Snowskating Approaches Critical Mass
By Melissa Duge Spiers
Go ahead, you can admit it. You miss the days when snowboarding made you feel like a rebel on the slopes. You enjoyed it when people nearly fell off the lift watching you carve down the hill below them on that weird new board-thingie. And you definitely miss the young fans following you on and off the slopes; peppering you with questions about that crazy thing you’re riding.
With all the shredders, tele-masters and tricksters at the resorts today it is nearly impossible to distinguish yourself from any of the other baggy-pantsed downhillers. Unless you’re the next Flying Rutabaga, you are sorta …well…run of the mill. But all is not lost: hold onto your boards because you are going back to the future and will be showered with questions and attention again this season. You are freeing your toes, bro: you’re a snowskater!
Snowskating has been around since the 1970s, but it suffered for many decades under the general notion that those strange skateboard/ski hybrids were “just toys.” A growing community of snowskaters has recently been upending the myths that long limited the sport to just an underground hobby, however, and the resurgence of interest in the sport has earned it broad acceptance at resorts. Disproving its freak-fad reputation, snowskating has gained an ardent global following with its own manufacturers, blogs, Facebook fan sites, and competitions.
As with snowboarding in the 1980s, the sport has spread primarily by word-of-mouth. Once you see it, you just have to try it. But indeed, what is it? It’s simply skateboarding on the snow (or skiing on a skateboard) completely unfettered by bindings.
We are so thoroughly conditioned to think we must be firmly shackled to our downhill equipment that most people refuse to believe you can truly ride the entire mountain without bindings. “How do you stay on that thing?” is a constant, skeptical refrain, but the answer is pretty darned simple. You stay on your snowskate just like a skateboarder does: with a combination of grip tape, gravity, and grace.
The freedom from heavy boots, bindings, and boards is wonderfully liberating. You will never again be one of the masses in the lift line dragging a heavy board at an unnatural angle behind you.
But no matter how much they envy your freedom, most people still won’t believe your sleek new ride is actually useful. A typical response is the disbelieving question, “Can you actually ride that thing? Like…uh…down the hill?” Yes, anyone from your 3-year-old daughter to your father-in-law can snowskate. It is no more difficult than riding a snowboard: all you need is a snowskate and a leash. Given the right skate, snowskaters can ride any terrain as well as a skier or snowboarder.
Modern snowskates are divided into two simple categories: single-deck and bi-deck. Single-deck snowskates resemble small snowboards with grooves on the bottom and waterproof grip tape on top. They are most often used for riding in parks and urban terrain. Experienced riders can take them downhill, but they generally lack the all-mountain maneuverability of a bi-deck snowskate and are often banned at ski resorts.
A bi-deck snowskate is what the first timer will undoubtedly be riding down the mountain. A bi-deck snowskate consists of a skateboard deck mounted on a small ski or snowboard with light, metal trucks. The responsive combo of deck and ski delivers excellent control and unprecedented versatility. Bi-deck snowskates can be tailored to different riding styles and conditions: larger and longer for big-mountain or powder conditions, and smaller/shorter for tricks and stunts. The trucks on most bi-deck snowskates also allow for the bottom board or ski to be interchanged with those of other sizes and shapes in order to maintain nearly endless options with minimum effort and investment.
Snowskaters across the US and Europe have been steadily proving their all-mountain versatility in powder and back country riding as well as in a growing number of park and downhill tournaments. Devoted groups have sprouted up in nearly every snow-worthy US state, and around the world including Austria, Norway, France, and Japan. These days, snowskaters are now welcomed at almost all resorts in the Sierra. The Tahoe area holds some of the longest-running, most respected snowskate competitions, ranging from the classic Ralston Cup to the quirky invitation-only Bonser Pipeline, and is the home of several snowskate companies (see sidebar).
