Red Mountain backcountry (Rossland, British Columbia)

I had a great trip to Red Mountain for the 2nd year in a row. It’s a little off the beaten track, but that’s what’s nice about it. You don’t come here for its convenience or luxury, you come here to ski. I was so happy Mike invited me to visit him again here. He rents a cabin every year for the month of January, and he knows the mountains like the back of his hand. He’s been skiing backcountry here for the past 10 years, so he knows where to find the snow and how to have a good time.

I don’t really know where to start describing this trip, but if a pictures worth a thousand words then this gallery should do some of the talking for me (click below)

I had 4 days of backcountry skiing around Red Mountain, BC. Suprisingly, I didn’t ski the hill once. “Ski the hill” is backcountry lingo for skiing at the resort. Lift tickets were $50-$75 per day, so I was glad to save some money by earning my turns instead of buying them.

I arrived at Mike’s cabin just in time for my second dinner. I had eaten early, and when they placed a pile of mussels in front of me with a side of salmon and cauliflower I couldn’t resist. Delicious. This crews knows how to eat well. I came to discover eating well is crucial to big backcountry days. In a typical day of backcountry skiing, you can burn well over 2000 calories. This is in addition to the 1500 calories your body burns per day just to function normally, so it’s essential to eat well to keep up for back to back ski days.

Day 1: Record Ridge with Keith

Although it seemed like a large crew would be touring from the night before, the morning revealed a different story. Mike had joint soreness and could barely move, Jim’s back was acting up, and Rob didn’t feel well. So Keith and I set out on our adventure. We drove up a ways, parked aside the highway, skinned up and started to walk.

Keith is a big time mountain enthusiast. He skis all winter and climbs the rest of the year. He makes his living as a climbing guide, skiing guide, avalanche safety training instructor, and a part-time therapist working for the government. He lives in Rossland, BC, in a straw bale house with his skiing family. His wife and two kids are all backcountry skiers as well.

We hiked continuously uphill for about 2 hours, switchbacking our way up an avalanche chute until we gained the upper ridge. The skinning was easy on the stable snowpack and conditions were very safe. When we reached the summit ridge, Keith checked his altimeter. We had climbed 3015 vertical feet. Not a bad start to the day. The first run was a good one, 1700 vertical on creamy untracked snow. The day was bluebird, and we planned our runs to catch the soft conditions on sunny slopes. Our first run was east facing, soaking in the morning rays.

We skinned back up, reusing our previous track most of the way, then veering left to catch a southern aspect for the second run. Our plan was brilliant, because we noticed the conditions change as the eastern aspect went into the shade. A crust was forming and we were wise to change aspects. The second run was great also. We took it all the way down to the road for the full 3000 vertical. However, the bottom 1000 feet was mostly bushwhacking through thick vegetation in the drainage, one of the necessary evils of backcountry skiing. I’ve always like skiing the woods though, so I never really mind this part even though it can be a challenge.

We finished around 3:00pm. It was a great intro and training day for longer days to come. That night we feasted on steaks and potatoes, recovering calories and stocking up for the next day.

Top of the world, Keith on Record Ridge

Top of the world, Keith on Record Ridge

Day 2: Old Glory with Keith, Ann, Jim, and Norm

Mike’s joints were still acting up, so I set out with the rest of the crew for another backcountry tour. We had our sights on Old Glory, the highest mountain in the Rossland range. At just under 8000 feet, it sits at the fringe of treeline. Given the stable snowpack conditions and high visibility, it was a good chance for us to ski the summit. Mike loaned me his ski crampons, a device I’d never used and wasn’t sure I needed. But halfway up the first ridge, we encountered a series of traverses over a frozen crust that the skis wouldn’t break through. Without the crampons, my skis were sliding sideways and I couldn’t use the skins for traction. However, with the crampons on, my skis held and I climbed with ease. These things make a huge difference! Without them, I would have to bootpack for sure.

Ski crampons improve traction on frozen crusty slopes - the difference between skis on and skis off

Ski crampons improve traction on frozen crusty slopes – the difference between skis on and skis off

After a few hours hiking we crested the first ridge and Old Glory came into view. It looked close, but we still had more than 1000 feet of climbing to go. As we rested momentarily and ate a snack, an old man with a long gray beard and skinny cross country skis came strolling up the ridge from a different approach. He wore blue jeans and gators over his boots. His gear showed his age, but he still manages to get around on it. As we marveled at him passing us by, Jim summed up his feelings about the sight, “If we get up to Old Glory and that old bugger shows up, I quit.”

"If we get to the top of Old Glory and that old bugger shows up I quit" -Jim

“If we get to the top of Old Glory and that old bugger shows up I quit” -Jim

We scoped the lines and made a plan to ski from the summit down the east face. This seemed to be the safest choice given the size of our group and the amount of daylight we had. If you look at the picture below, our ascent went from right to left across the base of the mountain, switchbacking up the steep left side to the ridge, and then up the back of the ridge to the summit. The descent was from the direct summit down the avalanche chutes at an angle to the left. Although it looks like a traverse in this photo, it’s a direct fall-line as evidenced by the avalanche chutes. The pitch ranges between 30 and 40 degrees, comparable to a typical black diamond.

Old Glory peak

Old Glory peak

The summit was beautiful. Just as we deskinned and got ready to ski, the sun came out providing perfect visibility and a bright orange sky on the horizon. The top portion of the run skied like crap. Frozen coral reef. But the terrain was really wild and inspiring. I could imagine it on a good day, what a line. The bottom half was actually great. The sun had softened the crust on the lower angle slope, giving us spring-like corn snow. The softened crystals yielded perfectly under our skis and sounded like broken glass as our spray skittered down the slope. We skied right down the center of the avalanche chute in the wide open direct fall-line. On less stable days, this route wouldn’t be possible, but every line has its day.

We finished the day by skinning back up the first ridge (where we saw the old bugger) and skiing Hannah trees. They were steep and north-facing. Although we expected more frozen coral reef, conditions were surprisingly good, the best of the day. I finished the line with a mini-cliff drop into the open snowfield below with a soft and forgiving landing.

