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New guidebook to the Eastern Sierra shares the wealth
By Seth Lightcap • Photos by Dan Mingori
In conversations the past month with avid local Sierra backcountry skiers about Dan Mingori and Nate Greenburg’s new guidebook Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra, 166 Ski and Snowboard Descents in the Range of Light between Tioga Pass and Bishop Creek (Wolverine Publishing 2008) immediate comments from those newly aware of the book fell cleanly into two camps. A majority exclaimed, “Really? That’s awesome!” While others grumbled, “Really? That sucks!”
Take one look at the cover shot of the new guidebook and it’s easy to understand either opinion. The picture doesn’t lie.
Backcountry skiing opportunities in the Eastern Sierra along the Highway 395 corridor are indeed as endless, challenging and spectacular as your wildest dreams. It comes as no surprise that those well-versed in the area’s riches are wary of seeing their treasure map further exposed, just as those new or curious to the glisse grandeur of the Eastern Sierra yearn to hear more about it.
Though two previously published backcountry skiing guidebooks have included some of the same legendary terrain covered in Mingori and Greenburg’s book, those now antiquated books’ vague descriptions and meager images read more like a warning than a welcome.
Not so with Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra. Just like Wolverine Publishing’s first Sierra guidebook offering, Bishop Bouldering, the full-color, 240-page ski guidebook is chock full of useful information. And the dense, but easy-reading descriptions are only the beginning. Every page will dazzle your peak-hungry eyes as the two local Mammoth authors include vivid annotated color topo maps and stunning pictures that clearly describe both the Sierra terrain and the backcountry stoke.
The vast spread of worthy ascent and descent route beta found in the book is cleanly presented and well-organized using a regional watershed framework to delineate the eight chapters. Each chapter breaks down the sub-regions and peak areas found within that drainage, so for example, the Pine Creek chapter includes the South Wheeler Crest Area, the Upper Canyon Area, and the Mt. Tom Area. Breaking down these smaller zones by individual line or peak, each description begins with a statistical chart that spells out slope angle, aspect, vertical gain, mileage, and the relative seriousness of the undertaking.
The goal in authoring the guidebook for both Greenburg, a tele skier who helps run the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, and Mingori, a photographer and split-boarder known for his brave descents, was to produce a comprehensive resource for a finite region of the Sierra instead of merely scraping the surface of the sprawling 400-mile range. The result is a guidebook that doesn’t miss a single classic ski line between Tioga Pass to the north and Bishop Creek to the south. That’s not to say they included every tree glade or alpine bowl in that 80-mile stretch of Highway 395, but they laid down a foundation of facts for just about anything worth spending a half-day, all day, or multiple days skiing in that zone.
As an added treat that will surely inspire fall-line cowboys, Mingori includes several hairball lines that he pioneered on a split-board during massive El Nino snow years earlier this decade. Here’s hoping the snow gods bless us with more fat winters such that lines like the north face of Mt. Morrison South and the northeast face of Red Slate Mountain fill in enough to repeat his pioneering descents.
While there is not a single line in the book that doesn’t require basic backcountry skills such as route finding, avalanche conditions assessment, and semi-technical ascent techniques, there are plenty of descents that will appeal to those whose idea of a good time is not riding in no-fall zones. Cruiser yo-yo skiing areas like the Mammoth Crest and the Sherwins are described in such detail than even Mammoth locals will take note.
I’ll admit, when I first heard about Backcounty Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra I was one of those disappointed to hear that such juicy details of our world-class Sierra terrain would be further exposed to the frenzy of backcountry skiers outside the local community. But after laying hands on Mingori and Greenburg’s incredible effort and enjoying the casual, but precise demeanor of their descriptions, I realized that this guidebook is not only a fabulous new asset to those fresh on the Sierra backcountry scene, but an even-keeled and thorough resource whose maps and pictures provide a visual perspective that will benefit every Sierra “hard” man or woman.
Because no matter how much you think you know about the Sierra backcountry (or try to make it sound like you know on an Internet chat board), there’s always more to learn. How many times could a descriptive map or photo have saved you from slogging up the wrong side of a drainage following second hand beta you peeled off the web or a bro at a party?
Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra will undoubtedly become a trusted and timeless resource for Sierra backcountry enthusiasts for generations to come. Whether to re-examine routes you half-stepped on or to discover the best lines in the region for the first time, picking up a copy is highly recommended before you drive south of Mono Lake or north of Bishop looking to ski or ride these magnificent peaks.
For more information about Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra or to purchase, visit www.wolverinepublishing.com.