow percolated into every one of his actions and conversations. His “live to ski” energy resonated with friends, shop clients and the dedicated followers of his popular blog. The Jackson based ski mountaineer and global blogger had the demeanor of the kid next-door, yet he attacked the backcountry like a snow leopard on the move. On March 8th, 2012, “Rando-Steve” died in a Class III avalanche on Ranger Peak in Grand Teton National Park. Steve came to Jackson from the East, in 1993. He started out in Jackson as a lift operator at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and moved up through the ranks until he was head liftie. In the late 90s, he started a ski shop job at Skinny Skis that would continue for the rest of his life. In between customer service and tuning skis, Steve started the blog, wherein Steve documented his adventures, gear and other ski-related events, videos and observations.

Avalanche Grand Teton National Park Wyoming March 8 2012

One of my last memories of Steve was his heroic efforts to help pro skier Eric Hjorleifson rivet a new buckle onto his modified TLT5’s. He personally went out of his way to prepurchase the rivets, and take him into the back shop for a late night elf session. This desire to help, learn and breathe skiing is what made Steve Rando-Steve.

Steve Romeo lived to ski, and his life was lost doing it. The moment was tragic but the legacy will never be forgotten. Ranger Peak was then; Baffin was next and the heavens are today.

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John Knox McEwen Frank


John Knox McEwen Frank loved mountains, rivers, snow and the forest. He was always dreaming of the next mountain to ski, river to fish and trail to explore with his brother, his friends, or his dog, Darby. Knox was known for his ever-present smile, contagious laughter and passion for the simple life. He was a patient guy. He encouraged longer, higher and farther adventures. He had a magical ability to make light of the most undesirable situations. To be in the presence of Knox was like nothing else. Not only did he love the outdoors, but he passed this love on to everyone he came in contact with. He took others’ opinions seriously, no matter their background. He taught us how to look at life from many angles and not take it too seriously, to laugh when we thought we were too tired, and to live life to the fullest. Knox was loved by the community of Crested Butte as a whole.

On the day an avalanche stole him from us, Knox was happy. He was on an adventure in the beautiful Colorado mountains. He was with friends. He was laughing, singing

Avalanche Ophir Pass Colorado March 30 2012

and loving his beautiful life. We will again celebrate the life of our friend on Crested Butte’s official John Knox McEwen Frank day, January 26, 2013, his birthday. But really, we will celebrate him every time we are doing what we love.

Andre Hartlief


Andre Hartlief was my best friend. I met him in the winter of 2007-08, when he was working at the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass. I was a sophomore in college and was staying at the hotel during my Christmas vacation. He checked us in to our room, and the next morning my friend was suffering from altitude sickness, so I came down to get my skis by myself. He offered to let me tag along and go ride with him. It’s rare for a local to do that with a visitor, but we became friends, and I moved out the following December and lived with him in Woody Creek.

Andre (“Dre” to his friends) was 37 when he died, but his heart was much younger. He always sussed around with people five or 10 years his junior. It took him a while to find his calling—he’d been married and worked as an engineer in London before trading the city for the mountains—but I truly believe he was meant to live the ski-bum lifestyle. He loved the people, he loved the weather, he loved the drinks after skiing. He really was about the good time and the good energy it brought him.

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Avalanche Wolf Creek Pass Colorado February 16 2012

With most people, it takes time to get to know them. With him, what you saw is what you got. I think that’s what made him so likeable and helped him fit in wherever he was. He always had a smile on his face and a good sense of humor. His best ski days didn’t have to be the best snow days.

He spent his last two years patrolling at A-Basin, The Remarkables and Keystone. His goal was to become a patroller at Aspen/Snowmass. I talk about Andre on an almost daily basis, because it’s hard not to. I have so many positive memories that I find myself smiling a lot more than I do crying.

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“If no one comes by, just flag down a freight train. Seriously, just flag one down! They’ll stop for you,” Tracey, a conductor on the Via Rail train, shouts to us worriedly as she leans out of the car we’ve just hopped off with all our ski gear. The train slowly picks up speed, heading away from us. “Just use that whistle there!” Tracey calls out, a little more frantically now, gesturing at the avalanche whistle on Leah’s ski pack. “It’ll keep the cougars away.” The train disappears in the distance, leaving us standing by the now empty, snowy tracks. Our crew, skiers Leah Evans, Molly Baker and me, and photographer Re Wikstrom double over in laughter at the cougar comment, but hysterics quickly turn to silence. We are, after all, alone in a thick forest in remote, interior British Columbia in midwinter.


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A week and a half ago, we came to Canada to investigate whether rumors of an ideal ski train were true. A road trip without the road? Without $5 per gallon Canadian gas? Where no one has to stay awake to entertain the driver? Who could say no? Canada’s Via Rail passenger train travels through some of the most mountainous and snowy places in British Columbia, so it made sense. We discovered it would let us off and pick us up, whistle-stop style. And so here we were, standing beside the tracks by mile marker 39.1, looking over our shoulders for unwelcome signs of wildlife.

The Jasper, Alberta train station was our jumping off point. Built in the 1920s, it’s steeped in history. Posters, maps and ads for western migration hang on the station walls, remnants of an era long gone. People landed in these parts nearly a century ago, optimistic and seeking a new life in the West. For us, it serves as a gateway for travels deeper into the Rockies in a search for untapped powder, using the century-old railroad as our sole means of transportation. Once on the train, heading to our first whistle-stop in the McGregor Range, huge peaks rise up outside the windows. Hours of pleasantly bumping along the tracks lead us to befriend the conductor, Gilbert, who has worked on the rail for decades. “The last trip I did up here, this trapper got on. He had a bearskin—oh yeah, the bears are already out—and about 15 fishers [a weasel


relative],” Gilbert says nonchalantly. We stare, and he continues. “That trapper also pans for gold. He has a buyer in Terrace for the fur and the gold. He just stays one night, and I take him back. He has a dog out there he doesn’t like to leave long.” The mountains outside are socked in from a storm, and Gilbert describes what we can’t see—huge icefalls and Mount Robson, the second highest peak in BC. He continues with tales of strange characters who use the train to access the BC interior, but I interrupt for the 16th time: “We want to get off at mile marker 91.” At mile 91, located about an hour before the station in Prince George, the train stops. The conductor holds the door open, and we hop out on the tracks and smile. This scheme was working.

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We’ve arranged to borrow a few snowmobiles from nearby outpost Bear Paw Heli-Skiing. We ride 30km up an abandoned logging road to the Pass Lake trailhead. A few hours of skinning through at least a foot of fresh—where we catch glimpses of stunning alpine terrain through the

otherwise socked in clouds—brings us to our destination, a cozy, sixperson structure called Pass Lake Cabin. We set up and hope for clear skies, but the low clouds and winds hang around for our twoand-a-half day stay. Relegated to the woods, we find powder in the trees and little features to play on, sufficiently entertaining ourselves.


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We can’t be too upset. The tree skiing is ideal: widely spaced oldgrowth forest and rolling steeps. Besides, this is only stop one, and we have a time constraint. We have to be back at the tracks in time to flag down the next Smithers-bound train, which passes by only every three days.

new snow. Untracked ridges drop down into bowls, with chutes, features, and options galore. Only a beautiful blue sky is witness to the shredding. The novelty of this little touringoriented complex, here in the middle of nowhere, is the extremely interesting experiment of one local businessman and the skiers and community that got behind

“I told some friends I was going to Prince George, Smithers, and Terrace, and one of them asked me if I’d started working in a mill,” says Leah as we rock along from Prince George to Smithers. It’s true, skiing isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you mention the destinations along the railroad. The isolated villages are industry towns with forestry and mining historically taking priority. They are not scripted pseudo-Tyrolian or Swiss tourist villages but utilitarian industry centers.

