Teton Pass offers some of the best roadside-access skiing and snowboarding in North America.This guidebook includes descriptions, approaches, exits, and hazards for about 100 ski descents in the Teton Pass area written by Jamie Weeks, an AMGA-certified guide and American Avalanche Institute instructor with years of experience guiding in the Tetons and Alaska. The descents described in this book range from the fun, easy bowls of the Edelweiss area to the challenging extreme terrain on Mount Glory and Taylor Mountain. This guidebook will assist your decision making before your trip and continue to provide guidance while you are in the mountains.
I moved to Mammoth Lakes, CA in 2000 right after finishing a degree in Nature & Culture with a GIS emphasis from UC Davis. As a kid growing up in Southern California, I spent a lot of time in Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra skiing and wandering around in the hills. Through my college years, we climbed our hearts out on Sierra alpine granite and sport routes in Owens Gorge. The goal: to run a GIS & technology consulting business out of some cheap housing and ski and climb my ass off. Sixteen years later, I am happy to say that I have been successful at achieving that goal, but the list of things that I want to accomplish has only gotten longer.
As a new skier to the range, I was looking for mentorship and dismayed at the general lack of quality information that existed for this amazing mountain range. That is not to say that there were not resources, but in general, high quality avalanche forecasting and details on the lifetime of skiing opportunities throughout the Eastern Sierra was limited.
After several years of skiing and immersing myself in the community, I, along with a close friend, built a rudimentary online platform that was focused on sharing conditions information and trip reports to our growing community of backcountry skiers and riders. The appetite for what we were doing was surprisingly large, and we got a lot of encouragement to grow it. This ultimately led to the establishment of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center in 2006 which I helped form with a handful of committed local guides, snow professionals, and business folk. Now in its 11th year of operation, ESAC is growing and committed as ever to providing high quality information to help backcountry skiers and riders make good decisions in the Eastern Sierra.
In 2008, I set out to create a comprehensive and modern guidebook for California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada. After several years of skiing in the range, I was awestruck by the quality of skiing, and overall ease of getting into ‘real’ mountains – quickly. I, together with Dan Mingori, gathered combined years of first-hand experience to write Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra. In 2013, after five years of successful sales, we released the 2nd Edition with two goals:
- Increase the terrain covered in the book
- Implement a classification and iconography system to help users quickly look at terrain and make Go/No-Go decisions
My interest in writing a ski guide was more than just publishing popular descents and promoting this region. Rather, I was, and still am keenly interested in helping people make better decisions and terrain choices in the backcountry. I hoped that by providing the community with a variety of descents, classified by relevant characteristics, it would afford people options that they may have previously overlooked. While the 2nd Edition made inroads in this area, I had always wanted to do something more.
With my background in Geographic Information Systems, today I serve as Director of Information Technology for Mono County & Town of Mammoth Lakes, CA. Through my daily work, I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of information and technology, particularly as it relates to open data and geography, and how we consume information and use it to make (hopefully) good decisions and improve the world around us. I have also always had a keen interest in the intersection between sports and technology, and especially considered how important technology and information were in pursuits such as backcountry skiing where timely decisions are critical and immediately relate to safety and quality.
The thing that has long baffled me, however, was how generally lacking the winter sports industry was with respect to technology. Surely there had to be a lot of other geeks out there like me who loved to ski – so where were all the apps? Today, even when there are more mobile devices in the world than personal computers, the avalanche industry is still struggling to figure out what it needs, where it should be headed, and how best to deliver that to users While there is an ever-growing landscape of digital tools pointed at improving information dissemination and decision making, for the most part we struggle to figure out the best (and unified) path forward. This is not to say that there aren’t promising approaches out there – MountainHub for real-time data sharing and trip planning, AvyLab for data collection, and a litany of industry-driven mobile-friendly utilities to help us access avalanche center data.
About a year ago I was introduced to the small, Seattle-based app start-up, Rakkup. With a passion for climbing, the two partners at Rakkup set out a few years ago to transform the guidebook industry, and send it kicking and screaming into the digital world. Over the past 12 months, we have set out to rebuild their digital guidebook platform to accommodate winter backcountry content. The result of that effort launched on December 1st, 2016 with Rakkup v20 for iOS and two guidebook titles – Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra, and Teton Pass Descents. As of this writing, we are getting ready to release a third title: Backcountry Skiing: Crested Butte, Colorado by Andy Sovick.
