In January of 2017, it began snowing in the Elk Mountain. A month later, it felt like it had never stopped. A long sequence of storm cycles had deposited over 10 feet of snow at Irwin, just outside of Crested Butte.
Skier Gail Sovick heads-up the front side of Snodgrass mid storm.
For backcountry skiers, a massive amount of snow in a short amount of time awakes a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, a skier cannot help but get excited about deep, deep pow. Images start appearing in our heads (and on our social media) of skiers porpoising way down into the white room, gloves and poles barely exposed above the surface as if they are the only way to catch a breath of air on behalf of the submerged powderhound. On the other hand, a lot of snow in a short amount of time means that avalanche danger is likely to rise, thus keeping us from venturing out into the steep-and-deep to realize our dreams of flying through the subnivean zone.
An impressive amount of snow blankets a “light tour” in the Anthracite Range
During this storm, I stopped into Wild Snow Headquarters to talk about a new book that my publishing company had just released for backcountry skiing Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. Lou Dawson runs wildsnow.com, which is one of the best online stops for quality and comprehensive backcountry ski news. Being the warm welcoming guy that he is, he invited me in for a cup of coffee, where we proceeded to talk about the storm that was surrounding our beloved mountains. We began talking about what we typically do during storms like this. Many people will read the avalanche forecast during storms like this, see that the danger is very elevated, and they will simply go to the ski area or just stay home. But backcountry skiers like Lou see things a little different. They begin to look for slopes in their area that are too low-angle to slide, but still steep enough to get some slow, yet oh-so enjoyable, turns on the way down.
Lou and I began talking about these tours and how wonderful they are, not only for high-danger days, but also for days with novice friends, or quick before-work tours, or days when you’re nursing a pulled muscle. In our conversation, we soon came to realize that we don’t even need an excuse to go hit the “light tours” of our area…we just plain like them. Our conclusion was that it’s really good to have a list of your local light tours in the back of your mind when the context presents itself.
Skier Gail Sovick takes a meadow break in Crested Butte’s Red Lady Glades.
So was born, the idea of creating a book that showcases some of our state’s light tours. It is said Colorado has 300 sunny days a year. Combine that with several thousand mountains, and a winter climate that’s downright temperate. The result: one of the best places on the planet for ski touring. Of course nothing is perfect. Colorado challenges backcountry skiers with limited public access options, due in part to it being a mostly rural, relatively un-roaded western state. More importantly, due to various climatic factors the state’s mountains can be prone to dangerous avalanches for much of every winter. Yet options exist. Key with backcountry travel is picking routes with lower angle pitches and other avalanche-mitigating factors. While these “light tours” are surprisingly difficult to find, they do exist. We detail a selection of Colorado’s best under these covers. Further, a growing trend in ski touring is the use of ski resorts for “uphilling,” motivated by the need for a less committing experience — yet nonetheless an experience that can equal any other outdoor sport in enjoyment. Colorado lends itself to this as well, with most of the state’s more than twenty ski resorts allowing uphill skiing. Thus, we offer a special mix here, combining a variety of “easy” backcountry routes with recommended resort options. Pick one of our many days of Colorado sunshine, get out and enjoy.
Over here at rakkup “World Headquarters”, our homes in Seattle, we are climbers and we love climbing. But like many climbers, we live near the mountains and love playing in them in a variety of ways, and we have winters to get through. And in the Pacific Northwest, we have plenty of precipitation which turns into an amazing amount of snow at elevation.
Early Days – transitioning on a Voilé split, 2005
So, it’s only natural that Rob and Todd love to get out on the snow. While we both have skiing in our history, we’ve become pretty hooked on snowboarding. We can even claim to be pretty early splitboarders; here you can see a picture of Rob starting a transition in the Herman Saddle zone near Mount Baker in the winter of 2004-2005. What we can’t claim to be is snow experts. In December of 2005, we managed to demonstrate our lack of expertise by spending an unplanned overnight near Stevens Pass. (That epic led to our first purchase of a GPS, which eventually became the very unit we used to make the first rakkup rock climbing guidebook!)
We have had friends tell us for years that our app would be a great fit for backcountry snow. In the last year, two pieces came together to make that idea irresistible to us. The first is that our awesome partner, Wolverine Publishing, told us about the success and the quality of their guidebook Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra. The book’s author, Nate Greenberg, was interested in the potential of his content combined with an app, too.
Meanwhile, Rob had taken a couple of snowboarding trips to different zones in Alaska, with Jamie Weeks as his guide. As Rob and Jamie became friends, Jamie wondered aloud about what a great guidebook app would look like for the ski terrain near his home in Jackson Hole, and expressed some enthusiasm for the project.
Jamie Weeks doing the guide thing in AK
Nate is the director of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, and Jamie is an AMGA certified snow guide and avalanche educator, well known for his work as Teton Splitboarder. What Rob and Todd lacked in experience and technical expertise, they now had in their partners. All four shared a passion for the project.
Together we bring you the newest update to rakkup, and our first two guidebooks for backcountry skiers and snowboarders: Teton Pass Descents and Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra, a digital enhancement to the existing print title from Wolverine Publishing.
Lots of work went into developing guidebooks that are clear and easy to read, with symbology and maps that let you browse and choose quickly. We added topo maps with contour lines, a necessity in ski terrain. We are especially proud of our filtering feature that lets you apply criteria from your local avalanche center to eliminate runs in higher-risk terrain based on slope angle, aspect, and elevation and choose from the runs that remain.
Best of all: Search for terrain, or Filter based on critical information factors (like those presented in an avalanche advisory).
We’ve already been told that this app is the most compelling and exciting backcountry ski app yet. Yet we know that this is just a beginning. For one, we have many more guidebooks already in the works, from respected and talented authors all over. (We are always looking for more! Let us know if you want to write a guidebook.) Secondly, we have plans we think you will love, from sharing your adventures with friends, to visualizing the latest reports and information to keep safe. We’ll be adding features to make this app a tool you won’t want to head into the backcountry without!
So, get out there and shred your own patch of pow! Give one of our guidebooks a spin and tell us what you think.
-Rob, Todd, Nate, and Jamie