It’s All About the Up

| January 29, 2009 | 22 Comments

Coming from an alpine skiing background, it took me a few years to warm up to the idea of backcountry skiing. It didn’t help that the guy I learned how to backcountry ski from was wicked-fast, which meant my early outings were exhausting efforts of trying to keep up where all I could think was “I’m cooked. We only made five runs today and I could have done five times that at Solitude.” I kept a season’s pass in reserve until one day we skied Lisa Falls in thigh-deep sub 5% powder, which set the backcountry hook for once and all. Since then I’ve done way more backcountry skiing than riding the wire, and like any addictive substance, the further you get from it, the less you miss it. As cyclist Greg LeMond said “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster.”

Mona Lisa Falls Overdrive. You can't get there by helicopter, sled or chairlift. Alex Lowe points the way towards 5,000' of pure fluff.

The key to enjoying the hiking/touring aspect of backcountry skiing is to do it enough that you find your own rhythm and stop fighting the pain. I think of it like mountain biking, trail running or rock climbing – the uphill exertion part is a fun challenge and the downhill is the icing on the cake. Human powered ascent gets easier the more you do it and at some point it becomes fun in itself. Beyond that, when you start to mix in route finding, team work, trail breaking and avalanche assessment, the ascent becomes an intricate challenge with the final skin track becoming a piece of backcountry artwork. Skin tracks are a reflection of the people who put them up, and like reading a good book, a tight skin track makes you want to meet its author. “Hmmm, three people swapping leads with no breaks, full heel pegs, tight switchbacks around the rocks, nice cornice stomping and they avoided that fat pillow – must be Derek and Co. Very nice.”
Tight tracks up Tanners.  Skinning and photographic artists unknown.

Tight tracks up Tanners. Skinning and photographic artists unknown.

I love the up.

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Help support StraightChuter.com and learn to love the up with Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS Skins from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below…

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Category: 05 Uphill

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 (22)

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  1. Military Skiing « Dongshow Productions | February 4, 2009
  1. d3 says:

    I the up, too. Completely satisfying.

  2. d3 says:

    i heart the up, too. the bracketed heart was left out, so the original message was … without heart.

  3. francois says:

    There is something so rewarding in the up…always makes the down better.

  4. Hacksaw says:

    yeah, yeah, I done more then my share of “Up.”

    But, I also love the feeling of when the helicopter skids leave the ground……….. ;-)

  5. mark says:

    I rarely find myself yearning for the chairlift. This season, I’m 4:1 backcountry days to resort days. Wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll take hiking for blower over riding the chairlift to look for scraps any day.

    Love the blog, too. Keep it coming. Let your sponsors know that I just ordered some K2 skis (anti piste, mounted with dynafits, scarpa boots) and a mountain hardware down jacket for the wife from backcountry.com. We couldn’t be happier with the new gear.

  6. Andrew says:

    Unbracketed heartless comments are welcome here, but for some reason WordPress doesn’t lick them.

  7. Andrew says:

    Hi Hacksaw – The few times I’ve been heliskiing, I almost enjoyed the heli ride more than the descent, especially if the pilot gives you a good ride.

  8. wick says:

    So when is BD going to get this message? (they’re sporting the complete opposite of this right now on all there ad banners)
    They seem to have strayed from there roots, or are we just the minority…light is right. Is BD got any light (AT)boots in the works…see anything at OR?? Love the site!

  9. MTRando says:

    Great site and kudos for expressing the love of the uptrack and the art of setting one.

    How about a little history on the artful uptrack photo. Looks a little exposed… Early AM spring corn?

  10. Chuteski says:

    Yea what is up with the BD “all about the down” slogan. Must be just going for the money. I just love the Dynafits! Thanks for forcing me to get a pair. Up, Up, Up… Go dog go.

  11. Andrew says:

    Hi Wick! How’s it going?

    BD tends to come out with what they consider the highest performance skis/boots first, then fill in the rest later, if ever. I haven’t worked there for five years, so I don’t really know what their current philosophy is.

  12. Andrew says:

    Hi MTRando – I’m not sure what the conditions were when that skin track was put in, but have done similar ones when conditions permitted. I’d much rather skin than boot (better flotation, less weight on my back). I’d guess that the track in question was probably put in earlier in the morning on a day with 6ish inches of new snow and then the photo was taken later on when the sun was fully beaming on it, which may not have been a good time to be breaking trail up something like that. As Bob Athey says “When it comes to snow, it all depends.”

  13. cgd says:

    couldnt agree more about the up and a well thought out skin track, its not about the first run of the day its about the last one!

  14. Andrew says:

    Hi Mark – sounds like a nice set-up! As a viewer supported website, any and all purchases that are made through StraightChuter.com are not only appreciated, but keep the commerical interuptions away. Thanks.

  15. DG says:

    Its good to see that there are others that think like me. I love the up. Great photos.

    As for BD, “all about the up.” Well, for me, its all about the SkiTrabs!!! A company dedicated to making great touring skis. I’m sure BD will make millions, but Trab will make pieces of art.

  16. mark says:

    Andrew, I love the new setup. I am absolutely converted to Dynafit. They’re lighter, and they ski better than the Fritschis I was on. Less binding flex makes the boots feel more responsive. Better overall experience on the up and the down.

    Oh, and Jared says I’m supposed to confess my big fat man crush on you. Or a least on the lines you’re skiing. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Actually, yes, I can.

  17. Derek says:

    “It’s All About The Down” was a disappointing marketing campaign turn. It’s all about all of it.

    Nice post Andrew.

  18. pba says:

    What a pleasure to find a post about uptrack art. It makes me wonder if it’s all about the trail-breaking, not just the up. As you point out, breaking an artistic trail requires a real awareness of snow conditions and terrain, the kind of meditative concentration at the heart of all outdoor sports. Should you put in a kick turn at the tree blocking your line, or push through the branches to continue your contour and set yourself up for the clearing two switchbacks above? That’s why breaking a trail is so much more fulfilling than slogging up a skin track highway. Another benefit of breaking trail is all the information about snow stability you gain through your feet.

    Opportunities to break trail can be few and far between in the crowded parts of the Wasatch. Some people may see that as a benefit. But my best days have always included lots of trail breaking.

  19. Randonnee says:

    Even when the down is not so good I enjoy the up and down, the traverse, the entire journey! In our variable Cascade snowpack I enjoy immensely the light Dynafit setup including the ski crampons that I have been using this week for the water-ice patches in the trees. Even with the challenging up this week, the down on open slopes had some freshies on a decent crust. Sunshine illuminated the entire journey… : )}

  20. rl says:

    Up is good. Its when I get to hear the birds and the wind, see what’s up. But don’t follow my skin tracks. They are apt to meander here and there, looking out over that or this, cut a big elbow out of the more ordinary route or take you to a deadfall puzzle that needs a lot more snow to manage gracefully. OTOH that’s how I find new ways down, wandering around on the up.

    Really, I’m not lost. I’m just sightseeing.

    rl

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