By Jack Stauss, FOW
Cascade Range, WA. Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)
“He’s going to mind f**k you,” says Matt. I lean hard against the steering wheel, squinting through the windshield and into the rainstorm hammering the entire Pacific Northwest. There’s a sour stench coming from near the driver’s seat of the van. I can’t tell if it’s the diesel soaked gloves I stuffed into the door compartment, or Matt’s ski boot liners dangling about four inches from my face, swaying as we bounce off potholes. The van is unruly. We careen through roundabouts in the torrent, now only five minutes from the Canadian border.
The pressure is on. Matt asks if I can handle the crossing and then rattles off some lines for me to remember for when the border agent grills us on why we’re piloting a branded vehicle across to the border.
“I think I have it,” I say. The road bends into a series of indiscernible lanes and flashing lights and I do my best to get us to the cop in the little box. Matt’s right. The guy asks me ALL the questions, and had we not rehearsed them I could definitely have gotten us held up.
“You boys have a nice ski there now,” he says as he passes me back the passports. I put the van back in drive and speed off into the soggy darkness.
Windshield time, as Matt likes to call it. FOW: Matt Sterbenz // Photo: Jack Stauss (@jackstauss)
This was the third day of a three week long series of stops along the WNDR Outpost tour. The Outpost was created to give our community a chance to connect - to tour together in collaboration with local retail partners and their clients, to experience mountains in a new way, and to tell stories from our respective homes. The crew had tapped me in to help with all of this - guide, drive, and ride out the trip with Matt Sterbenz, GM of WNDR Alpine, longtime professional skier, and brand builder.
The plan was to spend all three weeks on the road with thousands of miles of driving as we hosted events in Salt Lake City, Whistler, Seattle, Portland, Bend, Salt Lake, and Denver, and other stops along the way. I had a general idea of what to expect, but diving in I was totally ready to just roll with the punches.
I was pretty psyched that the first Outpost stop was hosted out of evo’s brick and mortar store in Whistler.
Whistler needs no introduction. But it was a place I had wanted to ski since I was a little kid. Matt had spent years of his life there, running Camp of Champions, skiing, partying, and building his first brand, 4FRNT. Now, as WNDR Alpine has taken off, he’s made it a point to come back to his old haunt and showcase the technology, ethos, and functionality of the skis and boards we both love.
Our first official stop was led by FOW and IFMGA guide Evan Stevens of Zenith Mountain guides. He took the group out the gate at Blackcomb and into the Glacier Park. A rolling, wild glacial valley awaited us. We dropped into perfect knee deep powder on shining solar aspects, skiing one at a time down into the bottom of our giant alpine enclosure.
Back there, the whole place was alive with winter - few parties traveled across big terrain, and we were welcome to pick a variety of couloirs, bowls, gullies, and features. And pick we did - we skied and rode all day in the perfectly stable wonderland. As the sun dipped behind the horizon, we descended one more giant couloir back into Blackcomb.
Coastal BC couloir skiing is nothing short of spectacular. Coast Mountains, BC. FOW: Matt Sterbenz // Photo: Jack Stauss (@jackstauss)
We walked around Whistler Village that night, taking in the sites and sounds of the bustling North American Chamonix. Matt shared stories of times gone, friends, and ski days. Snow fell gently with no wind and the air was frigid. After the day’s insane terrain, I was stoked to see what the next zone would provide.
In the morning we climbed up from the side of the road on the Duffey Pass outside Pemberton toward Cayoosh Peak, a large glaciated mountain defining the ridge above us. The whole group worked its way through sub alpine evergreens until finally popping out into the alpine. For a couple thousand vertical we climbed more settled powder to a massive alpine cirque. We navigated this after some discussion, gaining a col and soon to a pitch right below the summit of Cayoosh. FOW Paul Greenwood and I took the lead and put on the afterburners, breaking trail to the ridge. From there we watched to make sure the rest of the group was comfortable working their way up the white wall. They all seemed to be moving well under Evan’s watchful eye so we quickly made our way up the rimed cap of Cayoosh. The two of us hooted and hollered on the summit, being rewarded with a jaw dropping 360 degree view of the Coast Range. The crew cheered us on as we skied back down off the top and rejoined to ski what was going to be one of the best runs of the season.
After working our way back to the main run from the summit, the whole group skied down another huge glacial valley in amazing powder. The blissed out laughter could be heard from across the border.
While Matt and I would have loved to stay in Canada forever, the road beckoned as did more Outpost stops. We headed south and back into our home country.
Next up was Seattle - and an opportunity to tour off Snoqualmie Pass. Navigating the van through the crowded highways of Washington was harrowing, but I steered the Sprinter into the airport and we met up with WNDR Alpine snowboard lead Alex Andrews, who would be joining us for the remainder of the Pacific Northwest. Matt and I welcomed our comrade aboard the tour.
At Snoqualmie we skied with Phil Straub who guided us through the old growth forests, wispy hemlock lichen and moss hung frozen on the giant trees. We took in clearing views of big mountains to our north, skiing more stable powder down slide paths above frozen alpine lakes among impressive crags. The pillows of the Pacific Northwest provided exciting minigolf and we teed up. People that had never hit cliffs before got air, and I smiled as I watched the childlike joy of my friends. I joined them in boosting off the soft features.
Skiing is playing. Cascade Range, WA. FOW: Jack Stauss // Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)
While we traversed the forests, peaks, and lakes we chatted. Telling stories of winter and life. Everyone’s passions for their various projects and aspirations provided me with the confidence to talk about my own and to build inspiration for future endeavors.