A small town of 5,000, Smithers has an uncontrived European influence thanks to an influx of German, Swiss and Dutch immigration in the middle of the 20th century. It isn’t

quite clear if its nickname, Little Switzerland, came about because of the immigrants or the towering, ice-encrusted alpine peaks presiding over town. We’ve stopped here to get up into those peaks, via the Hankin Evelyn Recreation Area, a touring-specific ski area. In Hankin’s parking lot, a local girl in a flatbed, with two dogs standing on the back, is busy plowing new snow, and a nomadic ski bum is living in a tent with a woodstove. Signs explaining the history of the area and warning about avalanches are both nearly buried in snow. A BCA beacon checker provides the gate to the designated, gladed uptracks. We climb through a foot of fresh up to the warming hut, from which we boot up a ridge into the spectacular alpine. The peaks here are steeper, more jagged looking than the McGregors, and the forest is an impenetrably thick wall of pines; being able to access the alpine via these gladed tracks is worth a lot. Up in the alpine, we take full advantage of the terrain, the clear day and more PAGE //


Traveling the mostly undeveloped interior expanse of British Columbia by train is daunting and requires more motivation than cruising the Powder Highway, but the reward is an untapped universe of prime backcountry ski terrain. Utilizing the skeletal support system of these far-flung communities, it’s easy to delve deep into wilderness adventures.

him, which includes the federal government by providing the majority of the funds. Low impact expansion and improvements are still coming, such as another hut, and features to jib on the rolling, super fun runs that come back down to the lot. No matter who was behind it, though, the skiing measures up to our standards, and we all agree: we’d come back without hesitation.

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We are gearing up at a trailhead, getting ready to climb up what Bill, an eccentric, punk-music loving, perma-culture farmer calls Gnarnia. Bill is a friend of a friend and a voracious backcountry skier, living off his trackside farm midway between Smithers and Terrace, where Tracey the conductor reluctantly dropped us with warnings of cougars. Not only is Bill letting us crash at the farm, he is showing us his stashes. The spirits are good to us—the sky is clear, the air cold and the snow deep. Bill, on the other hand, sets a brutally steep skintrack in his private ski area. Otherworldy light filters in from the high peaks, and as we climb, the utter remoteness of this spot sinks in. You could spend a lot of time out here and never see another person, a sign of civilization, or a track that isn’t your own. Getting injured isn’t an option. Bill’s descriptions prove accurate. We ski pillow lines, chutes and deep powder.

A cloud of pungent, acrid smoke suddenly burns my eyes and lungs. I look up, startled, to see our new friend Bill holding a burning bundle of sage about 6 inches from my face. “It’s a blessing for the day,” he says. A Gitxan medicine man told him that the tradition is a blessing from the forest spirits for protection. I check my transceiver again. Protection by both spirits and technology sounds good to me.

We’re ready to move on, but we aren’t going to make it to the tracks in time for the train into Terrace. Near the infamous BC Highway 16, with its posters and pleas for people not to hitch (dozens of hitchhikers have disappeared on this stretch of road), there will be no thumbing it. Luckily, Bill wants to ski a line he’s been scoping near Terrace, so we are soon careening to town in his 4Runner. It’s faster than any of us have gone in nearly two weeks. Leah and Molly close their eyes. Re looks borderline ill. PAGE //

In Terrace, Bill leaves us the keys to the 4Runner, and disappears with a silent, smiling partner to ski their secret line. We stick to our original plan: head to tiny, community-owned and -operated Shames Mountain. Tiny, yes, but what makes it special is that the access road and ski area lead to some of the most mind-blowing, easily accessed backcountry terrain you will lay eyes on, even in BC. A deep and relatively stable snowpack coats these mountains each season, and on the spectacularly clear days we are there, we see a blend of serious big-mountain terrain, mini-golf features and huge, marshmallowy mounds. On the skin track, friendly locals direct us to the best powder stashes and backcountry routes. By the end of our first hour, we have invites to two // 069

parties. When the sidecountry is so vast and the lines so innumerable, maybe it’s pointless to feel possessive of your home turf. The powder in Shames is the best of the entire trip. Whether it’s the quality, or the terrain and surroundings, it doesn’t matter. Skiing as much as we can fit into our stay, we find ourselves far from being satisfied, and obsessed with delving deeper into Shames’ sea of peaks. We eventually reconnect with Bill, whose goal, a first descent of one of the gnarlier peaks near Shames, was successful. “It was a bit of an epic, but we got it,” says Bill. “And we named it ‘No Snakes’ since it’s St. Patrick’s Day.” He reports that the snow on the descent was incredible. Molly wonders, again, how she can stay for the season.




// 070



As much as we all want to stay, we walk the two blocks to meet our scheduled train to Jasper. We’re late, and the train almost leaves without us. It’s probably an attempt by our collective subconscious to stay until the next train rolls PAGE //

through three days later. The sun beats down as we reluctantly haul our gear onboard. It seems like we’ve skied a season of powder from the train. The silver cars have provided a glimpse into the past, a place to rest and a blank slate to // 071

choose our own adventures. After all, these powder-filled mountains are still a new frontier. We might be going back to civilization for now, but our little train, and all that we left unexplored, will call us back.






El Furniture is owned by pro snowboarders Devun Walsh, Mark Sollors, Mikey Rencz, JF Pelchat and Kevin Sansalone. However, the bar also has a sole skier investor—Pettit. That Pettit was invited to come on board with the allsnowboard crew might seem surprising at first, but when put in context, it all makes sense. He’s made a career out of being accepted by every faction of the mountain sports community. Park skiers respect him. Big-mountain skiers hold him in the highest esteem. The ladies love him. Moms love him. Even the most combative of snowboarders cite him as a stylish skier. Filmmakers and photographers battle over the right to bring him on trips. It seems everyone wants a piece of Pettit. It’s been this way for 10 years, which is amazing. You see, Sean Pettit was born in 1992. Stop and let that number sink in. 1992. He’s only two decades young and has already accomplished more than most skiers do in a lifetime. It’s no wonder the kid is so damn happy.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario and raised across the bridge in neighboring Chelsea, Quebec, Sean and his brother Callum cut their first set of teeth on the slopes of Camp Fortune, a tiny ski hill they had both mastered before their mother, Deb Hillary, moved them to Whistler in 1999. Deb had globetrotted

the early days of Whistler, back when a $5 meal wasn’t an affordable anomaly but a luxurious treat. When she arrived out West, she took a job teaching and coaching with Blackcomb Ski School, and made sure her sons continued their mountain education, albeit on a much larger mountain and

He’s made a career out of being accepted by every faction of the mountain sports community. as a professional alpine skier herself in the ’80s. She raced on courses worldwide, spent time freeskiing in Chamonix and lived a gypsy lifestyle in

surrounded by the influence of a burgeoning freeski community. “My first ski movie was [Heavy Hitting Film’s] Parental

Advisory,” says Pettit, as he sips an iced tea and waves at various girls entering El Furniture. “I still watch it, and I still think it’s a sickass movie. They were such badass dudes. They didn’t give a shit. They were skiing for fun. That’s where freeskiing was first opened up to me.” Pettit’s access to both a worldclass park and the kind of inbounds, off-piste terrain that rivals most regions’ best backcountry seasoned him with an all-around flavor. “I would see [Chris] Turpin and follow him around the mountain,” he says. “I always loved how he skied. I liked shredding with him.” The skills he learned chasing Whistler Blackcomb’s best skiers— combined with a seemingly natural talent for speed and air—started to attract attention when Pettit was just a little kid. “I first saw him ripping the park. He was, maybe, seven or eight,” says Guilluame Tessier, a long-time cinematographer with Matchstick Productions (MSP). “He was so tiny… a

freak show, going so fast and taking air everywhere. He was as good or better than most other skiers of all ages.”

The opportunity gave Sean a chance to showcase what he was capable of. MSP founder and director, Steve Winter, was soon calling. “We thought he had huge potential when he was a little

kid,” Winter says. “But we didn’t know just how great he would become. He has such a spring to his style. He bounces when he lands and boosts off features like no one else.”


That style would become a Pettit signature and would bring attention from people and places that Pettit didn’t even know existed. Oakley signed him at age 11, K2 at 12, and Red Bull at 13, making him the youngest athlete to ever wear the red and blue helmet. Through fellow Whistlerite Kye Petersen, Pettit was introduced to filmmaker Eric Iberg and Tanner Hall. He didn’t know who Hall was. “I had no idea before I shook his hand,” says Pettit. “I was 10. I lived in the Whistler bubble.” Hall put Sean and Callum in the 2005 film Pop Yer Bottlez, which they followed with an appearance in Believe.

