Skiing 80 Degree Slopes

| May 6, 2011

Eighty degrees north, not 80 degrees in steepness, although you never know…

One of the most influential things I’ve ever read was a fortune cookie which said “Practice Saying Yes.”  It wasn’t even my fortune, but I adopted the philosophy and it has served as a starting point for many, many expeditions.  Trips take on a life of their own, but the first step is to commit to it and then hope some of your skier buddies have read the same fortune and are also willing to say “yes.”  From there, you never know what will happen.

My upcoming trip is to Svalbard, which is a chain of islands to the NW of Norway.  I first heard of this area through Doug Stoup, then again through Kris Erickson and also through Kip Garre.  This trip was originally going to be a trio, but with Kip’s passing, it is now Noah Howell and myself for the first two parts of the journey.  To begin with, we are going to use kites to move around in an area named Dicksonland where we hope to find some nice couloirs which you can glean a hint of from the topo maps of the area.  This trip has been on and off and only recently came together, so I won’t be doing any web updates or call ins.

Kiting to couloirs in 2002 on Baffin Island with Brad Barlage. This trip really set the hook for me on kite assisted skiing as I hate walking long distances on flat terrain. With kites, you can cover huge distances and have fun at the same time. Or, you can go nowhere if there is no wind.

After this ten day stint, we will return to the main town, Longyearbyen, where we are meeting up with Doug Stoup and about six other people to board a 65′ boat which will act as our floating basecamp while we scout for skiable lines from the sea.  This is the maiden voyage of Ice Axe Expeditions (Doug’s company) Norwegian Ski Cruise, which if all goes well will be an annual offering.

The third and final segment of the trip is a second week on the boat with a new group.  The idea with this trip is to push further north on Svalbard and potentially ski above the 80th parallel, which would be a fantastically unique experience in a dances with Polar Bears kind of way.

Hanging in the rain with Doug Stoup in Antarctica a loooong time ago. Doug easily gets my vote for most traveled person I know, especially in the higher latitudes.

Even after doing lots of trips, they don’t seem to get much easier to prepare for and there is always a ton of little details to take care of.  So far, this trip has been nice as I’m already geared up with 96% of what I need (kites, skis, camping stuff, etc.) and hardly needed to get anything new.  As always, I am deeply grateful for all of the assistance I get from companies like Mountain Hardwear, K2, Scarpa and for helping feed my habit.  Not only do they make and sell great gear, but they help to make sure it is thoroughly tested in wild places.  Thanks!

And of course, my ultimate thanks goes out to my wife, Polly, who makes it possible to have my cake and eat it too. If I had to choose between trips and family, I’d take family in a heartbeat, but so far I haven’t had to make the choice.

Happy turns,

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Category: Random, Trip Reports

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 (2)

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  1. Nick says:

    When you are married and devoted to a sport/hobby etc, having a wife who understands why you do what you do is awesome. After a cycling accident left me with a terrible back and shoulder injury I learned just how exceptional my wife is. I could never have expected any one would help me into and out of a bathroom, who would not complain about emptying a gatorade bottle of pi$$ on the days I simply could not walk even with help (she was happy when I finally talked my doctor into a catheter setup for the worst of days). She stayed by my side through four and a half years of 5 back surgeries and a shoulder surgery and through basic financial ruin. We managed to keep our home and our two cars but everything else was gone along with month to month of not having money to make ends meet. For four and a half years she hung in there and didn’t take off when bill collectors were knocking on the door and she was spending days in the courthouse for not being able to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. After all of this we are finally fighting back to our feet financially and I am fighting back to my feet physically. I can function pretty normally now yet after all of this she still urges me to pursue my passions regardless of what they may be. The odd thing of the situation is that my whole life I was searching for something to fill something inside of me. After this life changing experience I have realised that what I was looking for was inner peace and happiness. I now know that I have the people in my life that give me what I had been looking for my whole life. I now realize that I was just not looking in the right place to fill that part of myself. Life has a special way of setting you straight sometimes. I thank God everyday for my wonderful wife and our two children.

    I guess my point is that having a good woman in your life who truly understands and supports you is an inspiring and priceless experience that can easily be overlooked and often is during our pursuits to fill those areas inside us that feel empty for some reason or another. We should never stop pursuing our dreams and desires but we should always be sure that we do not already have what we are looking for.

  2. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the insightful comment Nick! Sometimes it takes get hurt or at least really scared to truly appreciate what a gift skiing is. It isn’t world peace, but it puts a big smile on my face and seems to attract a lot of like-minded people as well.

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