Skiing the Idaho Backcountry

The Ascent
  |  Gorp.com

I charged toward my mountain. Adrenaline pumping, my skins barely touched the ground; I had to look over my shoulder to make sure I was leaving tracks. Traveling over the flatland and through the lower trees was arduous, but a reasonable price to pay for having the whole area to myself.

Halfway up, where the chutes were, was cliffy, but I found a line to the left I could take straight up a moderately pitched ridge. On the south side of the ridge was the bottom of another bowl that was wide and clear for a good 2,000 feet to the top. Totally treeless, I could recognize it as a certain avalanche path faster than it would have taken a 300-foot-wide fracture line to open up.

Like a cute stranger doing a New York Times crossword puzzle in pen, this bowl interested me. The vastness and length of it called to my skis—and naturally there wasn't a single track. I was nearly out of my mind with desire. What little common sense I had was shouting "No!" as loudly as possible; still it came to me as nothing more than a whisper. There wasn't any slide insurance until the bottom third, and even that was sparse. Damn all of my working friends. I promised myself that next time I would resort to outright kidnapping if need be.

It was hard, but I left this bowl behind and continued up. The higher I got, the more I realized I had underestimated the angle of the line I aspired to. 40 degrees turned into 45. When I finally did an official measurement, the top came in at 51 degrees! I began to see that the line between confidence and over-confidence was thin indeed and that I very well may have been on the wrong side.

It took me three and a half hours to get from my car door to the summit. Not quite as convenient as say, Glory Bowl on Teton Pass, or even its near neighbor the Great White Hump, but, staring down at the valley and not being able to discern a soul, and only very rarely a passing car, the effort seemed far from futile. And the snow, the SNOW!

For the middle of a March at the tail end of a disappointing and warm winter, the snow was off the scale. I truly believe the English language is neither voluptuous nor refined enough to do justice to the frozen water that spread out beneath me in glittering splendor.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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