“Skiing is not a business,” he says, with a tinge of passion in his voice. “Yes, a career can be made out of skiing, but you’re not a businessman first.” PHOTO: BRYAN RALPH_PBP LOCATION: HAINES, AK


The only attribute that matches his geniality seems to be his tenacity. “Despite his easy-going ways, he’s super competitive,” says Tessier. “He has the mental power of a champion, and the balls and toughness of a warrior. It’s hard to believe all that character is inside that little man.” In 2010, the impossibly accelerated evolution of Sean Pettit continued. After winning more magazine awards, he took the win at Red Bull Cold Rush. His list of sponsors included the biggest hitters in the game. But skiing was just a means to an end, the end consisting of simply having a better time than everyone else. The skill was merely a side effect of good times. “I’ve always realized that skiing is a leisurely sport,” says Pettit. “Obviously I push myself, but me pushing myself is me having more fun. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s not a serious sport. The minute it becomes a chore, then why are you doing it?”

“Obviously I push myself, but me pushing myself is me having more fun. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s not a serious sport.” On-screen, the character that Pettit plays is goofy, often joking around with the omnipresent smile that has become his trademark. It’s easy to believe it must be an act, but if it is, Pettit is quite the actor. “I don’t need to fake it,” he says. “I am always having fun out there.” Hamlet confirms, “Sean reminds you what you’re doing at that very moment—not by telling you but by simply being there at that point in time enjoying every minute of it.”

During the winter of 200708, Pettit would go on the road full time to shoot with Matchstick. The result was the coveted closing segment in Claim, an unheralded feat for such a young skier. In it, Pettit treats the big-mountain landscape of the Coast Range like a backyard minishred park. The style that Believe and Show & Prove had hinted at were exposed full force. That same winter, Pettit would take a second-place finish at Red Bull Cold Rush, appear alongside Shane McConkey on the Today show and take home best breakthrough performance at the Powder Video Awards. He started to realize that skiing could become something much bigger than he had ever imagined.

“For the first while, I was treating each winter like just another ski season,” he says. “But then I started to notice the checks were getting bigger and more frequent, and that’s when I realized I was a professional skier. I remember one day I was at school, and I thought ‘I don’t think I am ever coming back here.’” With his decision to leave high school in grade 10, the transformation to professional skier was complete and to those who were watching, it had happened as effortlessly as Pettit made skiing look. Following the attention that his first full-fledged winter of shooting brought, Pettit’s unique fingerprint started to take form, not only in

the way he skied—fast and loose with frequent, smooth airs—but in how he approached skiing. He was back shooting with MSP, producing an Alaskan segment for In Deep that now stands as one of the most groundbreaking in ski history, and he was doing it with confidence and a huge smile on his face. “Sean’s attitude is his greatest attribute,” says Tyler Hamlet, one of the creative powerhouses behind Poor Boyz Productions who shot part of Pettit’s closing segment for PBP’s new movie, WE. “Even when things aren’t going well, he’s able to lighten the mood and lift everybody’s spirits around him.”

From the tiny kid ripping the icy bumps of Québec, to the teenager whose only option was to heli-ski the first time he worked with MSP because he was too small to handle a snowmobile, to the seasoned pro signing big contracts and endless autographs at age 20, Sean Pettit has put in one of the most impressive decades of skiing in the history of the sport. His ability to do it without attitude continues to be one of the more impressive feats in skiing. “There have only been a few times in my career I’ve seen pure talent,” says Tessier, a man respected industry wide for his keen eye for talent and cinematography. “There’s Candide [Thovex], Hugo [Harrison], Tanner [Hall] and then Sean. He’s going to be one of the biggest legends in the ski business.” Maybe so, but Pettit might achieve this only because he doesn’t believe in the very industry of which he has become king. “Skiing is not a business,” he says, with a tinge of passion in his voice. “Yes, a career can be made out of skiing, but you’re not a businessman first. I understand what I have to do and be to make a career out of skiing, but the people who have the most fun go the furthest. People are attracted to the people who are shining, and I want to make sure that I always remember the reason I am doing what I am doing, and that is having a good time.”

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Nothing is more anxiety inducing than watching the clouds break after a week of storms, just as the weekend crowds invade your resort. Knowing your local sidecountry is all it takes to keep the hyperventilation at bay. The distinction between sidecountry and backcountry skiing is minimal. Backcountry skiers skin from the get-go; sidecountry skiers take a chairlift to access the backcountry adjacent to a ski area. Most of the time, there’s boot packing involved. Sometimes there’s a skin. Bottom line, sidecountry skiing seriously cuts down your approach time.

Closed gate policies in the 90s led to friction between gatekeepers and powder seekers, which came to a head in 1997 when the late Doug Coombs was banished from Jackson Hole for an alleged boundary violation. Less than two years later, this action was reversed and Jackson Hole officially opened its boundaries, setting into motion the sidecountry revolution. Today, most ski areas have followed suit and changed the focus from enforcement to education. Even Squaw Valley, which was one of the last resorts to maintain a closed boundary policy, launched a pilot program last April, allowing skiers to exit the boundary via a backcountry gate located on the KT-22 saddle.


Sidecountry skiing is so popular that most of these areas are getting skied out. But remember, skier compaction doesn’t equal safety. Avalanches don’t work this way. It could be the first track or the 100th track that triggers a slide. Crowds and a close proximity to a resort tend to create a false sense of security. Keep your guard up. From Washington to Vermont, here are eight classic sidecountry shots. --Hike and ski ratings are in terms of difficulty: 1 being relatively easy, 10 being very challenging.


Cody Peak, Jackson Hole WORDS: BRIGID MANDER

Despite the vast amount of sidecountry terrain flanking Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one zone dominates not only local ski lore and culture but also the view from the valley floor to the top of the tram: Cody Peak.

From the top of the tram follow the ropeline to the top south gate and double check avalanche conditions. Take the traverse track to a rock face, put your skis on your pack, and scramble up the cliff to where the bootpack continues up behind the face. Your first few times, go with someone who knows the lines well. Lifted to the level of shredding sainthood by numerous appearances in TGR flicks, not to mention every other ski film ever shot in Jackson, the off-kilter peak doesn’t just offer one line but multiple short, challenging, fun ones, lined up right next to each other. 080

Just because you’ve seen it skied hundreds of times on film doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk: each line is a corniced, do-not-fall zone demanding commitment. Pucker Face comprises a convex slate with significant exposure. Triple Cliff offers a choose-your-own, 10-second, mandatory-airs adventure. No Shadows and Four Shadows offer straightforward fun. And then, it’s still not over. Nearly the entire southern sidecountry area, from Breakneck to powder fields, is accessible from the bottom of Cody.

HIKE: 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 6

DOA, Whistler Blackcomb WORDS: MIKE DOUGLAS

You can’t miss it. A giant cleft in the rock on the southwest side of Blackcomb Peak marks

the line called DOA. It starts as a 40-plus-degree slot couloir, barely two ski lengths wide, then gradually opens up into a series of rolling shelves before depositing you on to 7th Heaven’s buffed groomers, 1,600 vertical feet below. Generations of Whistler’s top shredders have earned their stripes on DOA. Early pioneers like Trevor Peterson and Eric Pehota were among the first. After Petersen died in a Chamonix avalanche in 1996, his ice axe was bolted to the rock near the top of the line. The memorial marks Peterson’s favorite place at Whistler Blackcomb. Skiing it was part of the healing

process for his son, Kye, who made his first descent before he was a teenager. Pehota’s sons, Logan and Dalton, along with Sean and Callum Pettit, are regulars to ski the line. From the top of the Showcase t-bar, follow the crowds up the short bootpack to Blackcomb Glacier, then follow the highest traverse to the right. Down near the rocks, you’ll pass through a ski area boundary gate where you can check your avalanche beacon. From there, it’s a 20 to 30 minute skin up the south flank of the Blackcomb Glacier. Follow the skin track to the right. When you reach the col, take your skins off, then stay high and continue traversing around to the west. About 100 meters past the col, you’ll find DOA. DOA is a serious line. Never head out if the avalanche danger is higher than “considerable.” Always give the snow a day to settle after the last storm, and when in doubt, go with some locals.