View from the top of Old Glory

View from the top of Old Glory

Day 3: Hannah Peak with Crystal

On Wednesday they were calling for snow. Mike was back in action, but he wanted to use the hill (the resort) to access the backcountry. That way he wouldn’t have to push it as hard, and it would be easier to bail if he needed to. I wasn’t too keen on the lift ticket price, so Jim suggested I meet up with his friend Crystal for a tour. We decided to repeat the good conditions we’d found in Hannah trees the day before.

We made 3 fast laps on Hannah Peak, skiing steep glades on north facing aspects. It was fast and fun. Crystal is a strong backcountry skier. She skis telemark and doesn’t slow down for much of anything. She takes a steep skin track, preferring the direct approach over the path of least resistance. I was totally down with that. Crystal is a hardcore outdoorswoman. She works for the Canadian forest service as a firefighter, and loves her job. She gets the winters off but more or less sells her soul in the summer, since she’s always on call. But she gets to spend lots of time outside, and spends her time off skiing and trad climbing. She loves surfing, mout

On our final lap it began snowing, yay! The visibility started to go and we decided to call it quits there, saving some for tomorrow.

Our discussions that night concluded that if there were 20cm’s in the morning, we’d ski the hill. If there were 10cm’s, we’d do another backcountry tour. Everyone kept saying 10cm’s would make the backcountry awesome again.

Day 4: Kirkup with Rob

The morning came with 11cm’s of fresh snow. It came in from the southwest with a little bit of wind, and we figured we’d find the deepest snow on the leeward aspects – northeast. Jim and Mike wanted to ski the hill. I was thinking about the plan from the night before, and decided to hit the backcountry again, this time with Rob. We headed to Kirkup in my van.

Rob is an experienced mountaineer. He lives in Salt Lake, and typically skis and climbs the Wasatch range, but he’s been all over the world for climbing and skiing. He’s had surgery on both knees, but it doesn’t slow him down much. He gets up early, does elaborate stretches, and goes for daily walks to keep his joints loose. He told me the story of his torn ACL. He was skiing backcountry in the Wasatch range on a powder day. The fluffy new snow hadn’t bonded well with the layer beneath, and he triggered an avalanche on a moderately steep slope. “I’ll never forget the way the entire slope began to boil. I instantly knew what was going on.” Rob jerked his skis to the side taking a downward traverse out of the slide path. He made it out, but ended up partially buried with a torn ACL in the process. Had the slide flushed him out with the rest of the debris, he doesn’t think he would have survived. He was skiing alone. It was a fair enough trade.

I told Rob of my desires to ski mountaineer. I want to skin up Mt. Baker and ski down. I’d also like to do Hood, Shasta, Adams, and Ranier. He encouraged me, but also had some strong warnings. He said now is not the time. Do it in the early summer. There’s a reason everyone climbs the mountains then. The risk is too great otherwise. He advised me to look at current trip reports as well as trip reports from the previous year to get an idea when the right time is. People typically post their trip reports online for the benefit of other climbers, a great resource to have. Rob also recommended a book, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. He said it’s too detailed for most people, but with my technical background I would understand it and appreciate it. He tries to read it every year.

We had a great ski day. I parked my van aside the highway, and we skinned up the fresh snow, taking turns breaking trail up the north side of Kirkup. We discussed the snowpack and wind effects along the way, observing our conditions. Our first run was sweet. We went all the way to the summit and skied the northwest aspect. The first few hundred feet above the trees were wind-scoured, but the rest was fantastic. We cut the first tracks in the new snow, taking our pick of the best lines the whole way down. We skied one at a time, each person keeping the other in sight. The run consisted of a series of open alpine fields separated by tree bands. We skied an open slope, ducked through some trees, found the next opening and did it again. The run was so good we couldn’t resist a second lap.

On the way up the second time we saw another person utilizing our skin track. He was the only skier we saw all day. The next run we decided to ski a different aspect, dropping over the back of the ridge we skinned up from the summit. It was the northeastern aspect, where we’d expected the most snow. Sure enough, the snow piled up twice as deep on that side. There was an obvious sun crust underneath the snow here, and had some uncertainty about the bonding to the old layers. We decided to ski carefully, one at a time, keeping to the low angle slopes. It was great skiing, and again we took our pick of lines since we were the first skiers to arrive. Here are our tracks on the top half of the run:

Fresh tracks in the boulder field

Fresh tracks in the boulder field

We planned to ski the full descent, but about two thirds of the way down we ran into a fog bank. It was the sea of clouds we’d skied above every day. We got into it, and instantly couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t see the ground. Playing it safe, we decided to skin back up from there instead of skiing into the unknown.

Here you can see Rob descending into the clouds. We had to stop there because visibility was so bad you couldn't see the ground you're standing on.

Here you can see Rob descending into the clouds. We had to stop there because visibility was so bad you couldn’t see the ground you’re standing on.

Once again, it was so good we had to do it again. Rob broke trail up the deep snow, and I struggled to keep up with him. About half way up he stopped and commented how he felt tired, but he sure didn’t show it. This was our fourth lap, each consisting of 1000-2000 feet of climbing. We stopped at the top for a lunch break, it was only 1:30pm. We skied the same slope, enjoying every turn as much as the first lap. On our way back up we decided to avoid the wind-scoured skiing at the direct summit, and instead punch a track up the ridge. It was a steep track, and the last 150 feet were too steep to skin up without ski crampons. We decided to bootpack it. Rob made the track again, carefully assessing the conditions as he went. I stayed clear of his path, hanging back until he gained the ridge. When he gave the ok I started up, following his footsteps straight up. The crust was under about 6 inches of snow. It was too thick to break with our skis, making skinning impossible, but with ski boots we could kick holes in it creating steps to climb up. It worked great, and we were skiing again in no time. We finished the day skiing down our original line. It was our 5th run of the day. I’m not sure how much vertical we skied that day, but it was by far the biggest day of the trip and the best skiing. We hardly slowed down at all, only stopping at changeovers long enough for a drink of water.

