My First Backcountry Skiing Experience
When my dad asked me if I wanted to go backcountry skiing, I imagined bottomless powder untracked as far as I could see. Eager to prove myself and excited to get some backcountry experience under my belt, I agreed to go. Little did I know what awaited me or the challenges I would face. My experiences led me to believe that my work is always worth the effort I put into it.
My journey began midmorning on a brisk February day. I stepped out of my dad’s pickup and onto the ice-covered parking area. From here, it was twenty miles to our camp spot below North West Peaks. There were five of us in total, too many for our two snowmobiles. One of us was the odd one out. I made a final tightening of my ski boots and gripped the rope tightly. The engine of a borrowed Arctic Cat coughed to life, spouting thick black exhaust. I gave the thumbs up. The rope drew taught, and we leaped off down the road.
I dug out my skins and took off my skis, immediately sinking hip-deep into the snow.
As the miles drew by, the trail became rougher. The snow grew deeper and the air colder. We stopped nineteen miles from where we started. Here, we left the Pete Creek Road for a smaller spur road on which we planned to camp. After determining that the passengers were too heavy where there was no packed trail, we were left behind. Since it was roughly another mile to our camp spot, it sounded reasonable. I dug out my skins and took off my skis, immediately sinking hip-deep into the snow. Exhausted and hungry, I watched the Arctic Cat tear off, my left ski trailing behind tangled in the rope. I had no choice but to wade the distance.
The work was not over once we reached camp. To save space in our packs, our party had decided to dig snow shelters in place of tents. All we had was a tarp. My father and I built a mound of snow to tunnel into. We worked quickly, racing sundown. Once we had enough snow, I started excavating. It was claustrophobic business, tunneling with barely enough room to work my shovel. I tried not to think about the hundreds of pounds of snow right above my head. Suddenly, it collapsed. Suffocating weight pinned me motionless, crushing the breath out of me. It felt impossibly long. Hurried hands brushed the snow from my face, and scoop by scoop the weight was removed. We were all shaken to the core, and back to ground zero. By headlamp and force of will, we rigged a tarp shelter using the ruins of our snow cave as a windbreak.
The clouds merged with the snow to form a single plane, broken only by the stubby lookout clinging to the mountaintop.
I rose early with stiff muscles. After breakfast, we set out for the summit of North West Peaks. I quickly found that skinning, while nicer than post-holing, is no easy feat. My chest heaved and my lungs burned, sweat dripped down my face. Each step blurred into a single burning ache. Our trek took us higher and higher into the snow-blasted terrain. Finally, the cloud-wreathed summit came into view.
The wind at the summit howled. It pierced through my thick layers and chilled me to the bone. The clouds merged with the snow to form a single plane, broken only by the stubby lookout clinging to the mountaintop. This was the moment I had worked so hard for, and it was time to reap the reward. We removed the skins from our skis with clumsy leaden fingers and got ready to start the descent.
As we had climbed throughout the day, temperatures rose to above freezing. By the time we reached the summit, it was back below freezing, creating a breakable crust. The crust grabbed the edges of my skis, making it difficult to turn. I would not have paid ten dollars for the ski down alone, but the experience as a whole was remarkable. I earned that run with my own two legs. It was hard, but I proved to myself I could do it. It is because of this that I have come to realize that my journey is not about the ski down, but how I got to the top of the mountain.
Winter is a graduating Senior from Troy High School. They submitted this essay for FSPW’s high school scholarship contest. Stay tuned for more winning essays from students across Idaho and Montana.