8 – Redefine Challenge

| February 23, 2012 | 5 Comments

Part 8 in 10 of my personal avalanche avoidance theories…

In 2010 I was involved in a round table discussion where participants were asked to describe the “most challenging thing they had done in their respective sports over the last year.” I went first and it was a no brainer – “Due to a persistently weak snowpack, I skied mellow, low angle terrain all season.” This was a truthful answer that didn’t go over very well and more acceptable answers included skiing the Cosmique Couloir, doing first descents or winning comps.  I wanted a do-over.

Skiing big, exposed, scary lines is incredibly addictive, satisfying and thrilling, but the real crux to doing them is in the timing. Knowing where to go is easy – knowing when to go is much harder. Avoiding steep lines for an entire season took a different mindset, but the challenge aspect of it was made up for by sniffing out long tours where you never got on terrain over 30 degrees. It was a fun challenge, but in a very different way than the standard issue challenge of steep skiing.


Skiing Challenge 101 – Find a big, high, steep, exposed slope and go ski it. Sometimes finding an alternative to this can be even harder.  Fred Marmsater skiing the Sultana Ridge in Alaska.

It’s a variation on the “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” adage, but in the case of skiing, when life gives you a shitty snowpack, take up ski mountaineering racing, kiting, low angle farming, long distance touring or something less exposed. There’s plenty of challenge, just in a different way.


Skiing challenges with low avalanche danger.
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Category: 07 Avalanche Avoidance

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (5)

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  1. Vinnie says:

    How about providing a list of those long <30 degree tours in the Wasatch!

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Vinnie – Those are carefully guarded secrets. :)

  3. Vinnie says:

    Gee Whiz, Andrew! I am brand new to back country skiing this year and have been reluctant to go because of the dangerous conditions we have had. (I should have started last year!) What about the sense of community, etc? ;)

    By the way, I have been bashing the SkiLink on a thread on epicski.com I may post a link to some of the info you have mentioned at Save Our Canyons. Are you ok with that?

  4. Andrew says:

    Hi Vinnie – if we cross paths and meet in person, I’d be happy to share my low angle routes with you. By contrast, Point & Chute skiing is much easier – see a chute and go ski it. Sniffing out low angle options involves looking at maps, skiing a bunch of dead ends, connecting dots and following ridgelines.

    Please, by all means feel free to use any of my material to help fight SkiLink. This is one of the most incessant, dangerous Wasatch developments in years. The recent avalanche death at the Canyons just highlights one of the many, many concerns.

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