But for every yin there is a yang, and we discovered the only downside of the day when we got back to my van. The rear glass was blown out. At first, I thought I’d been robbed. But a closer look revealed a snowplow had broken the glass with its debris as it drove by. The driver probably didn’t even know. Must have been a rock in the spray or something. Fortunately, all my stuff was still there.

No day can be perfect, but this one was close until this happened. Snow plow damage to the rear glass.

No day can be perfect, but this one was close until this happened. Snow plow damage to the rear glass.

Back at the cabin, Mike helped me clean up the broken glass and tape a piece of plastic over the broken window. We cleaned the surface with rubbing alcohol and used a hair dryer to get the tape to stick. It looked like it would be good enough to get me back to the US, where I would get it repaired. All in all it was well worth the experience and the great day of skiing. I’d much rather ski like that and have a broken rear window than not ski and not have a broken rear window. Fair enough trade.

Although I did not get to ski with Mike this trip, it was great to spend some time with him. He is a great person and true outdoorsman. He has also discovered a way to make his hobby of woodworking into a career in historical restoration and remodeling. He showed me pictures of one of his projects. It was absolutely amazing. He built a gazebo and elaborate trellis as part of a landscaping project using massive oak logs. The amazing part was the way it was built. He designed it and cut all the pieces in Pennsylvania, even though the project was in Ontario. Having looked at the arcing roofline and the way he jigsawed pieces together, it looked unfathomable to me to pre-cut the pieces on spec. In my experience building with wood, there’s always a little fussing you have to do to get the right fit because of the living nature of wood. It bends and bows, shrinks and grows, but somehow he got all the pre-cut pieces to fit. He used mortise and tenon joints and tied it all together with wooden pegs. It’s amazing to build like that on the scale he did, using hand-hewn oak logs up to 8″x8″ dimensions.

Mike and Jim have a special friendship. You can tell from spending time with them that they are not only good friends, but partners in adventure. It can decades to find a reliable partner for the outdoors, but they’ve found it. You need someone with similar motivation, interest, time off, and risk tolerance. The harder you push it, the harder these people become to find. Mike and Jim have taken many adventures together, from skiing the backcountry to bike touring across the USA. They had more stories than they could recall, and they were often discussing future adventures in the works. It’s great to see a duo like that.



On the way to Red

On the way to Red I caught this amazing sunset. I was driving up a mountain pass after leaving Skaha. It was foggy and getting dark. I turned my headlights on to see the road. All of a sudden, the fog subsided and I was above the clouds. The sun was shining up here, I could hardly believe it. I was in the alpenglow, the mountains bathing in the last rays of sunlight. The view was astounding, looking out on a sea of clouds. Treetops popped out of the clouds like islands, and the mountains stood as a distant shore. This was a rare and beautiful sight by my standards.

Skaha (Penticton, BC)

After the climbing day in Squamish, my partner for the day Dmitry told me I should visit a sport climbing area east of Vancouver. He figured it was on my way to Red Mountain. Overhanging sport climbing, the best in BC. I was intrigued, but hadn’t figured out my next day yet.

So that night, I spoke to my buddy Will, a local Squamish climber who I met in Mexico. I found out he was in the area, Whistler! But he was in rehab from a climbing injury he sustained in Yosemite. He’s a soloist from time to time, likely out of necessity when he’s traveling alone.

He typically solos with a gri-gri, literally belaying himself up the climb. This is a slow procedure, because you have to tie down one end of the rope while leading the pitch. Once anchored, you have to clean the route and retrieve the tied end. That’s fine for single-pitch, but a climb 12 pitches long may not be possible in a day with that method. Sometimes Will free solos to speed things up and conserve energy on multi-pitch.

Unfortunately, he took a fall while free soloing in Yosemite a few weeks ago. This means no ropes, ground, smash. I asked him which pitch. “The first one”. “How many pitches were there?” “Fifteen”. “Lucky dawg”.


Climbing with Will in Mexico, Land of the Free, 1000ft 5.11d

Will is healing up from some busted bones, nothing major thank goodness. I won’t get to climb or ski with him this trip, bummer! But stoked of course that he’s alright. So glad for him. I’m sure he had a good scare, and now has a great opportunity to learn from it. So do I. Free soloing is bad news. Will also mentioned he felt off that day. Some plans had been cancelled earlier and the entire day went south. Perhaps there were some signs. Free soloing is very mental, and you have to be all there. If something takes you out of the zone you’re not safe. This isn’t how I like my climbing.

Will also told me about Skaha, said it’s sick. There are some south-facing walls, so if the sun is out there may be climbers. I decided to drive there right away. It was 8pm and I was 5 hours away. I slept part way there to break up the drive and arrived the following morning. I didn’t have directions to the crag, so I stopped in the main town nearby, Penticton, to ask.

The first thing I saw in Penticton was an alley with the sickest graffiti murals I’d seen in a long time. I haven’t seen good graffiti like that since Europe, and I had to stop to take a closer look.

I got directions from the local gear shop, and I was on my way. The town seemed cool, probably a great place to live. I drove up the road toward the parking area for Skaha Bluffs. However, the gate was closed, so you have to park about a mile downhill from the lot and hike in. Everything is covered in snow. It wasn’t a sunny day, so I didn’t expect climbers in the -2°C cold. But there were a few other cars, so you never know.

I ran into a fellow when I was hiking up the road. He was a route developer, and uses the winter season to develop new sport routes. I told him I’m getting into this as well at the Red River Gorge. He said the rock was very cold and wet many places, so he wouldn’t expect climbers out today. He asked if I was going to climb solo. Thinking of Will, no way man. I’m going for a hike and to see the crags, but no worries it’s just nice to be outside. I trudged up the hill through the snow.

The climbing at Skaha looks amazing. I definitely want to visit here to climb someday. The route developer on the trail said April and September are the ideal months. Other times can still be good but those are your safest bets. He said on sunny days he would climb all winter, but its always cloudy in winter, so its too cold. In summer it gets hot, 35°C. If anyone who reads this wants to take a trip here in the fall let me know 🙂



I know its not the right season to be rock climbing in BC, but I couldn’t drive right through Squamish without a trip to the crag. The forecast looked good, considering the time of year, +9°C for the high and partly sunny Saturday and Sunday. My main problem was that I’d never climbed here before, and although its a world famous climbing destination, there’s no simple online guide like I’m used to at the Red. In fact I still can’t find the climbs I did today to see what other people are saying about them. Kind of crazy but the place mostly exists in guidebooks, not online.

