It’s amusing to see yet another glisse sport attempt to mix with the mainstream. This time it’s a blow-up sled known as an “airboard.” A USA Today article does what appears to be a good job describing the thing, and even mentions an Aspen guide who takes clients backcountry airboarding. Looks like you do it while lying on your stomach, I wonder what that’s like with a 20 pound backpack? As long as the things stop and turn as quickly as skis or snowboards, I’m okay with it — but I think I’ll stick with skis as long as I can.
Are you anti gun? As an appreciator of firearms and shooting, I’ve always enjoyed watching biathlon ski racing (participants carry a gun and target shoot after their heart rate is amped to speed-metal levels). But folks uncomfortable with guns sometimes have a problem with the sport (ewwww, guns?), it’s expensive to participate in (guns are not cheap), and safety on the course can require extensive management and planning. Solution: ski/dart biathlon. Looks like fun. Just don’t fall on your darts.
Media frenzy of the week: Border crossing is big news, and I don’t mean what folks do down south — I’m talking ski area borders. In most areas where ski resorts abut public land, the question of access to backcountry through ski area boundaries has been answered for years — it is public land; go at your own risk; use backcountry gates if they’re provided; don’t cross closed areas within the ski area boundary. Yet for some unknown reason clueless journalists have this fascination with skiing past ski area boundaries, and if doing so is legal or not. You see the headlines everywhere in Google News: SKIING OUT OF BOUNDS – NOT A CRIME. Is this news? It’s public land. Get over it and cover something important like how many times the Heimlich Maneuver is used at wedding receptions, and if eating prime rib is legal or not.
And then there is the saga of THE PASS. Up in Wyoming, sparsely populated land of the free, Teton Pass is seeing so many backcountry skiers they’ve plum run out of parking. Oh those evil cars. Building a bigger parking area is to logical, instead they debate about providing skier shuttles, and talk about towing and ticketing. It comes back to my old sermon: build more trailheads and better parking, and you solve all kinds of problems. Concentrate all the use at one trailhead, deny the reality of automobiles, and the problems never end. But I’m just a voice preaching in the vast wilderness of bureaucracy and greenthought.
More on Loveland Pass urban scene:
I just got of the phone with Bob Berwin, the excellent journalist in Summit County who covers backcountry issues. Bob mentioned that when they had the parking and crowd problems up at Loveland Pass a few weeks ago, a USFS ranger confronted one of the ravers with questions about carrying an avalanche beacon. Their reply: “Jesus is my beacon.” As a Christian, I’d like to share with that guy that he needs to study his theology. While similarities exist, there is a big difference between Jesus and an avalanche beacon. That kind of statement reminds me of when I meet people skiing solo with dogs in the backcountry, and they claim fido will dig them out if they get buried. While I’m somewhat of a mystic and believe that spiritual forces operate in the natural realm, I’d say carry the beacon — and pray. As for dogs digging you out alive if you’re truly buried. Delusional at best.
Fourteener Backcountry Skiing Ethics
Over on the Couloir Magazine forums, an interesting discussion of ski ethics developed this week when Chris Davenport started reporting on his ski-the-fourteeners in one season project. (Chris reported on his own website, but it generated the talk). In question is exactly what does it mean to “ski a fourteener” if you’re making public claims about such? Further, if someone made the effort to ski “on” them all but didn’t get some of the traditionally skied summits or missed parts of routes, does their project still count as some sort of first?
The center of the debate is an individual named Jason Ivanic who skied on the peaks in one calendar year, but appears to have had a somewhat more relaxed definition of what “skiing a peak” means. Nonetheless, at least one friend of Jason’s is quite adamant about claiming Ivanic has some sort of record that supersedes what Davenport is attempting, or at least something that deserves a lot more publicity than it’s had so far.
While I’d like to find out more details about what Jason did before forming a firm opinion (he’s been reticent about providing such to the public), I can share that if the definition of “skiing a fourteener” is more relaxed then some of us believe it is, then perhaps someone else “skied” them all long before any of us? Perhaps in several weeks? I’m being fictitious, but trying to make the point that if you’re going to relax the standards of any endeavor, you open yourself up to some interesting questions, such as who came before, and perhaps they already did what you’re claiming to have done?
Of course the definition of “skiing” a fourteener is not as easy to agree on as that of climbing one, since snow cover varies and several are not traditionally skied from the summit, but there is somewhat of a consensus within the ski mountaineering community. It’s this:
Common wisdom holds that if you make public claims of “skiing a Colorado fourteener” you mean you have skied “the best (most often the longest) continuous descent available on an average snow year, almost always from the exact summit, with the exception being the few fourteeners (such as Wetterhorn) that have rocky summit blocks or boulder caps that have never been known to be in skiable condition. More, the definition of a descent is based on who came before and what they did. If it’s commonly known a peak has been skied in it’s entirety during an average snow year, then the definition of “skiing” that fourteener would match the style of that previous descent.
My own detailed take on this is here. And let it be known that if Jason did indeed have an epic journey and skied most of the fourteeners in one season (winter/spring) I admire him as an athlete and mountaineer. But his friends need to realize that if they wish to go public with claims about what Jason did, they need to address the ethics of the endeavor in a specific way (not with a shrug of the shoulders, not with an “it doesn’t matter, everyone is too heavy about this,” and not by attacking myself or others with anonymous posts on public forums). What’s more, anyone making public claims about mountaineering feats needs to be VERY clear about what they’re claiming. Lastly, it would probably be better if Jason did this himself, instead of by proxy involving anonymous forum posts, and not by reacting to reports of Chris Davenport’s project with posts like “that’s already been done,” which as far as I know is not true.
More, in many of the posts about Ivanic and Davenport, people have implied they felt Ivanic’s project was somehow more significant or better because he didn’t have sponsors. Different, yes. More significant? Rediculous. When I skied all the fourteeners I didn’t have sponsors (other than a free backpack and some ski bindings). Davenport has sponsors. Sean Crossen (who’s skied most) has a few, but they’re probably just gear sponsors. Does this really matter? If anything, it shows how good at this stuff Davenport is (he can ski peaks – and get paid to do it), and I respect that.
We’re headed for Utah now, look for reports on Outdoor Retailer trade show starting sometime tomorrow. And THANKS ALL for the excellent comments! Keep ’em coming!
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.