As an enthusiastic member of this burgeoning, über-hip community, you can now answer all the standard questions about the sport with great expertise. And you can proudly tick off the bonus benefits of snowskating for your legions of new slopeside fans: All of your gear fits into an average-sized duffel bag. You wear normal shoes. You happily embrace traverses. When you get on and off the lift you just ride—no foot dragging, no stopping to buckle or unbuckle. When you wreck, you just tumble off your skate (your leash makes sure it stays close but doesn’t compound your fall). And of course you answer that most frequent question of all with just a hint of superiority: “What is that thing?”
“It’s a snowskate, dude.”
Most resorts in the Sierra and the surrounding area allow snowskating. For a complete list check the resorts tab at the Predog Snowskate website. Tahoe area tournaments include the Ralston Cup at Sierra-at-Tahoe, the Minus 7 Melee at Donner Ski Ranch, and the Bonser Pipeline (by invitation). Guaranteed awesome parties, competitions are also a perfect place to meet other riders and see the newest gear from local snowskate makers.
Project Snowskate is a helpful blog by Reno-based women’s snowskate champ Kendra Wilson.
Newborn Snowskate Magazine is a good place to start for general information about snowskating.
Most bi-deck snowskates are purchased online. Predog, Ralston, Pioneer, and Fuse are four companies that sell skates and all the gear on their websites.
Melissa Duge Spiers divides her time between Tahoe Donner and Santa Cruz. She is the proud den-mom of the Predog Snowskate crew, step-mother of two snowskate champions, and a beginning snowskater herself. In the off-season she runs marathons and is working on her first novel.
Dear EarthTalk: I’m in the market for a new pair of skis. Are there skis being made today that are made with materials and processes that are kinder to the environment?
– Scott Paxton, Rutland, VT
Yes, in fact ski (and snowboard) manufacturers may be among the greenest sporting goods industries out there today, given the importance to practitioners of keeping our carbon emissions down—global warming is bad for skiing and boarding—and our alpine backcountry preserved.
Perhaps the biggest green change in the industry is the adoption of bamboo as a core material for both skis and snowboards. Bamboo is fast growing and doesn’t require much if any fertilizers or pesticides, so it can be produced sustainably. It is also rigid and hard to break. While most skis and snowboards on the market today still use more traditional hardwoods like beech, birch or aspen in their cores, bamboo is definitely coming on strong. Some of the leading ski makers leading the bamboo charge include K2, Salomon, Kingswood, High Society, Boomtown, Obsidian, Locomotiv, Liberty, and Blue House.
Bamboo isn’t the only green innovation in skis today. Switzerland-based Movement Skis uses wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). And Germany’s Grown Skis will recycle your old skis to make furniture and use remaining wood scraps in making new pairs of sustainably-sourced wood skis.
Another German manufacturer, Völkl, eschews fiberglass entirely in its Amaruq Eco skis. The wood core is wrapped instead with wood sidewalls and topsheet. And instead of using epoxy to bind things together, Völkl uses all-organic wood resin and then protects the skis’ wood surfaces with an application of linseed oil. The metal edges employ 60 percent recycled steel.
Sustainability is also the new normal in snowboards. California-based Arbor Collective uses sustainably sourced bamboo, natural wood veneer and poplar, respectively, in its three lines. Protective top layers are made from a 30 percent castor bean-based bioplastic and the edges are made of 60 percent recycled steel.
Salomon, one of the industry’s leaders, has pioneered using bamboo in its snowboard cores as part of its Green Initiatives for Tomorrow program. The company’s embrace of bamboo has helped it cut down significantly on toxic fiberglass resins while reducing the plastic content of its boards by some 25 percent.
Burton’s Eco Nico snowboard uses FSC-certified wood for its core, a lacquer-free top sheet, 90 percent recycled steel edges, 100 percent recycled sidewalls and a 50 percent recycled base. K2 Sports Fastplant snowboard uses bamboo for its core, and is deemed virtually unbreakable by the company. Another manufacturer, Washington-based Gnu, uses sustainably harvested Aspen trees for their snowboard cores.
Many other ski and snowboard makers have jumped on the green bandwagon as well. Indeed, there’s never been a better time to do the right thing by your snowsports equipment purchasing.
