Category Archives: Backcountry
I had the honor a couple of weeks ago to sit down with Bill Briggs- arguably the father of ski mountaineering in the US. I interviewed him for Powder over a cup of coffee at the Virginian. I must say, what an amazing character. Check out the full interview here.
It has been an all-time winter at Jackson Hole. So good, in fact, it’s been hard to leave. It’s not that we’ve had a ton of big storms, just a lot of eight or ten inch days. This has been ideal both from a sanity stand point (not waiting long between storms) and a stability standpoint (not a lot of heavy dumps stressing the snowpack).
We’ve been taking full advantage, to say the least. We’ve run through a solid hit list of Jackson classics as well as getting some firsts that have been pretty rowdy.
Nick Martini checking out the sea of dreams
At this point, filming has kind of taking priority over competing. After all, the whole reason I got into competing was to have an opportunity like this. That said, since focusing on filming I haven’t been able to bring the same A-game to the contests. It’s just hard for me to rationalize putting my ass/season on the line throwing down in a contest when it’s less than ideal conditions. The contest scene has gotten so good that if you’re not there with your a-game, your probably not ending up on the podium.
A lil’ chucking
Shooting so far this year has been awesome. It’s a different game when you’re trying to do something unique/special every day you go out. I just feel like you bring your level of skiing up a notch. What I didn’t expect is the level of frustration I have sometimes. Messing up or not stomping a film line has been as frustrating as messing up or not stomping a comp line. A lot of lines- because of how long they take to get to or the fact that there’s significantly less snow after you go through- you only get one crack at, and when you don’t ski it perfectly you can rarely go up and try it again. But, at the same time, you always have the chance to redeem yourself somewhere else- which you can’t always say for competing.
Now for the good part: getting detained (not arrested!)
So, there I was, sitting on a couch in a city, state, and country that will remain nameless. I hear someone talking on the front porch and then a knock on the door. Figuring it was UPS or FedEx, I mosey to the door and open it, and nobody’s there. Then, I hear from the side of the house a very authoritative voice say, “Sir, step out of the house.”
Pretty confused I say, “what?”
Then I hear again, this time a little more firm, “Sir, we need you to step out of the house.”
Dumbfounded I step out, and on the porch and around the house are three cops, all toting Assault Rifles. I’m thinking to myself, holy S#%t, this is not good. They ask me to put my hands on my head (which obviously I do). One of the cop starts talking, telling me there’s been a shooting in the area.
“Sir, there’s been a shooting in the neighborhood and we have reason to believe the shooter is in your house, do we have permission to enter the residence,” he says, not a hint of jest in his voice.
“Of course, I say,” totally shocked.
The cop continues, “Sir, we need you to put your hands behind your back.” I do, and they cuff me and start leading me away from the house as several cops storm the house, ARs drawn. At this point I’m totally blown away at what’s happening. Now that I’m cuffed, the cop continues telling me what’s going on, “The suspect was also was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt.”
Standing there, in my black hoody, completely matching the description of the “suspect,” I’m just thankful they didn’t open fire when I opened the door. The cops search my house for five minutes or so and are on the radio, referring to me as the “suspect,” when it appeared that they started getting information that they might be at the wrong house.
They question me a bit longer, and finally conclude that they are indeed at the wrong house. They un-cuff me and apologize for the inconvenience. I laugh it off and head back inside, blown away that the most intense moment of my season may have just come on a leisurely weekday afternoon.
Okay, so there’s no crazy airs or hucks, just good ole fashion pow skiing in December at Jackson Hole. Delicious!
A week at Skeena Heli Skiing- somewhere between a little kid in a candy store and a bull in a china shop
I might be the luckiest guy ever. After a long season of non-stop competing, marginal snow, and non-stop travel I get to decompress with eight days of exploring new terrain at Skeena Heli Skiing in Northern British Columbia- what!? Needless to say, it’s unreal up here. Located an hour and a half from Smithers, B.C., Skeena gets the snow, but not the socked-in weather typical of operations on the coast. Skeena has as many down days all season as most operations have in a week (four so far this year). With spines, pillow lines, and couloirs as far as the eye can see, I’m somewhere between a little kid in a candy store and a bull in a china shop.