HIKE: 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 7 SKIER: RYAN OAKDEN PHOTO: PAUL MORRISON






Some might complain that truly secret stashes just don’t exist anymore. But thanks to increasingly friendly open-boundary policies, if you use a good measure of safety and put in some effort, you’ll be rewarded with tons of semisecret spots, like Munchkins in Alpine Meadows, California. A short traverse from the top of Alpine’s Lakeview chair opens up a treat box of chutes, glades and pillows collectively known as Munchkins. But just because it’s easy to get to, doesn’t mean this innocently-named sidecountry classic should be taken lightly. Oh-for-One Chute offers a few hanging turns above a rappel into a tight chute. Next door, the entrance to M1 most often requires a mandatory air ranging from three to ten feet.  To the skier’s left, M2 offers the most consistently good skiing in a wide, treed chute.  For the most straight forward pow skiing, continue down the ridge and drop into the glades or smaller cliffy areas for a playful time. Adding to the tricky nature of this zone, it can only be well scoped from a few spots on the other side of the valley. It’s one of those places where help from a local who knows the way is virtually required for a first timer.  Here, “If you don’t know, don’t go,” really applies. Then there’s the little matter of getting back up to Alpine afterwards.  In the past, it has required sticking out a thumb or stashing a car, but the recent Alpine-Squaw Valley merger means that regular shuttles leave from the parking lot at the bottom of the Alpine road.   

HIKE: 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 6 082


Hell Brook, Stowe WORDS: ERME CATINO

Hell Brook, the shortest and steepest trail from Route 108 to the summit of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, is a northeast-facing summer hiking drainage that undergoes a dramatic transformation in the winter. An average of 300 plus inches per year falls upon Mount Mansfield. The precipitation combined with fierce northwest winds that howl across Lake Champlain and up Mansfield’s western flanks and summit transform Hell Brook in to one of the deepest pockets off the ridgeline. That said, use caution during and after storms with high winds. Occasional pockets have been known to slide. The line is a legitimate 2,600 vertical feet and begins like any New England stash: tight. But with each subsequent turn, wide-open treasures are revealed. Craggy stunted trees meet you at the entrance, and once the summer trail sign is buried, it’s a good indicator that you can pin it. The obvious descent is the streambed, but generations of hard-core skiers have carved nooks and crannies that offshoot the main drag.

Like many classic eastern lines, there are upper, middle, and lower sections. Linking these zones together in one fluid run, launching back into the ravine or off a drop as you enter the next stash can eliminate all preconceived notions about skiing the East. From the top of the Stowe Mountain gondola, exit to the right, where you will see a bootpack and boundary sign. Follow the path to the summit. You have several options, but hit the Hourglass Chute—its eastern aspect and

hourglass shape will be obvious. Once through the “Glass,” you need to work your way left around the Adam’s Apple and into the drainage where the summer hiking trail is located. Many skiers have gotten lost here or ended up down the west side of the mountain, so keep your bearings in check. Upon descending the ravine, you’ll pop out on Route 108, which is closed in the winter. From there, you’ll skate a mile down the road to the resort parking lot.

HIKE: 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 6



Shuksan Arm, Mt. Baker WORDS: IAN COBLE

One of the most famous sidecountry zones in North America, Shuksan Arm has been photographed and documented in countless magazines, advertisements and video segments in the past 20 years. On sunny days, hordes of onlookers choke the unloading corral at the top of Chair 8 to watch skiers descend the “Arm.” Originating from the western flank of the dormant volcano Mt. Shuksan, the Arm offers its hikers sweeping vistas in all directions—Mt. Baker to the west, Mt. Shuksan to the east and Baker Lake to the south. It’s not your typical Pacific Northwest zone. Most of it lies above treeline. Huge cliffs, cornices, chutes and spines litter the area, offering skiers an endless choice of lines.

Only a short hike from the top of Chair 8, the line deposits skiers right back at the base of the chair, making lapping this zone incredibly easy. Scout your line while riding up Chair 8 to get your bearings. At the top, you’ll immediately run into the bootpack. A steep hike for the first couple hundred yards, the hike eventually makes a hard turn to the left, where you’ll want to put your skis back on. A short descent deposits you on top of a large cornice and at the start of the next bootpack. At the summit, it’s all fair game. All lines on the Arm will drop off the left (north) side of the ridge, back towards the resort. From the bottom, follow Rumble Gulley downhill until 084

you encounter a traverse trail bearing left. A short bushwack through the woods will lead you to the base of Chair 8. Mt. Baker Ski Area requires everyone leaving the resort to have an avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, backpack and partner. They routinely station a patroller at the access gate checking skiers as they begin the hike. The area you’re entering is serious terrain and massive avalanches are not uncommon. Be prepared and know the conditions.

HIKE: 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 5

Photo: Tom Winter | Athlete: Kyler Cooley | Location: Valle Nevado, Chile

San Joaquin Couloir, Telluride WORDS: TESS WEAVER

Telluride’s sidecountry is the closest thing we have to the Alps in the lower 48. The Alta Lakes and Bear Creek drainages offer an endless lineup of chutes, bowls, couloirs, complex routes, neighboring peaks and scenic alpine traverses. But the king of all of them is the aesthetically perfect San Joaquin Couloir at the end of Bear Creek Valley. Visible from the eastern edge of Telluride Ski Resort, the couloir is a linear marvel. Starting at 13,460 feet, the shot drops 1,000 vertical feet at a near 50-degree sustained pitch. Between the dark rock walls, it’s an average of 10 feet wide but chokes to a ski length at the crux. From the ski area, offload Revelation lift to your left, shoulder your skis and hike the Gold Hill access road. Skate and hike past Gold Hill Chutes to the closed gate on your left (long story: know before you go). Gain the south side of San Joaquin Ridge, traverse across to the prominent northwest face and enter the couloir from the obvious slot. Drop straight in down the gut. From the exit apron, veer right (east). There are multiple options for a descent out of Bear Creek. Some routes include mandatory airs or sliding down a rope over 30 feet of rock and snow, so you need to know where you’re going. The final trail out of the valley that leads back to town is obvious. A snowboarder died in a slide in the Bear Creek drainage last winter. Also, the area is plagued with private property issues, so read up on current regulations.

HIKE: 5 - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 9 086

Photo: Matt Berkowitz


THE PERFECT BACKCOUNTRY SETUP! Whether you are heading out the backcountry gates or skinning to your secret stash, the new Watea lineup has what you need. The Watea 106 features a square flat tail with a notch for easy skin fixation, tip rocker, sandwich sidewall construction, air carbon, and a new shovel geometry. Light, super stable, powerful and precise. Paired with the new Ranger boots and Adrenalin binding, it truly makes the perfect backcountry setup.

SKI: Watea 106, BOOT: Vacuum Ranger 12, BINDING: Adrenalin 16, POLE: Ranger Carbon Vario

Wenatchee Bowl, Stevens Pass WORDS: IAN COBLE

Right in the heart of the Cascades, Stevens Pass appears a sleepy little resort at first glance. Don’t be deceived by its tranquil persona—it’s a rowdy mountain with deep snow and hidden technical lines. Wenatchee Bowl is one of its hidden gems. You’ll first spot Wenatchee Bowl from Stevens’ eastern parking lot, looker’s left of the resort. Situated along the Northeastern crest of the resort, Wenatchee Bowl is guarded at its summit by old growth trees and rocky outcroppings. Many of the lines at Stevens are characterized by tight entrances with technical crux moves that eventually yield to friendly terrain. Once past Wenatchee’s entrance, the bowl opens up into a wide powder field that’s frequently wind loaded with deep snow. It’s not uncommon to find significantly deeper conditions here than anywhere else on the mountain. From the base, ride Big Chief chair and then Double Diamond chair. Head out the access SKIER: TYLER CECCANTI PHOTO: IAN COBLE

gate to your left, along Polaris Ridge. There are no signs for Wenatchee Bowl along the ridge, but you’ll hike past the Death Chutes on your left and continue past the ski area boundary sign, hiking to the high point of the ridge (about a 30-40 minute hike from the top of the chair). This high point marks the start of Wenatchee Bowl on your left hand side. You’ll know you’re in the right place if there is a large, wide-open bowl to your right side (Highland Bowl). There are no clear or obvious paths into Wenatchee Bowl and all entrances will require navigating tight, off camber chutes, bare rock or mandatory airs. You may find cleaner entrances if you work your way a little past the high point. Once you near the bottom of the bowl, you’ll want to head hard skiers left to return to the resort. Eventually, you’ll reach the Highway 2 on the East side of the Pass and a short hike along the shoulder will bring you back to the base. Wenatchee Bowl is prone to avalanches. Be prepared. As mentioned above, the entrance has some highly technical moves. Go with a local.