So I reached out to a network I’ve used before, I posted a partner call for anyone willing to do some sport climbing or bouldering in the cold, figuring why not? I got a response right away from a Russian guy named Dmitry. He said we’d meet at 10am to give the rock some time to warm up. Unfortunately, there’s not much sport climbing in the sun. Most the good winter lines are trad, and I’m a total trad rookie. But Dmitry knew the area and we made due with the conditions we had.

Dmitry was stoked to have a partner, this was his first time climbing outdoors this year. Mine too. We started at the Smokey Bluffs, an area with low angle slab climbing and mixed lines. Since I’m not a traddie, Dmitry lead the routes and placed the gear. I was reminded how terrible I am at slab climbing, and the 5.10s gave me a battle. It was really nice though, sunny and not too cold. The ground was frozen when we arrived, and the rock was dry, but by the time we packed up the ground had thawed and melted into a muddy mess. It felt really good to get on some rock again and get a taste of Squamish.


We ventured next to Murrin Park for some sport climbing. It was colder here, shady and snowy. Unlike the bluffs, we were the only climbers. Dmitry said he always has trouble finding climbing partner. The locals from Vancouver only want to go when the weather is nice, but he just wants to go all the time. So he checks for partners online, and had some good stories about his experiences with randoms, like the girl who said she could climb 5.12 sport but pulled on every piece of gear on their 5.9 slab warmup.

At Murrin, Dmitry had me lead a 5.11b mixed line. It had two large cam placements at the bottom. I’d never placed a cam before, but Dmitry showed me the basics and I decided it was a good place to learn. The stances were very secure, and I had plenty of time to place my pro leisurely. One of the stances had a bomber fist jam and bomber kneebar. I was stoked. The placements felt secure and I moved on with confidence. Dmitry said the crux was at the 3rd bolt, and he’s never been able to do the move but felt confident I could do it. I eased my way up the bolted section to the crux, feeling good and warm. It tricked me at first, because the temptation of an obvious high right foothold lures you in. But after placing the foot and gauging the move, I decided it wouldn’t work for me. I repositioned and found a terrible high left foot on a tiny nub instead. Dmitry called it a “pimple”. But after the slab climbing we’d done earlier, I felt like it would hold. It worked, and I sent. Dmitry climbed it next, trying my beta in favor of his. It worked for him, too, and he sent for the first time.

After another bouldery 5.11b face climb, we moved to an overhanging section with some stout 11s and 12s. I jumped on the 5.11d, not wanting to push it too hard after a month of not climbing. It was a good choice, the route was fun and challenging. I climbed to the crux at the last bolt on point, but got spit off throwing to a tricky hold. I sussed it out and tried again, and again, and again. I must have fallen at that crux a dozen times. I was exhausted, and I really thought I couldn’t do it. The hold I kept going for was a sloper, and it just wasn’t good enough for me to stick it. I proclaimed I couldn’t do it, and I’d need to bail. But then it occurred to me that there might be a way to go left, instead of going right as I’d been trying. The holds looked unused, like no one goes that way, but what the heck. I gave it one go, and it went. Even in my exhausted and frustrated state it worked for me, some obscure beta that no one else uses. Dmitry followed, and after a few hangs his long reach enabled him to do the beta that kept shutting me down.

All in all it was a great day. Pleasant temps, a great climbing partner/guide, and numerous firsts. Today was my first day climbing of the year, my first time climbing in Canada (new country on the roster, whoot!), and my first cam placement. Good times 😀




I came to BC because to me it has two definitions: British Columbia and Back Country. The two are synonymous when I think of this place and its endless snow-covered peaks. They just go on and on for days, weeks, months, years. A backcountry skier could spend a lifetime here and never thirst for another place. I’ve come craving this place.

It was the place I learned about backcountry skiing on a trip to Red Mountain last year. After earning an engineers salary in Chicago for a few years I was finally able to afford the gear I needed to venture beyond the resorts and into the untamed, untracked mountains.

But first, I needed to get into Canada… I noticed too late that my passport is expired, and I didn’t have time to renew before crossing the border. I discovered online that I can use my expired passport as proof of citizenship, and along with a valid driver’s license I should be able to cross. As expected, the expired passport was a red flag for the customs agent and I was sent for inspection. After a long line of questioning, they said I was inadmissible to Canada and would be turned away. Totally bummed, I started asking lots of questions trying to find some alternative. Eventually the patroller came around and said he could grant me a temporary residency permit that would be good for one border crossing and a limited stay in Canada. The fee was $200. Still determined to get here, I decided it would be worth it and I could cut the costs in other ways. I made it.

My first stop was Whistler. I arrived around noon picking up a hitchhiker along the way. He advised me on where to park and start out. Hitchhikers can be great sources of information. I found the free parking and hit the slopes, first dollars saved.

My next stop was the ticket counter. At $99 per day and no half-day rates available, I quickly concluded this is where I needed to make my next bit of savings.


I saw a snowboarder passing by looking like he was headed to the bus. He had a lift ticket on his jacket. I asked, politely, if he was done using his lift ticket. He let me have it no problem. It was the sticky ticket type so I had to peel the sticker back and re-attach the wire, but in the same time it would have taken me to spend $100, I was riding the lift with no hassles.


It was sunny and warm. Although no snow had fallen in several days, the snow quality was great. The snow was firm but forgiving enough to let me lay deep trenches on each turn. I went straight to the top, a journey that included 1 gondola, 2 high speed chairlifts, and 1 T-bar over the course of 45 minutes. Wow, what a huge mountain this is. I ended up on Blackcomb mountain on the same glacier that I visited for summer ski camp at High North years ago. This time, I had my eye on the steep chutes that I’d heard about back then, a run called Sudan’s Couloir in particular. This became my first run, and after loving it, my second run also.