So, what have we been doing all week? Here’s a peak at some of the zones…more action to come.
Start at point A, finish in Kotzebue in the lower left (sorry for the super gheto screen shot). I can’t really get a map that will do this trip justice, so for an interactive map click here.
The problem with adventure travel is that it’s a lot like a drug: it’s expensive, addictive and, if you’re not careful, it’ll take over your life. That said, shortly after finishing our skiing trip through the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, I started cooking up a new scheme (obviously one that had to be bigger and better.) After talking with some friends, we came to the conclusion that follow a snowflake from its starting point high atop a peak, down thousands of meters of rugged terrain, across most of a country, all of the way to the ocean would be quite the experience. Source to Sea, as it’s dubbed. Well, since we just traveled and skied through the largest wilderness area in the lower 48, there was really only one place to head: Alaska.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, Alaska is massive, and just figuring out where to go took months of research. Wanting to plan a similar raft/ski trip, we examined the major ranges of Alaska, finally settling on the Brooks Range. For those unfamiliar with the Brooks Range, it’s remote- even by Alaska standards. The northern most range in Alaska, the Brooks roughly runs along the Artic Circle. With the range narrowed down, it was just a matter of finding a river and zone that would offer decent skiing and a route out to the ocean. Enter the Noatak River. From its headwaters high in Gates of the Arctic National Park, through Noatak National Wildlife Refuge, and almost all of the way to its delta in Kotzebue, the watershed is protected. That’s right, not just the river, but every drop of water that is in the Noatak is protected (either National Park or Refuge)- from when it falls from the sky or emerges from the earth. The Noatak may be the ideal setting for a Source to Sea trip.
We’ll fly into the headwaters by bush-plane in late May while the snow still reaches to river level and pick off peaks as we descend—a 20-30 day journey in all. Paddling and skiing in 24-hour sunlight, we’ll eventually reach the Chuki Sea, well north of Nome, and from there fly back to Anchorage. Our hazards: ice shelves on the river, avalanches, and hungry grizzly just out of hibernation. Our rewards: huge, corned up mountain faces, thousands-strong caribou herds, and total solitude in some of the remotest country in the world. As far as undisturbed adventure goes, there may be no other trip like it in the world.
We’re planning on giving updates from the field, via Satellite, and obviously documenting it in other ways for later release. Safe to say, it should be an epic, so stay tuned.
I love Jackson. Like sex and pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s still good. Case and point was this last week. Although there wasn’t blower pow anywhere in bounds, there’s still lots of stuff to do out the back. This couloir is off the backside somewhere.
On good years, the entrance is manageable without a rappel. This year, one could probably sneak by off-belay, but it may be a little dicey. Eric Seymour, Jess McMilan, Tanner Flanagan and I dropped into this last week. Eric dropped in first and made quick work of the top section and went down to the second belay station. Tanner went next followed by Jess and I. Although it’s been pretty warm this past week in Jackson, it was like a freezer within the walls of the north-facing couloir.
The second belay station was a bit tight- all four of us barely squeezed in there. The second belay is a bit longer and definitely mandatory- probably even on the best of years. About a pitch from the anchor, the descent rolls over a sheer ledge, to an overhang, which makes belaying on skis particularly tricky. From beneath the cave, one can shuffle over to a thin fin that exists skiers right, or go all of the way to the bottom. The fin is pretty narrow, but makes for a more legitimate ski.
By the time we were ready to descend most of the team was freezing. I tried to lighten the mood with some uproarious jokes, however, given our situation I don’t think the jokes were fully appreciated. Once we were set up we made generally quick work of the second belay.
Once safely below I made a b-line for the sun on the other side of the valley before even I lost my sense of humor (I’ve discovered I become quite irritable when I’m cold). Once in the sun shine it felt like full-blown spring again. In my typical fashion I was rocking a pretty serious junk show on the way out Granite- harness on, ATC dangling, rope half in my pack and jacket around my waist. Yeah, I was looking pretty extreme and I’m pretty sure I blew some tourists minds that were also traversing out.
It’s days like this- when everybody everywhere is complaining about how bad it is and how there’s nothing to do- that make me appreciate the fact that I have Jackson and motivated friends that much more.