CONTACTS: Grown Skis, www.grownskis.com; Movement Skis, www.movementskis.com; Lucky Snowboards, www.luckysnowboards.com; Gnu Snowboards, www.gnu.com; Burton Snowboards, www.burton.com; K2 Sports, www.k2.com; Arbor Collective, www.arborcollective.com; Salomon, www.salomon.com.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.
2012 Dates and Locations
Eagle Bowl Banzai, Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Beaver Bowl Banzai, Alpine Meadows Resort
KT-22 Banzai, Squaw Valley USA
Silver Belt Banzai, Sugar Bowl Resort
Learn more at Rahlves Banzai Tour 2012
Register at SnowBomb
A safer way to learn
Story by Haven Livingston
Each and every year, my mood darkens with the arrival of the first snowflakes. It’s not that I’m against winter as a season—it’s more that I miss my favorite outdoor pursuits, which all involve fair weather. And truth be told, I have a bad relationship with particular winter activities, namely skiing and snowboarding. Winter’s arrival has traditionally resulted in a seasonal downward spiral of my life’s overall fun factor, but that may be changing, sooner than later.
While the outdoorsy folks around me seem to revel in the season, its arrival sends me into a panic, searching for the nearest exit door that leads south. Friends proudly strut their new snow gear while I hold a death grip on my bikini and sandals, ready for any chance to bail to a warmer clime. I would like to think there is nothing wrong with this reaction. After all, millions of birds migrating south every winter couldn’t be wrong. But after so many years of bemoaning and running from winter, I am beginning to realize that I could be missing out on some thrilling, snowy fun.
Snowboarding and skiing have an obvious appeal to most outdoor enthusiasts: bending the body into sweeping, graceful turns, the rush of speed, the quiet beauty of a winter landscape. Being a surfer, and a climber who occasionally looks for a quicker way off the mountain, I have to admit I am intrigued. However, my problem isn’t just that I don’t like winter. I am actually afraid of snow, or more precisely, steep snowy slopes.
The fear began with a traumatic childhood experience. I was frozen—a deer in headlights–at the top of my first bunny hill and forced to go down it against my will. My run (and the rest of my day) ended abruptly when I careened off course and crash-landed into a small stream. My fear was reinforced with a one-day snowboarding adventure in graduate school that left me with a debilitating back injury. I hadn’t made any effort to befriend the snow for eight years until last winter. A no pressure, three-day introduction to downhill skiing sparked a desire as I connected my first few turns. Thus, I am now determined to give winter a chance, and to even learn to love the “pow”.
Learning a new sport as an adult is not only a physical challenge, it also can be a humbling mental exercise. This is especially true when five-year-old “rippers” zoom past you, or when you have a fearful memory to overcome.
Teaching yourself can be a painful waste of time. Unfortunately, learning from friends can also be a lost cause if your friends are long time skiers. They tend to give you ridiculous instructions like, “just follow me and do what I do–you’ll be fine.” This might reflect a foggy memory they have from taking lessons at age seven, but this technique certainly doesn’t reflect the realities of physical learning. As adults, we have busy lives and want the most efficient learning process possible so we can start following our friends on the slopes. Yes, finding professional help was the only way I would get back on a snowboard.
Much to my relief, I learned that I didn’t have to buy a lift ticket, gear, or warm clothing to begin my journey into snowboarding. I also didn’t have to wait in line or fear getting creamed by people flying down the mountain at light speed. I simply drove to the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco, and hopped on the Endless Slope.
Endless Slope in San Francisco is owned by Adventurous Sports, a business dedicated to helping people find their way to fit and happy lives. Brightly lit and colorfully painted, the Endless Slope studio houses little more than the equipment itself: a giant treadmill for skiers and snowboarders. The sloped, six by six-foot deck is covered in carpet, and bordered in front and back by safety bars. The instructor has full control over the speed of the treadmill, and the boarder is harnessed to the back bar as an extra precaution. Boots and skis or boards are provided.