HIKE: 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 7 088


Brown Shorts, Revelstoke WORDS: IZZY LYNCH

Revelstoke Mountain Resort is best known for its epic inbounds skiing, deep snow, alpine bowls and endless glades, and the sidecountry makes it even better. Once the rope to the upper mountain is dropped, a short bootpack from the top of the Stoke chair up to the subpeak reveals a plethora of sidecountry lines, with the not-sodistant peak of Mount Mackenzie staring you right in the face. The most iconic line is visible from the backside of the ski hill, all the way down to town. Best scoped from the subpeak, it lies no more than fifty meters looker’s left of the peak. Deemed “Brown Shorts,” the aesthetic chute is impossible PHOTO: GARRETT GROVE

to miss, running straight and steep from the col at the intersection of the main face and the left ridge. This line is the real deal, with an exposed approach, a sporty entrance from a cornice and a sustained fall-line pitch. This is avalanche terrain with considerable consequences, so make sure you and your partners know what you’re in for. From the top of the Stoke chair, the hike to the Mackenzie Peak takes just over 30 minutes. Bootpack straight up to the subpeak, scope your line and follow the ridge towards Mackenzie Peak. You’ll be heading up the south-facing slope to the summit. Breathe in the 360-degree view of the Selkirk and Monashee ranges and drop carefully off the backside, moving down the east face and trending left. Be aware of the 100 foot cliffs below, one slip could result in airing into the abyss. Find the obvious entrance to the chute on the left side of the face. Pucker up and drop in. Hopefully you don’t have to check those shorts.

HIKE: 8 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SKI: 8 090


WHY GO ON A HUT TRIP? 1. It’s an alpine slumber party.

2. As long as you can find the hut and

build a fire, you’re guaranteed a warm, dry night’s sleep.

3. You can access terrain you’d never get

to in one day.

4. You can complete a point-to-point route

without having to backcountry camp.

5. Alcohol tastes better in a hut. 6. Bacon tastes better in a hut.


No matter the goal, hut trips are synonymous with fun. If you’re a skier with any backcountry knowledge and even a small desire for adventure, don’t let another winter pass by without experiencing a night in a mountain hut. The day could bring navigation challenges, frostbite, blisters and fear of spending the night under a space blanket, but the night will include a soft bed, card games, a warm dinner and memories around a crackling woodstove. Pack a map, some food, a med kit, a sleeping bag and down booties, and get on your way. Here’s some advice and inspiration to get you on your way to the best (and cheapest) trip of your winter.

RULES 1. Research and plan. Consider fitness levels, snow conditions and terrain goals. Be prepared for the approach—routes are sometimes six to seven miles, with substantial climbing and require backcountry skiing skills. 2. Reserve ahead. Plan early when booking a weekend. Midweek reservations are easier. You can book an entire hut or single spots, which might mean sharing the hut with other groups.

NEW HUTS Looking to explore a totally new zone or sleep in a hut that’s not as old as dirt? Check out one of these backcountry huts recently opened in North America.


This one-year-old cabin near Leadville, Colorado, is privately owned, but you reserve a bed through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Bring deep lungs: The hut is at 10,500 feet in elevation, near the top of the Continental Divide. $33/person/night,

WEEKEND WARRIOR HUTS Here are five huts easy to reach from major metro areas for your quick-in, quick-out skiing pleasure.

DENVER: Francie’s Cabin, an 80-mile drive from Denver followed by a 1.5-mile skin, offers high-alpine skiing and a wood-fueled sauna. $35/person/night, SAN FRANCISCO:

Accessed off Donner Summit, three hours from the city, the Peter Grubb Hut delivers powdery bowls and a cozy A-frame. $55-$60/person/night,

7. You can spend time with your friends and/

or family without a wireless connection.

8. It’s always an adventure. 9. It’s a great first date if you want to see

what he or she is made of.

10. Downtime at the hut is an opportunity

to practice locating a buried beacon.

3. Route finding is crucial. Know how to use a topographic map and a compass. If your group lacks navigational skills, consider hiring a guide.

6. Get familiar with your equipment long before the trip. Don’t use the trip to break in new boots or test out a pack.

4. Everyone in the group should have some level of avalanche education. Start with a formal course. Beginning weeks before and leading through your trip, monitor weather and snow conditions via local avalanche forecasts and online forums.

7. Avoid over packing. Items should be lightweight and compact. Plan out your meals to share Sherpa-ing duties with the group. Pack lightly; you’ll be plenty warm skinning and sitting by the fire. And that woodstove will dry everything overnight.

5. It always takes longer to get to the hut than you think. Start earlier than you want to. Pack a headlamp, just in case.


In 2011, Alaska’s Points North Heli-Adventures obtained a nonmotorized ski touring permit and opened their “Arctic Oven” tents to the public last winter. You’ll get dropped off by a heli and then ski tour from there. $45/person/night (8 people, 7 nights),


Part of the future Grand Huts system that will eventually link nine huts over Colorado’s Berthoud Pass, the Broome Hut is the first, and it was just completed this fall. It sleeps up to 16 people. $35/person/night,

PORTLAND: Ninety minutes from Portland,

the Barlow Butte Hut provides gorgeous views of Mt. Hood and quality skiing. $150/night for the whole hut,

SEATTLE: The Scottish Lakes High Camp, a nine-cabin commune surrounded by remote powder stashes, is two hours from downtown. $60-$90/person/night, VANCOUVER: Just north of Whistler, you’ll find tranquility and world-class terrain at the Wendy Thompson Hut in Marriott Basin. $12/person/night, PAGE | 093

8. Always travel and ski with a beacon, shovel and probe. And know how to use them.


Two new huts opened this summer on Mt. Hood, Oregon, for hut-to-hut mountain biking and backcountry skiing. Each hut is stocked with a stove, lamps, cooking supplies and sleeping bags. $19 - $30/person/night,


Opened in 2011, the O pus Hut in Colorado’s San Juans (the nearest town is Ophir) has solarpowered electricity and hot water and a true novelty: indoor plumbing. $35/person/night,

HUT LISTINGS Turn the page for 16 of the greatest backcountry huts, yurts and refuges from Chamonix to California, New Hampshire to Argentina. Access ratings are from one to 10: One being a tram ride or heli drop and 10 being a serious slog. Terrain ratings are from one to 10: One being mellow tree skiing and 10 being serious big mountain lines. Pricing is per night, per person unless otherwise noted.







ACCESS: 2 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 6

ACCESS: 5 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 8

Amiskwi raises the luxury bar for backcountry hut living with a cushy log cabin, indoor toilets and a wood-burning sauna perched at treeline. A 20-minute heli ride from Golden, it’s best known for its friendly glade skiing and tantalizing views of the Freshfields Icefields, but when conditions are right, steep alpine lines are there for the taking.

A cozy yurt perched on the western slope of the Tetons, Baldy Knoll has endless powder slaying opportunities. Out your door are daunting chutes to powdery aprons, basins, trees, and for the more ambitious, big Teton lines and traverses, such as the one you can do on your last day, ending with beer in Teton Village.

PRICE: $850/week (includes heli)

PRICE: $44 - $49 (plus tax, weekday - weekend)





To get to Montana’s Bell Lake Yurt, located an hour from Bozeman, you’ll take a short snowmobile ride, then skin two and a half miles and 1,700 vertical feet. Your reward? Powder-filled bowls and couloirs throughout the Bell Lake cirque and a 450-square-foot yurt that sleeps six and allows dogs. Go for the catered option—the huckleberry pancakes are worth the extra fee.

