Backcountry Skiing Lassen Peak

Slipping and sliding on my climbing skins, sweat dripping into my sunglasses, I looked back down the steep, blinding-white snowfield I’m slowly switch-backing up to watch Bunker pass me, tentatively placing the toes of his snowboard boots on the hard snow, while Sylas, Jensen and Renda pound their way up on snowshoes, boards strapped to their back.

We’re carrying the tradition of a group of journalists who previously tackled the Ruby Mountains and explored the Trinity Alps. This time, we’re climbing Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park, with plans to ski and snowboard back down.


We reached a burned-off ridge and walk carefully on the loose scree – even so I manage to kick a rock down at Renda.


Bunker spotted the summer hiking trail, exposed and dry on a ridge to our east, and we decided to hike as much of the route as possible. We pass more hikers than skiers and snowboarders along the way, and stop occasionally to catch up on oxygen and enjoy the view of the coast mountains to our west and Sierra to the south – picking out the Sierra Buttes and maybe some familiar peaks around Tahoe.


Eventually we reach the top, dropping skis, boards, backpacks and other gear to scramble the last bit to the true summit, looking at the caldera and north to Mt. Shasta.


Summit marker.


Team shot, looking south, with Matt Renda, Sylas Wright, me, David Bunker and Adam Jensen.


Looking north, Shasta in the background.

With a large audience of hikers who still had to walk back down, we clicked into skis and boards, tentatively pointing down runneled and sun-cupped snow stained with red dirt. The steep pitch sends a couple of us sliding on their backsides for a few feet.

Rather than running it out to the bottom of the south-east aspect and a long slog back to the parking lot, we decide to click out for one switchback on the trail to get back to the steep and slick pitch we first climbed, now softened perfectly by the sun. Smooth, creamy turns all the way back to the car capped off the trip.


Our Own Worst Enemies

I chuckle every time I read mountain bikers grousing about the Sierra Club, backcountry skiers complaining about losing parking to Caltrans or climbers losing access to evil private land owners.

Not because these aren’t real problems – access for these sports is an ongoing struggle. But it isn’t environmentalists, the government, property owners or even equestrians that are our worst enemies. We are.

I’m talking about backcountry skiers cutting down trees. Or climbers littering in the Buttermilks, or also chopping down trees. Mountain bikers? We really can’t get out of our own way, skidding trails in every video, miles of poorly designed illegal trail or the perception issues surrounding the Redbull Rampage.

And yet so many take to the internet to complain about the forces that be ruining our sports. The real forces are those who show up, participate. Work with trail stewardship groups, land trusts or the Access Fund.

The picture TAMBA posted – click the image to see the Facebook post.

We need that kind of responsibility and leadership if we want progress with land owners and policy makers. Tantrums aren’t going to do it, and illegally cutting down trees will only set us back.

Recently the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association wrote: “‘Quit sanitizing the trails’ is a common online cry, usually by people rarely seen at trail days. Here’s our latest section of trail built on the Stanford Rock reroute we’ve been working on this summer. Safe, sustainable, and challenging, but not sanitized.” on Facebook.

I think that post speaks volumes about the two types of people in these outdoor sports, and in life in general.

The organizations like TAMBA that can make a positive changes are out there. The fruitful partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service and other property managers are being made. We just need to chip in and participate. Unfortunately, some of us may need to get out of our own way first.


Vicarious adventures on the internet

After making it all winter without catching a cold, I came down with a bug this week to match the snowy June weather. Unable to get outside for adventures myself, I’ve been scouring the internet for vicarious thrills through the adventures of others on the internet, be it travel video, Sierra Nevada climbing video, or backcountry skiing video.

I suppose that’s the benefit of an at-times exhibitionist Facebook-Twitter-Youtube-Vimeo generation that shares everything: Sometimes someone shares something good. Here are a few of my favorite ways to get your outdoor fix when your stuck at home:

1) The Smiley’s project: Climbing North America’s 50 classics

Fifty Classic Climbs of North America from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

A husband and wife living out of a Dodge Sprinter camper van, climbing and camping. Who isn’t jealous? See the rest here.

2) The Love Letter

This one’s gotten around so you may have seen it, and sure, the ending is a little on the nose, but the footage is gorgeous.

3) Yosemite Nature Notes

These have also been around, but they’re beautiful and interesting 5-minute vacations into one of my favorite places on earth. See the rest of them here.

4) 23 Feet

23 Feet Trailer from Allie Bombach on Vimeo.

This one’s a trailer for a movie, but it got me to spend an hour or two organizing my car camping go bags so I can spend as much of my time dirtbagging and boondocking this summer as possible.

5) Sierra Descents

Skiing Whitney’s North Face from Andy Lewicky on Vimeo.

From backcountry skiing Mt. Whitney, the lower 48’s highest peak, to wearing a helmet cam on the cables of Half Dome, Sierra Descents has some cool videos, not to mention his gear reviews and trip reports.

Seeing as it’s still snowing and I’m still coughing, who’s got more recommendations for great adventure youtube videos?

A winter in photos at Alpine Meadows and Homewood

Over the winter I had the great experience of working for the Alpine Meadows/Homewood Mountain Resort marketing department. I’d always secretly wanted to work at a ski hill, but to be able to write and shoot while I was at it instead of cleaning toilets was icing on the cake. Below are photos from powder days, parties, races and competitions that I got to shoot over the course of the winter.

A skier enjoys Alpine Meadow's fresh powder Monday

My first powder day at Alpine; boss told me to go skiing.

The View

The view from the top: Looking south towards Little Alaska and Twin Peaks.

Sculpture contest

Fun at the Icebar.


Dropping in: The Beaver Belt Banzai.


Beaver Belt Banzai.


Holshot Tour.


Dude, where’s my ski? The Holeshot Tour.


Sick and Twister Big Air at Homewood.


Is he throwing me the peace sign?


The return of powder: After a dry January, winter weather returned in a big way.


Rachael getting crazy with it in Homewood Powder.


Yeah, it was good.


A telemark competition at Alpine Meadows.


At Keyhole.


Below the Buttress.


Below the buttress.


Take the Lake got snowed out, like so many other things in March, but we had a rail jam anyway.


The Red Bull Schlittentag was an insane sledding event. If you zoom in on the flying piece in the upper-right hand part of the photo, I think that sums it up.


Trains Freestyle, High Fives Foundation


Add funny caption here:

Flashback: Summer skiing at Mammoth

“Cheese-burg-er” sang a chickadee early on a Saturday morning last June, placing me in the mountains before my eyes open or my brain whirs to life.
My eyelids flutter, my eyes coming into focus on a murky pre-dawn sky stenciled with tree limbs through the skylight of my car – my watch hanging next to me says 5:30.
As I tentatively push down my 0 degree sleeping bag, mild temperatures wash across my braced body – no colder than any other summer morning camping in the Sierra – a surprise given the recent weather and my day’s plans.

Today I’m not hiking or biking, not touring around taking photos; it’s June and I’m going skiing.

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