It was steep and narrow with rocky outcrops you had to jump over in places. A fall would mean big trouble in places, but the snow was very secure and falling was avoidable through jump turns and cautious speed control. I saw a skier fall on it while riding the lift. He took a wide line, fortunately, because he fell at the very top and lost his skis. Once in motion, he couldn’t stop until the steepness relented several hundred feet below. He tumbled and slid over several rock outcroppings doing countless cartwheels on the way down. He was totally fine, but it was dramatic to see. This reminded me to ski cautiously without falling.

I view falling in skiing as mostly controllable. I remember being amazed that my dad would go for years without falling. But now I realize that he simply chose not to push it to the point of falling. For me, I would always push it as hard as I could, falling every single day I went skiing. I wouldn’t fall just skiing the slope, I would fall trying something hard, like a tiproll over a mogul or something. But I’ve found that nowadays I can ski at a high level without falling if I hold back just a little bit from the edge of my ability. That’s important in some terrain where falling could be hazardous.


After the light went flat in the steeps, I found the terrain park. This is the Whistler I knew as a high-schooler, when I traveled here to learn new tricks from the pros. Back then, I would spend each morning building jumps at Seven Springs (PA) and each afternoon hitting them. But in Whistler, they had world class terrain parks and other people built jumps for you. This is the place where I learned backflips and railslides, corked 540’s and how to ride a halfpipe. I got to ride with pros like Shane McConkey, Shane Szochs, JP Auclair, Peter Olenick, JF Cusson, and the Three Phils.

Not much has changed. Whistler still has epic terrain parks, surely on par with any other place in the world. But nowadays, the kids are all going huge and throwing down so hard. The biggest change is that the average terrain park rider at Whistler is now as talented as the top pros were when I was training here. Everyone can throw cork spins and zero spins. Everyone can ride switch effortlessly. Everyone can throw 270s onto rails. No big deal. I spent two midweek days in the terrain park, usually off times for throwing down. I saw huge tricks constantly, stuff that would have been well beyond the top of my ability when I was training for it. I saw one guy throw a 1080 over one tabletop, stomp it, throw his hands in the air shouting in excitement for sticking it, then throw a second one over the next tabletop stomping it and shouting again. Another kid threw a switch 1080. Corked spins were commonplace, typically 720s and 900s both forwards and switch. I was blown away. I’ve never seen so much talent. This place is completely void of gapers.

I had a good day taking it easy and just tasting some big air again. Since living in Chicago, I’ve hardly skied in the past 3 years. For the first time in my life, I felt out of practice at jumping. I was rusty. Sure, I could still float a 720 over these perfectly manicured booters, but I was having trouble getting my grabs down and controlling how many rotations I ended up with. I landed several jumps in between 360 and 540 skidding the last bit around. I also had some surprising trouble taking off switch. I could do it, but it wasn’t comfortable like it used to be. These were all signs to just take it easy. I made as many laps as I could before the lifts closed sticking to tricks I knew I could pull off. I tried to perfect them rather than step it up. This is how I’d like to approach terrain parks these days. If I feel the need to throw something huge its going to be in the powder.

I decided two days in Whistler would be good on my limited trip to BC. So today I spent the morning blogging and hit the base area at lunchtime to clip another ticket. Another $100 saved 🙂

Today was pretty much the same as yesterday, except I felt a lot more comfortable on both the steeps and the jumps and held back a little less. I charged a steep line called Spanky’s Ladder that included a cliff drop into a huge bowl. It was awesome. After looking back up I realized I had picked the perfect line, as the other routes had big rocks exposed that would surely damage the skis.

I ventured to the terrain park again for more practice. I’m slowly getting my comfort back. I managed to pull off a new trick I hadn’t done before, 540 genie grab. I intended to do a 360 but underestimated the size of the jump. I like to do tricks no one else is doing, which usually involves some rare grabs or some blend of old school and new school. These kids still have a few things to learn.

I managed to ski Whistler 2 days for free. The only money I spent was on snacks at the coffee shop so they would let me use their internet and electrical outlets for free. I also skied near the top of my ability, but held back just enough to avoid falling. I’m pretty stoked that I can do that now. I like to keep it safe these days.

I have to add a bit to this post since I had a funny night out after writing it. I figured Friday night in Whistler might be interesting, so I ventured into town in search of some live music. I found some at a local tavern, acoustic guitar and drum kit. At first I wasn’t feeling it – lots of people paying way too much for drinks, somewhat of a rich crowd, not really my type. The band went on set break right when I arrived, bummer. I decided to grab a drink while waiting. The cheapest mug of beer was $5, more than my typical meal costs these days. Those are precious dollars for me and I begrudgingly paid for it. Bummer, it’s like paying 5x too much for PBR. Oh well. The cool part was every screen in the bar had on a ski or snowboard movie, and the lines they were riding were sick. I was getting sucked into one when I noticed some people playing a game I recognized, bite the bag! Except it wasn’t a bag they were going for, it was a $5 bill. If you don’t know, bite the bag is where you balance on 1 foot and try to pick up a standing paper bag with your mouth and stand back up without falling over. Once everyone does it, you fold down the bag, making it shorter and harder, until there’s a winner. A dollar bill is about the lowest anyone can go, since it’s basically just a few inches from the ground. It’s pretty tough, but I was feeling confident. After watching many people struggle for 15 minutes or more, I stepped in. I nailed it 3rd try, like a pro. BAM! I won $5 back, making my trip to the bar a freebie 🙂

2013-Winter-77 2013-Winter-78

Bham! (aka Bellingham, WA)


For those not in “the know”, Bellingham is the northernmost coastal city in Washington. It is the portal to Mt. Baker ski area in the northern Cascades, my favorite of all ski areas, and just a few miles from the Canadian border. It is home to Western Washington University, and as a result draws a young, fun, cool crowd. The average local is into some kind of outdoor sport, whether its skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, sailing, mountaineering, triathalons or whatever, Bellingham has it. It’s also a bit of a hippie scene, and for those who still think I’m a hippie you really have no idea… There are parties constantly, and the night life is raging.