The Bill Putnam Hut (or Fairy Meadows Hut, as it’s commonly referred to) is surrounded by granite peaks and glaciers. Access is a 20-minute heli from the staging area. Combine 4,000-foot runs, couloirs, steep north facing lines and deep Selkirk pow and it’s no wonder that Fairy Meadows is the most popular hut in B.C. A lottery takes place in the spring each year, so plan ahead if you want to book.

ACCESS: 4 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 10

ACCESS: 6 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 7

PRICE: $875/week (includes heli)

PRICE: ~$41

PAGE | 94






Within a day from the refugio, one can ski a steep 5,000-foot run from Cerro Campanario, a classic 12,795-foot peak. Chamonix snowboarding legends Serge Cornillat and Serge Vitelli run the hut, which has six hot spring tubs nearby and serves traditional asados. Stays are typically one week, as the three-hour bus ride from Malargue to the staging area in Los Loicas only runs on Sundays. From there, it’s a 4x4 drive or horse ride to the refugio.

ACCESS: 4 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 10 PRICE: $60 (includes meals)

At 11,850 feet and just a short hike down from the Aiguille du Midi, the Cosmique is one of the most famous backcountry lodges in the world. If you’re going in the spring, book early, and get ready to have your mind blown. From the Vallée Blanche to some of the gnarliest ski terrain on earth, the hut is a launching pad.

ACCESS: 2 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 10+ PRICE: ~$45 (includes breakfast) 33(0)450544016





The Eiseman Hut is the 10th Mountain’s most alpine hostel and offers arguably the best skiing in the hut system. Within the rugged and scarcely accessed Gore Range, numerous faces and couloirs abound. There are even some steep treed shots nearby when the weather moves in. The massive and newly remodeled structure is more of a chalet than a hut and sleeps 16 people. The reward comes at a price—the skin in is roughly eight miles.

ACCESS: 8 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 8 PRICE: $33

PAGE | 95

Frey Refuge is a gateway to classic Argentine Andes skiing. A spectacular epicenter of tempting spire-flanked descents surround the hut. The solar and wind-powered structure boasts a caretaker, a cat, character-filled common space, kitchen, and upstairs bunkroom.

ACCESS: 6 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 9 PRICE: 80 ARS (~$17)






As Swiss Alpine Club huts go, the Lammerenhütte is a freeskiing paradise. Gorgeous and glaciated terrain surrounds the large stone structure — which is perched on a cliff — like a cathedral. And the access village of Leukerbad is as charming as any you’ll find in the Alps.

Relatively new, Opus is a beautiful, off the grid, backcountry skier’s take on a luxury ski vacation (heated floors! running water!). Entirely off the grid with more amenities than most huts, plus a caretaker, Opus accesses the gamut of ski terrain, from safe zones during high avy danger to steep faces, couloirs, and challenging features to get rad on.

ACCESS: 4 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 10

ACCESS: 6 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 9

PRICE: $70 CHF (~$75, includes half board)

PRICE: $35





ACCESS: 10 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 8

ACCESS: 10 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 6

One of the Sierra’s winter gems is the 71-year-old Ostrander Hut, a two-story, lakeside cabin located deep in Yosemite National Park and surrounded by a glacial cirque that holds prime ski lines. The stone hut is hard to reach with an approach of up to 10 miles, but that doesn’t temper its popularity, so plan ahead.

Perched on the edge of the Snowbird Glacier in the Talkeetna Mountains, the newly remodeled Snowbird Hut is rumored to be the best in Alaska. Accessible from Archangel Valley on Hatcher Pass, the 8-by-18 foot hut sleeps six comfortably, but you can squeeze in a dozen. It’s part of the Bomber Traverse, a classic Alaska hut-to-hut trek. Pollux Aviation provides helicopter charters to the hut.

PRICE: $35 - $55 (weekday - weekend)


PAGE | 96






ACCESS: 6 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 9

ACCESS: 6 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 6

Deep powder. Fjords. Dramatic peaks. World-class descents. Northern lights. Sauna. Appealing? Fly into Harstad for this isolated backcountry stash, one of over 1,000 ski huts in Norway. The hut gets significantly more snow than nearby areas, and has the terrain to match. Be prepared: buy maps, do research, and contact the hut association.

Anyone who says there’s not good skiing in eastern Oregon hasn’t been to the 10,000-foot-high Wallowas, which get 400 inches of dry snow each winter and offer high-alpine steeps and gladed, old-growth trees. Choose from three separate yurts or have an animated guy named Zobott guide you on a Euro-style hut-to-hut trip.

PRICE: 200 NOK per group (~$35)/night

PRICE: $200/person (3 night package, $250 First-Day-Guide fee for new users)





The Alps are stocked with hut systems perched along traverses through gnarly terrain. If you don’t have glacier travel skills, head to the Wuhrstein Alm. Cozy living and Austrian food go along with stellar skiing: open bowls, steeps, and exposed ridges that lead to endless backcountry options.

ACCESS: 2 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —TERRAIN: 8

PRICE: 22 euro (~$28.50, includes breakfast)

With nearby waterfalls to huck and a healthy forest to capture powder, the Zealand Falls Hut stands out among its Appalachian Mountain Club brethren for its ski terrain. It’s also located on the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, so the chances you’ll run into other backcountry skiers are slim to none.

ACCESS: 6 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — TERRAIN: 6

PRICE: Subject to dates and availability. PAGE | 97




Yurts, circular tents originally made from wood and felt, have been used as dwellings by Mongolian nomads in central Asia for at least three thousand years. In the last few decades, however, yurts have become popular with a different culture: backcountry skiers. Here are five more yurts worth checking out.


You and 13 friends can reserve these two Mongolian-style yurts, which sit side-by-side in Idaho’s northern Sawtooth range, at the base of some rugged ski terrain. Bonus: There’s a wood-fired sauna. From $40/person/night (8 person minimum, $250 fee for first timers)





Operated in conjunction with Wildhorse Catskiing, you can access the Ymir Yurts via snowmobile, cat, or ski touring. Once you’re there, you’ll enjoy 2,000-vertical-foot descents and perfectly gladed trees. From $39/person/night

Opened in 2010 by Coloradoan Ryan Koupal, 40 Tribes’ handmade yurt sits in a remote range in Kyrgyzstan. You’ll skin up a path used by locals tracking wolves and renowned Canadian mountaineer Ptor Spricenieks will be your guide. From $150/person/night





The only backcountry hut system in Wyoming’s Teton Range, Rendezvous offers guided hut-to-hut trips or yurt rental at their four backcountry yurts on the western slope of the Tetons. From $44/person/night (plus tax) PAGE | 98

These two yurts in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness have stocked kitchens, a wood-fired sauna, and access to 280,000 acres of bowls and oldgrowth hemlock trees. You can even have the staff deliver a keg from the local Three Creeks Brewery. From $45/person/night (2 person minimum)

FROM BELL TO BELLE THE INSULATED SNOWBELLE JACKET: DURABLE, WATERPROOF, BREATHABLE, FOR STAYING WARM AND DRY IN SINGLE-DIGIT TEMPS “On a big powder day we’ll start out at the resort, take the chairlift up, make a couple of laps there. Once that gets tracked out we’ll head into the backcountry to get a really long powder run. The Insulated Snowbelle Jacket is perfect for just that.” — Caroline Gleich STEVE OGLE © 2012 Patagonia, Inc.






In the gear-intensive space of backcountry skiing, innovation matters. It can make or break the day, the mission or even your life. With more product coming to market each year, choosing the right gear for the job is getting harder. We’ve found six products that will keep you drier, warmer, stronger, and safer than ever.





You charge everything from your laptop to your phone—why not your headlamp? Black Diamond’s ReVolt is the world’s first rechargeable headlamp to also run on standard AAA alkaline batteries. The low-profile design doesn’t skimp on features. The ReVolt offers one TriplePower LED; two SinglePower, white LEDs; and two SinglePower, red LEDs. A red nightvision mode features proximity and strobe settings, and a lock mode prevents accidental burn out. A three-level power meter shows your remaining battery life immediately after turning the headlamp on. If your computer or USB adapter is nowhere to be found, insert three AAA batteries (preferably Black Diamond AAA rechargeables). Releases January 2013.