When I arrived for my introductory session, my anxiety immediately fell away. The atmosphere is completely non-threatening (there was no snow or five year old rippers). My lesson was one-on-one with professional instructor Ian-Michael Hébert. Hailing from Alaska, Hébert is at home in the snow and on the slopes. With a resume full of experience in coaching, teaching, training and a level two certification from the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, he provides expert instruction for all levels and ages. He’s one of five instructors for Endless Slope, all with equally impressive backgrounds.
Hébert kept things light and simple and got right to the point. After an overview of snowboarding on the ground, I was gliding down the carpet, finding my balance and being instructed on the key points of snowboarding success. We covered the basics of how to slide, stop, turn from front to back, and the beginning motions of carving turns.
The endless slope is the perfect learning tool for skiers and boarders. The focus is to develop the muscle memory needed to react quickly to situations without having to think first. Lessons are tailored to suit the individual from beginner to expert. A beginner’s advantage is that instructors will catch inefficient movements before they become bad habits and guide the student to develop their own riding sense naturally. Intermediate and expert riders can focus on specific technical skills they want to develop.
Along the way, you also get a great workout. The number of turns made in a half-hour session on the treadmill is roughly the same to an entire day on the slopes, but the number of falls on the Endless Slope is usually zero.
During my time on the slope, Hébert was patient and thoughtful with his instruction. By the end of my second session I felt myself becoming more secure in my balance, and was feeling the rhythm of carving. I wasn’t comfortable enough to completely abandon the railing, but I was close. Two or three more sessions and I’m certain I would be ready to hit the slopes with enough confidence and endurance to enjoy a full weekend on the snow. It’s an exciting prospect to think about finding joy in something that I have been afraid of for so long.
On my way out the door I passed a family of four on their way in. With kids ages four and five they explained that they came every weekend as a family event because it was easier than driving to the snow. The kids tore around the room, excited to get their gear on, while the parents chilled out and watched them learn. “When they’re old enough to last a whole day on the mountain, then we’ll take them,” the parents explained, “but for now, they love this!”
This method of learning is smart and efficient for both the body and pocket book. Using the Endless Slope as a beginner’s classroom saves time and money that would have been spent on long drives, rentals, lift tickets and group lessons with many distractions. I also saved myself from all the falls and bruises, cold lift rides, and potentially embarrassing moments on resort slopes. Clearly the Endless Slope was the perfect way for me to ease my way back onto the snow. I also highly recommend it as an excellent way to get warmed up for the upcoming season of riding or skiing, regardless of your ability level.
For more information, or to book a lesson, contact Adventurous Sports at 415-397-7678 or visit them at www.adventurous.com. You can see more on the Endless Slope at www.endlesslope.com
Sports, North Lake Tahoe’s premier backcountry ski and outdoor retailer for more than 30 years, has partnered with industry-leading outdoor manufacturers Black Diamond, Dynafit North America, Patagonia, and Marmot to create an unprecedented challenge for the region’s backcountry skiing community.
“Tahoe’s consistently deep snowpack, long spring season and copious bluebird powder days have spawned a tremendously motivated backcountry user group that cumulatively, put in an astounding amount of human powered vertical each winter,” says Alpenglow Sports general manager Brendan Madigan, who with challenge co-creator Jeff Dostie, another admitted backcountry powder addict, logs more than half a million vertical feet each season. “Our goal is track that data and use it to unite and inspire the entire backcountry skiing community.”
This free, “earn-your-turns” event will be characterized by a simple on-line format at www.TahoeVertical.com, where participants can enter their daily vertical feet collected on skis, snowboard, and snowshoe or simply hiking. The challenge will collect data from all participants from Dec. 10, 2010 through May 1, 2011.
The inaugural 2010/11 “Lake Tahoe Backcountry Vertical Competition” will award grand prizes from Black Diamond, Dynafit North America, Patagonia and Marmot to the top three men and women, as well as display daily updates on the overall vertical feet collected by the community throughout the season.