Best of all, in my opinion, is the music scene. It always surprises me that such a seemingly small city, about 80,000 people, could have such great music all the time. But I’m never disappointed by this place. In fact I seek out the live music whenever I’m here. It’s one of those places where you can see a live show any night of the week with musicians you’ve never heard of and have an absolute blast. People dance here. People sing, and make up lyrics if they don’t know real ones. This city is full of life.

I first started coming to Bellingham when I worked as a ski instructor at Mt Baker. Since Baker is located in national forest land, there’s no town, and the road is a complete dead end. There are a few towns between Bham and Baker, but most people end up driving from Bellingham for day trips and returning here after skiing. That’s the habit I fell into most of the time as well.

I came here primarily to ski and spend time with my buddy Nick. Originally from North Dakota, Nick fell in love with this place and became a new local. He’s now co-founding a music school where he teaches guitar and bass lessons along with his buddy Ryan, a drummer. Not surprisingly, they are both incredible musicians and play local shows several nights a week. Here’s Nick in his room with all his recording and editing equipment. Nick records and edits music, photos, and video in addition to teaching.


Naturally, we saw a LOT of shows. The music is all original, with styles ranging from jazz to reggae to rock to bluegrass to hip hop. Most music is somewhat of a blend between genres, with guest musicians frequently stepping up from the crowd to join the band. We danced without holding back. Nick is getting into break dancing, so he was all about teaching me some moves. Pretty much everyone dances at the shows here, a big part of why I like the scene so much. There’s nothing held back.

My favorite dancer was this girl who we saw at nearly every show. She arrives early, wearing her dancing tights, and grabs the spot right in front of the stage. She wears earmuffs to protect her hearing so she can dance every night in front of the speakers in her own world of free expression. Here’s a picture. It’s tough to make out he striped tights and earmuffs, but rest assured they’re there 🙂


The best show was definitely Nick’s band Snug Harbor. I saw them play two nights, a big jazz ensemble crammed with talent. Nick plays bass, but they also have drums, guitar, trombone, trumpet, and sax. They’re a really cool crowd too. Some of the band members can never get enough jamming in, so the night usually ends with them playing each others instruments for a late night improv session. Here’s the sax player, Frank, on the drums, lol 🙂


My recent stay in Bham had many highlights and GREAT times with old friends as well as new ones, but I’ve got to mention specifically my friend Megeara. She and I met on Lopez Island where we built staw bale houses for the community land trust. We always had a special connection, but Megeara isn’t really a technology person so we only keep in touch in person. But every time I find myself in Bellingham I seem to run into her. That happened one night on the way to a free hip hop show at the Glow. We hung out and danced and talked, but it was late and we decided to get together the following day to really hang out and catch up.

Megeara always lives someplace interesting. I visited her years ago at a very hippie communal type place that included an alternative library, vegan cuisine, gigantic kombucha carboys, optional shoes and clothing, and many many loving people. Her current household is much smaller, only 6 roommates, but still has lots of character and loving people. The picture at the top of this blog is a mural painted on the wall of their living room. Here is a closeup of another:


We had a great chat about all things in life over the past 4 years. Megeara enlightened me in many ways. She is a healer and mild clairvoyant. She tells me I’m a “world-bridger” capable of going between starkly contrasting worlds and bringing traits of one to the other. I see this in my life, like the contrasting worlds of Lopez and Chicago, or Seven Springs and Conneaut Lake, engineers and hippies, outdoorsmen and citydwellers. We discussed the world and the evolution that’s happening, as well as our roles in it. Megeara wants to start a midwifery collective on San Juan island to welcome the new souls entering this world. Megeara guided me through a great meditation session, and we went to her friends studio for a yoga session. After all the skiing I’ve been doing, this was exactly what my body needed.

We decided to have a potluck that night, a gathering of friends, to enjoy a meal together and make some music. I invited Nick, and we made a delicious Thai curry in Washington style, with yams, apples, and fennel. Delicious. It turns out that Megeara’s roommates are great musicians (surprise, surprise) and one of them used to play guitar for Nicks current band Snug Harbor. We had an epic jam session with acoustic guitars, banjo, cajon (wooden box shaped drum), vocals and whistling. Great times in Bham for all.


Avalanche Safety


Mt Baker is my primary aspiration for backcountry skiing. When I worked here, I desperately wanted to venture out the gates into the endless mountains, but held back due to lack of gear and knowledge. But the Chicago career afforded me the alpine touring gear I needed, and now its time to get the knowledge in place. So it seemed fitting that this would be the place of my first formal avalanche safety training.

At first, I wasn’t sure it would work out because the class I needed to take was booked up. But I got on the waiting list and the instructor advised me to just show up anyway in case someone didn’t make it. As so often happens, it worked out because I went for it. Our instructor, Jeff, was a totally rad dude who makes avalanche safety seem cool. It is cool, because backcountry skiing is cool, and avalanche safety is inextricable from it. The science is fascinating, and during the classroom sessions I would probe all kinds of questions sending Jeff way off the deep end at times. But it was extremely valuable for me to have that kind of interaction with an experienced avalanche veteran.

Jeff shared his personal stories about avalanches he was involved in. Crazy. He was buried once in a completely preventable situation in a shallow slide that you’d never expect could bury you. One of the biggest dangers is familiarity and inaccurate assessment of the potential power beneath your feet.

It was great to practice the rescue scenarios in the field. We had a great group of ranging abilities. But somehow we all clicked, and when it came time for testing our skills, we rose to the occasion with enthusiasm. The instructors would bury several backpacks with transceivers in them in hidden locations. Then we would ski to the scene, and they would report the avalanche to us, often saying there were people buried and the weren’t sure how many. One person from our group would take the lead, advising the others what to do and where to go, splitting the search party across the slope and discovering multiple buried backpacks. We had 15 minutes to establish an airway, after that any survivors are likely to suffocate. In all three of our test scenarios we found and dug up all the backpacks within the 15 minutes. One scenario even included a body with no transceiver to locate, simply a glove on the surface that gave you a clue. The instructors were all impressed, I guess we were the first group to find the hidden body within 15 minutes in “a long time”.