The catalyst for this project and moment defining my path forward came to me while visiting my wife in Boulder, CO last year. Being a Sierra skier, I am naturally terrified of skiing in the Rockies, while simultaneously being drawn to the impressive steep terrain of places like Rocky Mountain National Park. As a trained and responsible backcountry skier, the natural thing to do was to pick up Mark Kelly’s guidebook and thumb through it, highlighting the obvious descents and making a short list for the weekend. The real challenge, however, came when I tried to apply the information coming out of the CAIC to the actual terrain that I wanted to go ski, and seeing if those nasty persistent weak layers lined up with my list.
It turns out this is a challenging pursuit, even with all the resources and technology we have access to. Despite pins dropped on interactive maps showing recent observations, and some of the best avalanche forecasting in the US, relating information coming from avalanche professionals to the real-world terrain that we want to ski is a real chore. Especially as an outsider. Sure, the forecast says “avoid north facing terrain above 10,000,” but who in today’s world ventures out randomly to seek out non-north facing terrain below 10k? We want a list of objectives (with directions and definitions) of where we can, and should go. Furthermore, I wanted to know more about the descent that was being referred to in observations posted by Center staff or the general public. How steep were the Dream Shots? Was it a beginner or advanced ski? What kind of exposure was there? Oh, and how similar or different was it to the five other things I was looking at in the book?
All of these things drove my objectives and design philosophy for the initial product launch of Rakkup v20:
- Establish a platform – that clearly displays content and provides users with interactivity – on which multiple guidebook titles could be authored
- Leverage a business model that encourages and monetizes authoritative content development with easy to use authoring tools
- Provide a set of search, sort, and filtering tools to help users quickly ‘Red Light’ terrain based on avalanche forecasts, and target terrain based on where the best skiing could be found
- Work offline, on USGS topo maps and aerial imagery with approach/descent lines overlaid alongside your current GPS location
- Display multiple photos with route lines, written descriptions, and other information that helps users find their way
- Begin a conversation around developing standards for how we classify and categorize backcountry terrain features relative to difficulty and hazard
We hope, and honestly believe, this app will change the way terrain selection is taught, while simultaneously empowering users with the ability to quickly and easily apply everyday conditions to make solid terrain choices. We would also love to hear your feedback on how to make the product better and what kinds of things you would like to see added in the future. Feel free to contact me with any questions or thoughts at any time.
Snow Guidebook Product Owner
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.
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.
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.
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
We’re now in our fourth year of offering backcountry ski guidebooks in rakkup, and we are really excited about our latest feature! Slope angle shading is now available for all our US backcountry skiing guidebooks on both iOS and Android devices. Simply be sure you have our latest app release, go to the Bookshelf tab, and tap the cloud icon to update your guidebook.
Avalanche safety educators have been telling us that Slope Angle Shading is one of the best tools for visualizing areas of high avalanche hazard and selecting safer routes in avalanche terrain. This transparent overlay immediately highlights areas with slope angles yielding the highest avalanche risk along and above your route, as well as terrain convexities, terrain traps, terrain that might be too steep to ski (such as cliffs), and even very flat areas where splitboarders like us might need poles or plan on walking.
According to the American Avalanche Institute, most avalanches occur on slopes between 30° and 45°, with peak risk at 37-38°. (Watch AAI’s short video about recognizing avalanche terrain. We’re proud to partner with the AAI this season and offer rakkup guidebooks to their instructors and students.) We’ve used color gradients to show slope angle information with a high degree of precision. We applied a lot of computing power and our best programming tricks to bring you beautiful maps that are easy to download, display quickly, and keep working long after you’ve left cellular service behind.
In the past, many snow professionals used the premium versions of generic mapping apps to view slope angle shading. We think it’s even better to have this feature integrated into your guidebooks – not to mention that these apps have yearly subscription fees several times higher than our guidebook prices! Integrating all our route data with topo maps and slope angle shading helps you choose which zone and which line to ski based on today’s conditions without flipping back and forth between different sources of information.
Of course, no app can take the place of quality avalanche safety training, observation of your surroundings including terrain and snow pack, and proper decision making. But the most effective part of avalanche safety is staying out of avalanches, not digging out of them, and better information can lead to better decision-making. If rakkup can help you select a quality descent, stay alive and safe without getting lost, and have more fun away from the crowds, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to do!
We hope you’ll check out a rakkup skiing guidebook and tell us what you think. Many of our digital guidebooks are also available with a companion printed ski atlas or folding map from our friends at Beacon Guidebooks as a backup and additional reference.
Many thanks to our friend Jamie at Teton Splitboarder for encouragement and technical advice that helped us execute and improve our work.
Finally, a reminder to make sure you know how to turn off the cellular, bluetooth, and Wi-Fi radios on your phone in the backcountry and keep it at least 30 cm away from your avalanche beacon. GPS reception is a passive operation that won’t interfere with your beacon’s signal so you can still pinpoint your location with the radios off.
Happy skiing and splitboarding to everyone!