By Jack Stauss, FOW
Jack preps for our favorite season amid the dry summer heat. Wasatch Range, UT. Photo: Anna Ratliff (@ayratliff)
The summer drags on — hot, dry, hazy fire smoke in the west. The COVID reality continues to change how we live and behave. Yes, it has been a very strange summer, and it's only gettin’ weirder. But for those of us that enjoy a long dark walk to sunrise on a peak, fat with new snow, it’s always a great time of the year. We ramp up training efforts on the bike and trails, we start thinking about what gear we need, and check in with partners we hope to ski lines with. It’s always an exciting time.
Each year, as I move my skiing career further into the backcountry (and as I get older) training in the fall becomes more important. I bike and hike several days a week, keeping track of my pace and my body’s response to movement in variable terrain at elevation. I up my core and back strengthening exercises with weights and on the yoga mat.
I also like to set myself some hiking goals that resemble how I hope to move in the mountains during the ski season. Fast and light ridge traverses, gut punching climbs in the alpine, and fun fast hikes and jogs through aspen glades. I visit the landscapes that I will soon see laden with snow. I start getting my legs and my mind in the place where I will spend much of my winter, places that bring me joy.
Up at Catherine’s Pass I find myself chasing hawks and wildflowers in that transitional environment between the forest and the craggy granite cliffs. I feel my quads and calves pumping as I dart between chunky boulders. I’m careful to not twist an ankle or miss a step. Breathing in the air and pacing myself between power and exhaustion gives me the energy of the mountains, and I ascend to a saddle. Looking out, I see many areas I know well, and some lines, cliffs and pockets that I put in my mental map, hoping to come back to when the snow has filled them in.
Another kind of training that cannot be understated is backcountry safety. Reacquaint yourself with avalanche awareness and the tools we have to stay safe. Explore the Know Before You Go modules online. Join a backcountry safety intro or refresher. Watch some videos and read some essays or trip reports from your local pros. Text some friends and see who’s interested in beacon drills. These are skills we as backcountry skiers must be masters of. The mentality of staying safe in backcountry terrain must always be at the forefront of our psyche as we head into winter.
Avy safety is a skillset you can simply never practice too much. Rogers Pass, BC. FOW: Matt Sterbenz // Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)
As backcountry skiers, the gear hunt is never ending— what new tools do I need this season? There’s always the important first step: is my beacon up to snuff? Every fall I check the battery pack (which has been empty since May) to make sure there is no corrosion and that all the components look good. If the beacon is older than five seasons, I’ll put that on the top of my to-buy list.
Similarly, are there any other new safety tools that I want for my pack this season? Last year a partner’s long (~4 meters of 5mm) cord came in very handy during a rescue situation following a torn ACL. I am putting that in my bag for this year. I’ll deploy my probe and build my shovel tomake sure they’re both in good working order.
Get your gear dialed long before the snow hits the ground. Wasatch Range, UT. FOW: Pep Fujas and Checkerspot CEO Charles Dimmler // Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)
For skis — my quiver has broadened. With WNDR’s all-new Vital 100, Camber profile version, I will have some ski mountaineering dedicated boards. At 176cm they will be my shorter, fast and light ski with a Dynafit Speed Radical. Last season I even got some Scarpa F1 boots to match the skimo style.
My bigger boards will once again be the recently updated Reverse Camber Intention 110 at 185cm, completed with Marker Kingpins. Both my F1s and Lange FreeTour can drive this setup. The 110 was my daily driver last year, and I plan on it being that way again. But, if the season is plagued by high pressure, I will primarily be on the Vital kit exploring some tight, sharky new lines.
Whatever direction you take — fast and light, or burlier and powder oriented, take some time to get accustomed to how the technology works. Tech bindings and boots made for both the up and down can be a little temperamental. The more time you spend learning how to use them well, the less time will be wasted when you’re actually ready to ski. Do your own transitioning challenge at your house to dust off the cob webs. Everyone has an opinion about gear these days, but what I’ve found is, if the tech has existed for a few winters, it’s usually pretty solid. Watch some videos, play with the gear. Having a system that you know and understand, and fits your feet (for boots) and skiing style will make backcountry skiing much more enjoyable. Remember — slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
COVID has given us, as a community, the opportunity to be forced to think about others more than usual. As backcountry skiers, we have already been working on this: our partners' lives depend on us being vigilant and responsible. This winter, I will be considering COVID as I reach out to ski partners. Who has been smart and safe?
Trustworthy partners complement one's own skillset and bring new perspectives to the table. Wasatch Range, UT. FOW: Jack Stauss, Kyle Toohey, and Harrison Brickman // Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)
Thinking more specifically, I always want partners that complement my own strengths and weaknesses, partners who are excited to ski the same things that I am.
Inadvertently, we have had to change our social behavior in most circumstances. But, we are extremely fortunate that backcountry skiing allows us to recreate and socialize in an environment that generally allows us to space out from one another.
Seize the Moment!
The late summer marks an opportunity to continue to build these important and lasting relationships, and to get our bodies, minds, and gear in order. Even as this year deals out the unexpected, it's a beautiful thing to know that the snow is coming. And with that comes the opportunity to take the reins and set oneself up for a season of success. I'll see you on the skin track!
Point 'em down!! Wasatch Range, UT. FOW: Jack Stauss // Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)