As Lake Tahoe’s original backcountry ski shop, Alpenglow Sports seeks to encourage human-powered backcountry skiing and riding in Lake Tahoe’s world-class terrain while creating a shared forum that is both fun and inspiring. Backcountry users of all levels are encouraged to participate, from professionals to weekend warriors. Weekly raffles will also be held for all participants. The contest will rely solely on honest and accurate data entry from all participants, false entries and exaggerations will not be accepted.
Story by Seth Lightcap
Photo: Steve Borge
There is a fine line between passion and addiction. Passion connotes a ravenous love, often at the edge of control. Addiction suggests a habitual fixation, usually beyond control. So then, how does one define a love so wildly passionate that your soul abandons all control and drowns in pleasure regardless of sacrifice?
Twenty four months into an ongoing quest to backcountry snowboard every month of the year, my relationship with snowy peaks, scoured ridges and epic drives demands such a cross-examination.
Floating knee-deep turns… Taking flight off cornices… Bonking powder laden trees… Surely passion!
But driving 10 hours round trip from Santa Cruz for every outing… Hiking for hours in loose talus for a 100-yard patch of sun cupped, barely edgeable snow… Addiction?
It’s just something about snow. Powder, slush, wind buff, even breakable crust. I need it. Got to have it. When? Now! Pack the boards, grab the boots, and pick me up. We’re going snowboarding. But it’s August! Fine. Bring some flip-flops for the approach.
Thankfully, I am not alone in my fiendish pursuit. As the northern hemisphere barrels headlong into winter it marks the second complete year that my equally passionate partner, Allison Lipp, and I have fulfilled our craving for an endless winter in the high peaks of the Sierra and Cascades.
Beyond Bounds Training Photo: Brian Bozack
The concept of skiing or riding year round is not a new one. A Pacific Northwest forum called Turns-All-Year.com boasts over 500 members. One skier in Colorado just celebrated his 300th consecutive month of skiing. But we don’t live in Whistler, B.C. or Leadville, Colorado.
Living on the California coast, our quest to snowboard year round has been a daunting test of backcountry strategy. The snow pack evolves so quickly that sometimes we haven’t decided where to go and the car is already packed and running. Should we go to the eastside of Mt. Shasta or hunt for snowfields on Sonora Pass? Should we guarantee success and drive to Mt. Hood? Will it all be bullet proof ice when we get there? Maybe.
In concept, our monthly ritual seems simple… find the best snow conditions possible to hike and snowboard at least 1,000 vertical feet. In the leanest of snow months, we’ll settle for riding at least ten linked turns.
Approaching Sierra gridlock on the Mist Trail, Yosemite.
Photo: Seth Lightcap
Somehow we have managed to pull it off without strangling each other in a Milpitas traffic jam or a loose talus field, but we’ve been close a few months. The sight of snow and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve
completed yet another improbable outing always reunites us.
Our fixation might seem trivial or misguided to the uninitiated masses, but those who have felt the burn and bliss of earning your turns are better able to understand why we stretch our every resource to play this game. When every adventure involves keen exploration, rugged exercise, and the adrenaline rush of backcountry snowboarding, it’s easy to get addicted.
Here’s to a hearty winter and a bountiful harvest come next summer.
Twelve Months of Snow: The Cali Reality
“Ski Dreams”Matterhorn Peak • Bridgeport, CA
“Ski Dreams” is a broad but steep ramp cresting the ridge just east of the summit of Matterhorn Peak. Typically tackled in two or three days, the snowfield funnels slightly and then dumps into a massive bowl ringed on all sides by spectacular towers. When filled with milky powder, a descent of “Ski Dreams” is a true wet dream.
“Bear Scratch”• East Shore, Lake Tahoe
The “Bear Scratch” is the name for the steep logging flumes that plummet off of Marlett Peak high above Incline Village. East shore descents require a low snow line, so tackle this one after a heaping
helping of snow at lake level. Expect steep technical lines entering the namesake chutes and moderate tree glades along nearby ridges.
Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley
Here’s a fabulous warmup for a big spring tour. The recommended route meanders along the Sierra Crest from the top of Mt. Lincoln at Sugar Bowl to Shirley Canyon at Squaw. Wicked descents of Anderson Peak and Tinkers Knob highlight a moderate tour that even has two Sierra Club huts perfectly positioned along the way. Reservations required.
Mammoth to Yosemite Valley
April usually marks the height of the winter snow pack in the Sierra. Go Big. Cross the Sierra Crest and don’t look back. Last year, we splitboarded the John Muir Trail from Mammoth Mountain to Yosemite Valley, nearly 60 miles, with summit descents of Mt. Lyell and Cloud’s Rest. In the fall I had placed a cache at the Tuolumne Meadows ski hut and so we enjoyed a night feasting on Trader Joe’s goodies and drinking alpine-aged “Two Buck Chuck.” Following our descent of Cloud’s Rest, we rode down to snowline above Half Dome. Hiking down the Mist Trail in our snowboard boots with boards on our backs we drew looks of shocked curiosity from day hikers.
Fourth of July Chutes • West Shore Lake Tahoe
Unless an El Nino winter finishes with a bang, May is usually the time to harvest California’s famous Sierra corn snow. Look for the steepest patches you can find. They don’t call it “hero snow” for
nothing. Last year we checked out the Fourth of July Chutes hidden back behind Homewood. We used mountain bikes for the approach, as the access road up Blackwood Canyon was still gated at the lake but dry for a few more miles. I had heard about these chutes in an old issue of Couloir magazine which hyped them up as a place you could ride in July. They look real steep and unmistakably intimidating, but we found three of them to be rideable and wild fun.
Red Banks Bowl/Avalanche Gulch • Mt. Shasta
Mt. Shasta could be the greatest ski mountaineering peak in the world. Where else can you bag 7,000-foot runs in a single day! June is prime climbing season on Shasta so avoid the crowds by blasting off light fast in from the Bunny Flat parking lot. Ride gnarly rime from the summit then roll off skier’s right to the entrance of the relatively moderate Red Banks Bowl. Some 6,000 feet of sweet corn lie ahead.
Wintun/Hotlum • Mt. Shasta
By July the north and east sides of Mt. Shasta usually have the best snow. The Wintun/Hotlum route follows a snowfield between two crevassed glaciers. Winding up crazy tongues of evolving snow, the ascent and descent are guaranteed to be breathtaking. Time it right and you might be able to ride directly off the summit. This year we found huge sun cups that looked like frozen white caps on a wind-whipped lake. But the sun had warmed them just enough for your board to plow through fluidly. We railed through the sometimes three-foot deep wave crests. By the time we hit the last tongues of snow around 9,000 feet, our quads could barely support a turn.
Mt. Adams, WA
August usually marks the beginning of the true hunting season. In years past we have ridden on Lassen and Shasta, but this year we bagged Mt. Adams. Situated two hours from Portland across the Washington border, Mt. Adams holds a huge summer snowfield and several technical snow gullies. The cherry of the peak was far and away the southwest chute. From a distance it looked like a pin stripe on a black tuxedo. Even in late August, we were able to ride off the summit and down the southwest chute, a 35-degree bowling lane of soft snow, for a total descent of over 2,500 feet. The next day we were back at it, this time riding the main southern snowfield and then a crazy steep 45-degree pitch on the Crescent Glacier headwall that hung above bone-crushing talus.
Mt. Shasta / Mt. Hood / Sonora Pass
By September, both the Cascade and Sierra snow packs are relatively thin. But don’t dismay, there are still places to ride. Set your sights on hidden north facing snow gullies that often last all year. Start early on a warm day and scour the talus slopes looking for a rideable patch. This year we committed to Sonora Pass after hearing rumors of a 100-yard snow snake alive in a high bowl. Sadly, we got beat back to a small patch at lower elevation by hail.