On our second day off Snoqualmie pass, across from Alpental our group topped out above Snow Lake and split into two - one crew skiing a wide couloir with Phil in boot top powder, and the other hunting inspiring features on a spine overlooking grand views to the north. I watched Matt poke into an exposed ramp under a blue ice waterfall. He gave us a countdown over the radio then ripped a wide open perfect turn above exposure before raging down into the basin and meeting up with the main group. We had indeed arrived.
Matt's blue icicle sidequest. Cascade Range, WA. Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)
The wheels on the van kept turning and we migrated down to Oregon. Over dinner in Portland, Matt and I planned a couple ski tours on the volcano. Pea Gravel Ridge provided a variety of aspects and styles of skiing and seemed like a great place to bring the group. We spent two days with folks from Portland and Hood River climbing and skiing the Mother mountain. Our first day was perfectly still, warm, sunny, and clear. We skied alpine buff as well as corn. The whole group reveled in the spring-like weather. We sat on volcanic boulders, eating snacks and chatting.
A healthy volcanic snack. Cascade Range, OR. Photo: Jack Stauss (@jackstauss)
Frothpuppy surfs the Earth. Cascade Range, OR. FOW: Alex Andrews // Photo: Jack Stauss (@jackstauss)
The Oregon party continued further south in Bend. The community in Bend is strong - good skiers and dedicated mountain people. Each day we walked a solid approach to their own old growth terrain. The cat road was a great time to get to know one another, warm up the legs, and troubleshoot gear. Once in the woods, laps were quick and the snow was good - more soft turns through massive trees laden with neon lichens and beard-like mosses.
In the evening we joined a Northwest Avalanche Center fundraiser - further showing us how strong the Bend and Southern Cascade backcountry ski community was. People put in hard work to ski there, they worked together, and showed up when they needed to. It was refreshing for me coming from a big city to see this kind of small mountain town energy.
The big trees were a special environment for these Utah dwellers to experience. Cascade Range, OR. FOW: Alex Andrews // Photo: Will Burks (@burksmedia)
After a couple long days in the boots, we were back in the van and headed to Salt Lake.
“We can’t get domesticated,” Matt warned. After the two days in SLC, we would then be off to Denver for our final tour stop.
Homecourt. Our two days in the Central Wasatch were amazing. Ripping powder skiing in George’s Bowl, and an alpine day in Wolverine Cirque - somehow skiing untracked powder in popular couloirs.
Excellent conditions welcomed us back. Wasatch Range, UT. Photo: Mack Lambert (@mountainsforbreakfastt)
A participant from the REI crew had never skied any terrain like Wolverine before, and at the top of Patsy he expressed some reservations. But, upon poking his head into the entrance of the line, he gained some confidence and opted to give it a go. Under Matt’s close supervision, he entered the stable line and after a couple tentative initial turns, he opened it up and skied our historic snowpack all the way down to the valley bottom.
To be back in Salt Lake after over two weeks on the road was awesome. It was great to see lines filled in, to get folks into some of my favorite and most familiar terrain. It was like coming home to an old friend who had the coffee on. It got me fired up to finish the Outpost trip strong on our last stop: Colorado.
The Front Range
Much like Whistler, the skiing and riding in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado needs little introduction. And much like Whistler, it was somewhere I had never toured. We had local guide and FOW Eddie Schoen on board to help us travel through a characteristically unstable snowpack in big mountains. Dan Crist, a new splitboarder FOW from Estes Park was also on board. Much like Paul Greenwood in Whistler, he was so stoked to show us around: pointing out lines and telling harrowing and exciting stories from his home range. I recognized this excitement as the same emotions I had just had it as I showed folks around the Wasatch only days before.
We skied a chill day in alpine bowls off Loveland Pass on day one, finding features and ripping tubes of wind settled powder. At the bottom of the pass we regrouped and chatted about snowpack. The conditions at Loveland had their limitations with depth hoar about a meter down holding us back from really getting after it. So, we decided the next day we’d go to Rocky Mountain National Park where the wind had either scoured the snow completely away or deposited it in huge piles.
Low angle fun. Rocky Mountain Range, CO. Photo: Ian Fohrman (@iandavidf)
In the park we were indeed greeted by wind. But we also had wild views of big mountains - Longs Peak loomed on the southeastern horizon, a mountain I had longed to see. We explored popular lakes, frozen and the snow blown off of them so we could ski sail across to the toe of glacial valleys and couloir aprons, which we skied. We went on a vision quest up a ridge, scrambling through steep snow and rock gaining an amazing vantage over another lake. The route to the lake was down a steep and prominent line which our small crew crushed on tired legs. Down across the lake we began our walk back to the car, all high on our Rocky Mountain adventure.
Matt and I climbed into the van one last time and started what turned out to be a harrowing drive, thanks to a huge winter storm in Wyoming. Luckily, we made it back to Salt Lake City, to our waiting friends and family and a stable snowpack in the Wasatch.
The mountains turned to high plains as the sun set over Colorado and Wyoming, and I realized that the best part of the whole tour though wasn’t the snow or skiing - it was the company. An environmental humanities professor from U Dub. 20 year old siblings from Toronto just starting their life in the mountains. A ceramist. Business owners. Gear junkies. Humble and brilliant mountain guides. Ripping skiers. Fast climbers. Folks just slapping skins for the first time. A hops distributor who hosted us one night when we found ourselves without lodging. City people wanting to make ski touring a real part of their lives. A submarine driver? Seriously.
Thank you to everyone who attended the Outpost this year. We love you all and we’ll definitely be back! Coastal Mountains, BC. Photo: Jack Stauss (@jackstauss)
But we had all come together to share time traveling in the mountains together. Between the FOWs that joined and the guests that represented from their communities, it was truly the people that made the WNDR Outpost so special.
- Jack Stauss, FOW
What's next for the Outpost? Well, we're too excited about this event now to keep it to ourselves. The fun continues this Spring in Oppdal, Norway.