Backcountry Skiing - More Accessible Than You Think
La Sportiva athlete Andy Dorais talks about the rewards—no lines, better powder—of backcountry skiing...
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La Sportiva ski team athlete Andy Dorais is an ER doctor in the Salt Lake Valley. While he finds his work rewarding, time spent with his young family is more so. Any remaining gaps are filled with backcountry skiing in the Wasatch mountains and the western US.
I was having a conversation about backcountry skiing with a work colleague a few days ago. It was after midnight. I was tired and my bed was calling but I could sense my friend's excitement as he peppered me with questions about human powered skiing. Specifically, he wanted to know how it was different from the alpine skiing he did growing up. I replied that the act of skiing is still the same but it feels so different. Fundamentally, the only absolute difference is hiking uphill to ski down rather than riding lifts. But in reality, everything feels different. It’s more peaceful and less crowded. The snow is better. The views are more wild. The satisfaction higher
"Is it awesome!?"
"How do I get started?"
"But isn't it dangerous?"
"Where do I go?"
"What gear do I need...AND how much does it cost?"
He was listening intently, shirking work tasks that were rapidly piling up, absorbing all the advice I could dish out. I know personally from working long hours that feeling of needing an outlet. Hours and hours spent in the library, and 30-hour shifts in the hospital would have wrecked me, body and soul, if I didn't have a place to tend to both. Others like my friend, may lack excitement in their daily routine, or maybe they are seeking freedom, exercise, camaraderie, peace, or just a quieting of the mind that can't be found in daily life.
I told him anyone who is willing to put in a little work can start backcountry skiing. He wanted to know if there were safe places he could go as he was learning. We discussed how human powered skiing—which includes backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and uphilling at resorts—can be as intense or as simple and safe as one desires. The common thread that ties all of these sub disciplines together is a willingness and the required skill to use alpine touring gear to ascend what one plans to ski. My work friend seemed pleased that he could safely learn how to use the equipment to hike with skis, skins, and boots in the confines of our local resort. He was looking for a way to get outdoors and spend some time with his teenage son. We talked about how they could grow together in the sport, improving both skills and fitness. Others with more of a mountaineering background may want to get out into the wild mountains as soon as they can. That was me and my brother, Jason. Fortunately, we found good mentors early on and started to acquire knowledge about snow safety and best practices for mountain travel.
We spent some time talking about the process to get started. He was worried it would be too hard. I think he perceived the equipment and avalanche education to be stout barriers to entry. I replied with a favorite Warren Miller quote, "If you don't do it this year, you will be one year older when you do." There is a little monetary and time investment up front but putting in the time and getting the right gear set-up is like having the keys to the kingdom handed over. Having the right tools will make all the difference.
Ultimately, our discussion wandered. I proclaimed human powered skiing to be ultimate freedom. Getting evangelical, I declared the following: It's freedom to stand on the summits that inspire. It's freedom to avoid lines. It's freedom to avoid paying for lift tickets. It's freedom to go wherever one wants without being confined to a trail or road or fenced-off ski run. It's freedom to ski the best powder of your life.
Now I was the one that was excited, recalling all the adventures and experiences I've had, either solo or with some of the best friends of my life. I came to backcountry skiing late in life, after college in fact, but will be forever grateful for the way it has enriched my life since.
Photos : ©Jason and Andy Dorais
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andy Dorias is a member of the La Sportiva Skiing Team.
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