The biggest mistake I saw our group making was the tendency to rush. But rushing the locating and probing process wastes time in the long run. The best approach was described to me as a run, walk, crawl scenario. At first you are scrambling to get everyone searching and find a signal as fast as possible. Then when you get within 15 meters or so you need to slow way down, and pop off your ski gear to walk. When you get within a few meters, you literally get on hands and knees right at snow level and find the strongest signal. Its best to take a deep breath and repeat this process to make sure you’ve got it right, paying attention to the location as well as the depth. Then you probe carefully and methodically. Hasty probing can waste lots of time. Then dig from the downhill side into the slope, paying close attention at the depth you need to dig by evidence of the probe strike.

Although avalanches are super scary and I still have lots to learn about avoiding them, I take some comfort in knowing and practicing what to do in case I ever encounter one. If that ever happens, you have to be automatic.

We spent a lot of time reading terrain and looking at recent avalanches as well. This part was super useful. The best indicator of avalanche activity is avalanches, so many lessons can be learned from simply observing your terrain. While doing this, we also observed a unicyclist riding down the mountain (photo below). I love this place 🙂


Facebook discussion on winter solstice 2012

I recently made a post on Facebook that gathered a few interesting responses. I’ve decided to share it here since I feel it touches some auspicious topics and has valuable content worth sharing. Below is the copy/paste version as best I could capture it from Facebook. Also, click here for the news article that inspired the post regarding the statements from Evo Morales.
Chaz Ott wrote:
Welcome to the new age, the age of Pacha. This is a time we must change our ways collectively to prevent our own suffering and extinction. In the words of Bolivia’s president Evo Morales:

“And I would like to say that according to the Mayan calendar the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism – 21 of December this year. The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed. That is why we invite all of you, those of you who bet on mankind, we invite those who want to share their experiences for the benefit of mankind.”

Andy LitakLogan ScholfieldBrian Benoy and 4 others like this. 2 shares.

Eddie Schoen yep yep yep!

Tambra Garlick Driscoll I laughed so hard when I read this. Chaz, I thought the only high in your life was the mountains, but it looks likes you have been smoking something. LOL

Tambra Garlick Driscoll Of course I would not expect a young product of the benefits of a capitalistic society to see the humor, but it made me laugh. Merry Christmas kid.

Logan Scholfield as he should be, Tambra. The earth is holy. Utilize it.

Tambra Garlick Driscoll As he should be what Logan….smoking something? The earth is holy…utilize it. In what way…clean coal production? Timbering? Growing hay for housing? As a playground? Okay, I am down with it, lets use it. You know in my part of the world we have been using it for quite sometime. We utilized it so well, we built the Carnegie, the Frick, and half of America with the end result…steel. LOL Logan, before you jump into some utopian rant, you should know that I am teasing Chaz…as he will know. He will also tell you to save the rant, I am a barbarbian…a republican.hell I even read Ayn Rand for spare yourself the effort.

Chaz Ott Lemme jump in here. Tamie, you raise a great point that I’m a privileged person, a product of a society that was built from the wealth of planetary resources at our disposal. That was the industrial age. I don’t condemn it or deny it. We have worked so hard to build this society, and I have been the recipient of a prosperous life because of it. We have tapped the abundance of the planet and built great things. But we have reached a point where the continuation of such practices will challenge our very survival on this planet. It’s not nature I’m worried about here. No, nature will live on, always, with or without us. It’s us that needs to worry. Because our current way of life cannot be sustained and we now have the tools to see it and the knowledge to know it. So this is our turning point. We can either keep on trying to defeat nature and kill ourselves in the process (add “Collapse” by Jared Diamond to your reading list if you doubt this), or we can change our ways to live peacefully as a part of nature just like every other species on Earth. Logan believes that the Earth is holy because he has connected to it. This is the age in which we must all connect to it. For a long time we have seen ourselves as separate from the environment, as though it is a thing for us to conquer. That view will no longer suffice, because it will lead to our destruction and suffering. We will continue to build great things and live prosperously, but we must do so in a way that is harmonious with our living planet, our home. We must become responsible stewards of the Earth that we borrow from our children – maintaining a healthy world, watching over the delicate balance of life, increasing fertility and resource yield through technology, etc. We must leave behind the mental health disease that is greed and the pursuit of personal wealth beyond our needs, and move into a world that meets the basic needs of all people collectively. It is the way forward. Alright I’m gonna go smoke another one because I’m in Washington state and it’s LEGAL wooohooo!!! LOL 🙂

Tambra Garlick Driscoll You lucky boy…I enjoyed what you wrote…very well done. I have read the book you suggested, you see I have many friends the espouse the same ideas as yours, and of course they gift me books. All that smokin ya know…it will bring the oddest sorts to your door. I am not against changing the way we view our world and our place in the cycle, nor am I against your friends assertion that the world is holy. Such philosophies are not new to man you know? As a well read person, I have explored many, and will continue to do so. Rather, my comment was more in the spirit of gentle teasing because not only your philosophy, but your journey of discovery, are no different than those experienced by other children of capitalism, including myself. Not rock climbing for me…western skies…5 years traveling the country and out of it, would not change those memories for anything. I, too, had my nights under the stars in the Rockies, burning and talking, talking, talking, about how much better the world could be. I hope you manage to hold on to your passion Chaz.

Tambra Garlick Driscoll And the rock…for your dear mother’s sake…hold on to the f***ing rock!

Best Powder Day Ever

Best Powder Day Ever

After skiing Jackson Hole, I drove through the night (and another snowstorm) to Sandpoint, Idaho, to check out Schweitzer Mountain. I learned about Schweitzer while living in Washington state, and it has a reputation for great terrain and lots of snow. It’s a real skiers mountain that caters to locals more than tourists. It was somewhat on my way, about 13 hours northwest of Jackson.