When you push the S.O.S. button on a SPOT, all you can do is hope rescuers are on their way. The DeLorme inReach is the first personal location device that also receives messages, ensuring message delivery and allowing you to describe the nature of your emergency. It’s the first affordable two-way satellite communicator. On its own, the device can send pre-loaded text messages and provide friends back home a way to track your progress. Paired with a smartphone or tablet, it transforms into a text messaging communication lifeline and a GPS viewer. Ninety percent of the world doesn’t have cell service. With the inReach, you can even update your status or send a Tweet from the most remote places on earth.

PRICE: $60

PRICE: $250 + $10 subscription



After modifying two pairs of Titans and a pair of TLT 5s, Eric Hjorleifson finally has a boot he won’t have to dissect and rebuild. The highly anticipated Vulcan has a design that warrants the word “revolutionary.” It allows an unprecedented 60 degrees of cuff rotation. As you’d expect from Dynafit, the boots are light enough for long missions (Hoji climbed 6,500 meters in Nepal in them), but the carbon fiber cuff and a middle bucket that’s designed to keep your heel down make these touring boots downhill performers. No longer will you accidentally make your first few turns in walk mode—the streamlined upper buckle doubles as a lean locking device.

Mike Hattrup, AMGA ski mountaineering guide and global director for K2’s adventure category, says a rescue sled is “something everyone should carry, but no one does.” When combined with K2 BackSide or Factory Team skis, K2’s Rescue Shovel Plus transforms into a sled, thanks to a set of hardware hidden inside the shaft. Made from 7075 aluminium, it’s not the lightest shovel on the market (800 grams), but it’s durable, which has been proven absolutely essential when digging in concrete-like avalanche debris. Bring a sling and the two slots in the back of the blade can be used as a dead-man anchor for rappelling and crevasse rescue.

PRICE: $1,000

PRICE: $90

PG. 100


[ GEAR |




Mountain Hardwear’s gloves already featured OutDry technology that eliminates water and wind from penetrating the sewn seams of the shell. Then, they went and invented Q. Shield, which fuses extreme water repellency directly to the shell fabric. Mountain Hardwear encourages you to dunk your glove in water—it’s guaranteed to come out dry. The treatment surprisingly has no effect on the glove’s weight (1.3 ounces), breathability or stretch. Bottom line: it’s the lightest, driest backcountry glove out there. And don’t worry, you can still upload that Instagram—the proprietary rubberized coating functions with most touch-screen devices.

Last season, The North Face introduced the Powder Guide Vest, which was originally designed for ski patrollers. When they partnered with ABS to incorporate its airbag technology in their packs, TNF decided to use it in a vest, marking the first time an airbag has been used in a piece of apparel. Constructed with ballistic nylon, the Powder Guide ABS Vest fits over your shell and features a collection of purpose-built carrying systems and pockets that provide secure and balanced weight distribution for avalanche gear and carrying skis. It also includes convenient straps and a Recco avalanche rescue reflector.

PRICE: $175

PRICE: $1,200






The storm is over. You don’t want to be that guy—the one post-holing with each step, skis slung over his shoulder. The goods will be long gone when he reaches the drop-in. You need a set-up that performs inbounds, but takes you out of bounds with speed and ease at a moment’s notice. The solution? Backcountry freeride bindings. They offer


touring capabilities with downhill performance, and move between hike and ski modes with ease. More options abound this season than ever, and they work for quick slackcountry hikes, dawn-to-dusk tours, and multi-day trips. Pick one, mount them on your fat skis, and get ready to skin past the hikers for first tracks. *ALL WEIGHTS LISTED PER BINDING.


_01 DYNAFIT TLT RADICAL FT Dynafit’s burliest binding has a DIN of 12, and at just 599g, it’s the lightest of the bindings shown here. If you’re still leery of its strength, watch Hoji in MSP’s Superheroes of Stoke. He uses the Radical FT, no matter the gnarliness of the line. Flip the switch on the carbon plate for added torsional rigidity. It also dampens the load over mixed terrain. The aluminum toe piece is super durable; its Power Towers provide easy entry and prevent pre-releasing when things get steep. No more annoying rotating heel piece—the Speed Step riser can be switched among three levels with the flick of a pole tip. Brakes come in 110mm or 130mm.



_02 FRITSCHI DIAMIR FREERIDE PRO The Fritschi Diamir binding series hit the market in 1995, and the Freeride Pro is the latest evolution. At just over 1,000g, it’s not super heavy, yet it’s not super light. You can click in with alpine or rubbersoled touring boots. Its Gliding Technology creates a binding construction that helps promote more natural, rolling gait in touring mode. Four climbing heights at the heel offer options on the ascent, and the binding comes with crampons. Wider baseplates and increased torsional rigidity mean the latest model is able to drive wide powder skis. The Freeride Pro stands higher than other bindings at 39 mm, and the DIN range is 4–12.

PRICE: $600

PRICE: $500

_03 G3 ONYX




The 640g Onyx—the second lightest of the reviewed bindings—has a DIN range of 6-12 and has been revised this year to include new features. The stainlesssteel toe pins now include ice-cutting serrations to ensure good contact, along with a new toe lever that requires less force and includes a soft insert for easier activation. Two pole-actuated heel lifts allow you to easily adapt to varying terrain on the fly and the ski mode lever does the same for switching between ski and tour modes. The Onyx requires AT boots with tech binding inserts. The toe and heel pieces can be adjusted up to 33mm or removed from the mounting plates to use on different skis or to make travel easier.

Freeskiers have flocked to the 16-DIN Duke since its 2007 debut. “This is the only touring binding that I would trust for charging hard and hucking huge day in and day out,” says Marker athlete Ian McIntosh. At 1,390g, it’s one of the heavier AT bindings. The 2013 binding is 10mm wider than its predecessors, improving power transfer, edge-to-edge transition on fat skis and control on sidehill ascents. A newly-shaped tailpiece means extra stability and a revised mold has fewer nooks and crannies for snow to freeze up in, a previous complaint about the Duke’s design.

The Guardian is aimed at the slackcountry audience that wants an easy-to-use touring binding that doesn’t compromise downhill performance. At 1,480g this is the heaviest of the bunch, but it’s an adequate trade for downhill ripability. The Low Profile Chassis sets the Guardian apart—it sits just 26mm above the ski, lower than competitors. Paired with an oversize platform and a DIN that runs to 16, the binding executes in any and all downhill conditions. Switch from hike to ride mode using only a pole. The snub nose makes it easy to pivot on the uphill climbs.

The Adrenalin (DIN 5–16) marks Tyrolia’s first foray into the backcountry freeride category. Designed for skis 80mm underfoot and wider, it promises a stable ride and weighs in at 1,325g. Use alpine or touring boots and choose from ski crampons in three widths to take this binding deeper into the backcountry. The hike/ski switch is the red Ascender lock behind the heel, which transitions between modes on the fly. A snub nose allows wider range of motion in tour mode.

PRICE: $450

PRICE: $495

PRICE: $550

PRICE: $575

[ GEAR |


PG. 101




In recent years, no piece of skisafety gear has received more attention than the airbag pack. Much of the notice is due to disasters averted, including pro skier Elyse Saugstad’s highly publicized survival of a monster slide that killed three skiers near Stevens Pass, WA last February (page 103). Still, the airbags are not perfect, and a murmur has grown among some snow-safety professionals who worry that airbags—just like other survival tools—may prompt users to drop their guard in avalanche terrain.

Airbag manufacturers can’t eliminate that risk, but the market is getting more competitive as new brands (including The North Face and Dakine this year) enter the fray, gradually lowering costs, decreasing weight and improving design. The entire Teton Gravity Research team wore them last spring on Alaska’s Knik glacier, a trend that could become the norm among pros in future winters. “Yeah, they’re heavy and expensive,” says Daron Rahlves, “but how important is your life?” 03

_01 ABS VARIO 15

_02 BCA FLOAT 32

ABS has been refining its airbag system since 1985 and currently touts two distinguishing features: the TwinBag system utilizes two bags instead of one in case something goes wrong, and the airbags use the same bomber technology as Zodiac boats. The Vario 15 and 25 are interchangeable gear packs of 15 or 25 liters that zip on to the ABS base unit, which includes the airbag system, shoulder straps and hipbelt. The flexibility, well-conceived pockets, helmet carrier and hydration system excelled. The Vario 15 should be all you need for sidecountry, heli or backcountry outings under four hours.