Fresh Snow / Mt. Shasta
October is prime time to pray for snow and set out your food caches. This year, the Sierra got creamed Oct. 17th, answering our prayers and allowing fresh but thin backcountry fun around Mammoth and Donner Summit. No fresh snow in sight? Start packing for a hunt-and-peck adventure amongst blue ice on the east side of Mt. Shasta.
Mt. Rose, NV
By late November a thin snowpack in the Sierra should be established. In the early season, snow depth lives and dies with wind direction so hunt for “deep” pockets on the leeward side of ridges and in protected gullies. With a higher elevation than the rest of the Tahoe area, the quick descents off Mt. Rose are perfect for powder lapping.
Mt. Tallac • South Lake Tahoe
Mt. Tallac is one of the finest ski peaks in the Tahoe Basin. The 3,000-foot descent is an easy bag and affords magnificent views of the Desolation Wilderness and Lake Tahoe. Early season it is best to steer clear of the technical rock lines that litter the northeast face and stay in the protected trees along the ascent ridge. An early start allows for two laps totaling more than 6,000 feet.
Brian Bozack just can’t get enough – Donner Summit. Photo: DSTT
Venturing into the solitude of the backcountry is a life-affirming experience. But without the proper knowledge and training, seemingly harmless mishaps or miscalculations can spiral into life threatening situations in rapid fashion. Don’t go unprepared. Reading books, such as “Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book” (see review in this issue) or NASTC’s “All Mountain Tactics,” provides a good background on safe backcountry travel, equipment, avalanche awareness and rescue, snow camping and survival. But nothing can replace the practical experience and skill development you get from taking courses through one of these northern California guiding and instructional programs:
Started 25 years ago by Bela and Mimi Vadasz, ASI helped create the template for backcountry education in California and beyond. Based in Truckee, ASI offers a complete and lengthy menu of courses for telemark, randonee and extreme skiing; plus ski mountaineering, avalanche skills, mid-winter mountaineering and ice climbing. They also offer guided trips from the Sierra High Route to the European Haute Route, plus steep skiing camps in the Eastern Sierra and on Mt. Shasta. ASI does it all.
Mountain Adventure Seminars
Based in low-stress Bear Valley in the central Sierra, an easy drive from the Bay Area, Mountain Adventure Seminars provides a wealth of winter adventure training. Run by guides Aaron and Kimi Johnston, MAS specializes in telemark skiing and avalanche education, plus backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. This winter, MAS will also offer lift-access backcountry ski and snowboard courses at Bear Valley Mountain Resort. MAS will also host the 9th Annual Bear Valley Telemark Festival, February 11-13,
which has grown to become one of the premiere free-heel celebrations in the country. Register early, as it usually sells out.
North American Ski Training Center (NASTC)
(530) 582 -4772
Based in Tahoe, NASTC is a high-performance ski school for resort and out-of-bounds skiers that offers clinics and guided trips around the world… from Squaw to Jackson Hole, Chamonix to Portillo, Chile. All NASTC
trainers are members of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) or American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). NASTC offers backcountry and avalanche skills training in Tahoe and elsewhere in the Sierra. Courses/trips include: Introduction to Backcountry Skiing Skills (Tahoe), Overnight Ski Mountaineering Adventure (based out of Tioga Pass Resort, Eastern Sierra); and a spring climb of Mt. Shasta.
Sierra Wilderness Seminars
SWS is one of the only companies permitted to operate year-round on both Mt. Shasta and Mount Whitney. Boasting nearly a quarter century worth of instruction in backcountry, SWS offers everything from randonee and telemark lessons to “a selection of classic ski tours through some of the finest alpine wilderness terrain in the United States.” All guides are AMGA and Wilderness Instructors and Guides Association (WIGA) certified.
A growing Bay Area retail, rental and guiding outfit, Outback Adventures offers courses in introductory snow camping (Lassen National Park), backcountry snowriding (skiing or boarding, Lassen), and single- and multi-day mountaineering courses (Shasta or Lassen).