I arrived at 10am ready for powder. Schweitzer was reporting a 100” base and 20” of fresh snow overnight. I caught the bus up the mountain road and met some very excited locals. They were saying it would be the best day of the year so far. School was cancelled for the day, and lots of high schoolers were riding the bus to the mountain instead. After winding 9 miles up the snowy mountain road in a chain-equipped bus, we were greeted by fierce winds and blowing snow. I got to the lift to find it had been shut down due to high winds. They were reporting sustained 60 mph wind at the top of the first chair. I did some laps on the bunny hill to kill time and get warmed up for the runs to come, but the lifts never opened. At noon, they made the call that the mountain would not open today. I was super bummed to miss out on these phenomenal conditions, since I could not stay another day.

I went back down and continued my drive west. While driving, I found out that the solstice gathering I was headed to was a day later than the original email said it was, so I had an extra day. I was so tempted to go back to Schweitzer knowing that the 20” of powder was sitting there untouched. However, a call from my friend James got me psyched on Mt Baker instead.

Baker is known for having the most snow of any place in the world, and this year is no exception. They were reporting 130” base and 24” in the past 24 hours, still snowing. James told me he skied there on Monday, and half the mountain was closed due to wind. He expected it to open on Tuesday, making this mountain as appealing as Schweitzer. Tuesday morning came with 6” more snow overnight, bringing the total new snowfall depth to 30”. My buddies Nick, James, and I hit the road early to catch first chair.

I can honestly say I’ve never skied so many lines this extreme, this fresh, and this deep in a single day in my entire life of skiing. The visibility was perfect, and the clouds occasionally opened to blue skies and mountain vistas. When it wasn’t bluebird it was snowing, piling on still more snow. Having worked at this mountain a few years before, I knew the lines well, but I was still blown away by how everything skied in these conditions. I was able to ski lines that are normally impossible, far too steep for most conditions.

The truly unique aspect of Baker is the snow. It gets so much, and it’s not as light or fluffy as other places like Jackson Hole and Utah. This means more work skiing, but it also means sicker lines. The heavy cascade snow sticks to everything, including the steepest pitches around, and small pines act like roots for snowpack preventing sluffing. So lines that would not be skiable at most resorts are skiable at Baker. To top it off, the attitude here is to let people ski whatever they want within reason. There are ropes and signs like other resorts, but they act as warnings more often than barriers. They let you know you’re entering dangerous cliff areas, but they don’t stop you from going there or punish you for it unless it’s truly suicidal. They keep you out of the dangerous avalanche areas, but they let you ski terrain that would never be open for skiing at most resorts.

Nick, James, and I spent the entire day on the snow devouring as much powder as our legs would let us. They had a delayed opening on chair 6, so when the opened it mid-day, we had a whole new untracked world to explore. Our first run we got cliffed out, and ended up dropping a 20 footer. The rest of the day pretty much went like that also. A typical run went knee deep turn, narrow chute, waist deep drift, pillow line, face shot, 15 footer, tree jib, no lift line, repeat. I was smiling all day, a huge powder eating grin. Nick was worried about his knee injury, but the snow was so soft he was able to ride all day dropping cliffs and all. James improved his skiing drastically since I last skied with him a few years ago. He went from an intermediate off-piste skier to stomping 20 foot cliffs with confidence, landing in big arching turns between obstacles. All of us had one of our personal best days of skiing ever. When the lifts closed we could take no more, legs completely zapped.


Nick and I loving life so hard :)

Nick and I loving life so hard 🙂

Brie, this one's for you ;)

Brie, this one’s for you 😉

James getting ready to drop

James getting ready to drop

The few, the proud, the midweek powder hounds

The few, the proud, the midweek powder hounds


That grin never left my face all day, except when it was occasionally blasted with a face shot

That grin never left my face all day, except when it was occasionally blasted with a face shot

The Skiing Begins

I wrapped up a very prolific climbing week in Colorado with friends Curt, Andrew, Jeremy, and Fred on Saturday 12/15. On the final day, Curt and I hit up the Animal World crag at Boulder Canyon in some of the coldest temps I’ve climbed in all year. The temperatures were a challenge, but we got in a lot of climbing and had a great last day, including my first 5.12 flash in Colorado, a route called Days of Future Past. My favorite route of the five we climbed that day was an 11c called Animal Magnetism.

So after climbing all day, Curt went to work the evening shift at his restaurant and I hit the west bound road. I’m on my way to Lopez Island in Washington State for the winter solstice gathering. I had been hoping to ski in Colorado while I was there, but the resorts didn’t have enough snow to justify the high ticket prices. I saw that Jackson Hole had some snow in the forecast, and sitting 9 hours west of Boulder it seemed like a logical choice for the next day.

I arrived at Jackson later than expected, but still in time for a Sunday ski session. The wintery driving the night before suggested a good ski day ahead. The mountain had a 65” base with 7” of fresh overnight. It was cold, so the snow was light and fluffy. The constant wind piled drifts on the leeward slopes, and I found stashes of untracked powder ranging from boot-deep to knee-deep. I learned of a new expression for days like this, “free refills”. The snow kept piling on and the wind kept filling the tracks in leaving a fresh line for every run. It was the perfect first day of skiing. I explored the entire mountain nonstop, only stopping to ride the chairlifts. The new high speed chair Casper had some memorable lines. I found a section of trees completely untracked, and the fast chair let me do 6 minute laps. I cleaned out every fresh line through those trees in about 8 laps.

Jackson Hole has a few claims to fame. It is considered the most difficult ski resort in North America. It is also home to the largest vertical drop serviced by any lift in North America – the aerial tram, which rises 4,139 vertical feet above the base area. Although I was disappointed that the famous Corbett’s Couloir and other difficult descents were closed due to low snow levels, I was stoked to ski so much vertical. I skied the tram from top to bottom nonstop, and timed my runs to catch the last tram ride of the day at 3:30. When I arrived back at the base area, I was surprised to also catch the last gondola ride back up at 4:00. This was a full value day.

The aerial tram at Jackson Hole, WY

The aerial tram at Jackson Hole, WY

Straw man. Somewhere in Montana.

Straw man. Somewhere in Montana.

Sheep in road. I saw one of these signs, laughed, then saw a huge big horn sheep right in the middle of the road. How did they know?

Sheep in road. I saw one of these signs, laughed, then saw a huge big horn sheep right in the middle of the road. How did they know?

Snowy driving for days...

Snowy driving for days…