BCA packs are less expensive than some of their competitors, but that doesn’t mean they’re less effective. The Colorado-based company is adding 32- and 22-liter packs to its stable this winter, and after testing both, we recommend the 32. The bigger size is large enough to suffice on longer days in the field but not too fancy so as to add unnecessary weight. Featuring diagonal ski-carry straps, a stowable elastic helmet carrier and individual pockets for each avy tool, the Float 32 lacks only a hydration system. BCA left that out to save weight but did include a Velcro hanger for your bladder.

PRICE: $1,100

PRICE: $725



Like the ABS Vario, Swiss manufacturer Mammut’s Removable Airbag System (RAS) allows for different pack sizes that work with the same airbag and activation unit. You have to move the airbag system itself between packs, instead of zipping new packs on to the same base unit, but the advantage is the pack can also be used in summer. The Pro 35 RAS is built for burly missions and has plenty of room for all your tools, although individual pockets for your shovel and probe would be a nice upgrade. The roomy top compartment comes in handy as do the side straps for your skis, which not every brand offers. PRICE: $904 PG. 102




The North Face is new to the airbag world this year, and it’s partnering with ABS, who produces the airbag component. Not surprisingly, considering TNF’s success in the ski-pack market, the Patrol 24 was the most comfortable pack we tested. It includes all the basic amenities as well as an ice tool strap and pockets on both sides of the hipbelt. The only drawback to using ABS’s TwinBags, which deploy on either side of the pack, is the loss of a diagonal ski-carry system to augment the side-carry straps when you’re booting up avy terrain.

Don’t be fooled by Wary’s lack of name recognition or that its factory is in Minnesota. The AviPack is the most technically sophisticated pack we tested, having been vetted by Squaw Valley ski patrollers and heli guides before hitting the market two years ago. It’s heavy, even for an airbag pack, but the attention to detail will satisfy discriminating buyers who want a home for every snow tool— and don’t want to buy a new pack every five years. Perhaps the nicest amenity is the rear entry to the main compartment, the only pack we tested to offer that.

PRICE: $1,179

PRICE: $829 [ GEAR |







It plowed and roared through the fog and forest like a ghoulish and malicious freight train let off its tracks. It ran me over, snatched me out of the old-growth forest I was standing in and spit me through the winding, boulder laden creek bed below. It tumbled me like I was a wet cotton rag in a washing machine set on high. It was such a foreign, violent and otherworldly sensation, it was hard to even be scared. There was only a fleeting moment to pull the trigger on the ABS bag. But being in that big an avalanche was so disorienting and abusive, I couldn’t even tell if my airbag had inflated when I pulled the trigger. The only thing I did grasp was that this could be the end. On February 19, on the backside of Stevens Pass ski resort, the group I was skiing with made a lot of right decisions. We checked the avalanche forecast, made evaluations in the field and tip-toed into the backcountry. We paired up and skied in a small buddy

[ GEAR |


system from island-of-safety to island-of-safety. We were a highly experienced group of avalancheeducated and backcountry-savvy skiers. But sometimes knowledge can only go so far. Sometimes a combination of intangible and abstract aspects can combine and collude to create catastrophe. The avalanche ran almost 3,000 feet. It took out trees, uprooted rocks and stole the three lives of our closest mountain brothers. Others who witnessed the avalanche spent weeks trying to make sense of what exactly happened that day. Conclusions were hard to come by. Answers to “Why?” were even harder. I was the only survivor of the avalanche. That airbag in fact did inflate and left me only partially buried with just enough of my head sticking out to grasp labored breaths while waiting for rescue. In the days after the avalanche, ABC, NBC and CBS asked the same thing, “How did you survive?” I always answered, “My ABS bag.”

PG. 103

HELI&CAT SPOTLIGHT Heli and cat operations provide a distinctly different experience than that of your home resort. Lifts are replaced by powerful machines that cater to your whim. Runs are steeper, deeper and longer. Instead of fighting a hill packed with hundreds, you’ll share it with a handful. Sure, cats and helis are expensive, but the experience is unmatched. Here are two of our favorite ops, check ‘em out.

NORTHERN ESCAPE HELI-SKIING Based in Terrace, British Columbia, Northern Escape Heli-Skiing operates throughout a ton of terrain; roughly a 1.8 million acre tenure. With options that range from glaciers to open bowls to glades—and pounded with 100-130 feet of snowfall annually—NEH can access terrain to indulge any group of powder hounds. And unlike many heli ops that are grounded during inclement weather, NEH offers cat skiing as a backup in all of its packages, that accesses 7,000 acres. And after a long day of shredding you’ll après at NEH’s secluded Yellow Cedar lodge, where you’ll dine on five-star fare prepared by Red Seal chefs. Despite being located in a remote part of British Columbia, short, two-hour direct flights from Vancouver ensure easy access to and from Terrace all winter long.

PG. 104




ON-HILL TIP: Book the Unlimited Vertical Option, so you’re not paying for doing more of what you came to do. [ HELI & CAT SPOTLIGHT |


OFF-HILL TIP: Sore body? The op boasts two fulltime massage therapists to soothe aching muscles.

SELKIRK WILDERNESS SKIING Located in the Southeast corner of British Columbia, Selkirk Wilderness Skiing was the world’s first catskiing operation. It was founded in 1975 by Allan and Brenda Drury and is still run by Brenda who extends the family vibe to everyone. SWS covers over 19,000 acres of varied terrain and runs on a weekly basis with up to 24 people at the lodge per session. Take a 30-minute cat ride up to the lodge from Meadow Creek on Sunday afternoon and ski an average of 12,000-18,000 vertical feet on each of the next five days before departing Saturday morning. SWS’s network of cat roads provides a 30 square mile zone (roughly the size of Vail and Whistler Blackcomb combined) with runs of up to 4,000 vertical feet. When you’re not on your skis, relax in the outdoor hot tub or in the lodge by the fireplace and pool table. Take comfort in the fact that you’re supporting an environmentally conscious op—SWS sources most of its meats and veggies from local farms and sends its compost back to the same ones. Whether you come for the chutes, trees or wide-open bowls, it’s hard to leave SWS without feeling satisfied.

ON-HILL TIP: Bring lots of layers. There is room in the cat to hang a day pack. The temp can change throughout the day, and it’s nice to have a spare set of dry gloves or an extra layer if it gets chilly.

OFF-HILL TIP: The lodge is very warm and cozy. Many guests wear shorts and flip flops around the lodge at night. [ FREESKIER |




SelkirkWilderness PG. 105

Freeskier (ISSN 1522-1527) is published six times a year: Buyer’s Guide, October, November, December, January and February by Storm Mountain Publishing Company, PO Box 789, Niwot, CO 80544-0789. Subscription rates in the U.S. are $9.95 for one year (6 issues). In Canada, $29.95 (includes 7% GST); other foreign $39.95 payable in U.S. funds. Periodicals postage paid at Niwot, CO and additional mailing offices (USPS# 024094). Standard postage paid at St. Cloud, MN (USPS #65). POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Freeskier, PO Box 469024, Escondido, CA 92046


“It was snowing really heavily in the Alps last March when we decided to pack our car and drive to Engelberg, Switzerland. Swedish local Johan Jonsson was not just hosting us but also skiing. The resort got tracked very quickly and the second day we decided to take a heli and find some untracked terrain. We found this face that was perfect. This shot is one of those lucky ones that turned out well. It wasn’t planned. I really like Johan’s style on the terrain. The ollie here really shows PG. 106


that Mr. Jonsson is having fun whenever he skis. The photo is really simple but after a while you will find some interesting details. I think the biggest attraction is how far he flew. To me that is the beauty of the photo when you start to ask questions. Also the animal track brings more story to the frame. Thanks to Johan for showing us around. That moose was epic.” —Tero Repo



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Freeskier Magazine - Backcountry Edition  
Freeskier Magazine - Backcountry Edition  

In our second annual Backcountry Edition, we break down the top backcountry gear, huts and trips to help get you further. We also profile Se...