Powder in the Stuart Range

February 18, 2001

Phil invited me to go backcountry skiing with he, Greg and the infamous Matt Carey. I had never met Matt before, even though he had been in the same circle of climbing friends for quite a while. Thus, infamous! The plan was to use Phil's new "Sled", a p.c. term for a snowmobile, to get into the summer trail head in the Esmerelda basin. Maybe they call them sleds because it's usually big santa lookin' types that ride them. hmmm... My morals were a bit compromised about using on of those loud nasty machines in the backcountry, but seeing as we were going to be on-road in a popular sled snowpark, I figured what the hey.

Phil employed the use of a method he had learned about in Valemont BC over new years where unsuspecting skiiers are dragged behind the sled for miles upon miles. We were instructed to bring harnesses and a carabiner to achieve this task by munter hitching into a rope coming off the back of the sled. I was a little skeptical at first, but got reassurance from Matt and Greg who were also veterans! The towing went off with out a hitch, and it was very similar to water skiing. One thing that we didn't expect was the length of the tow. From the parking turn around it was a full 10 miles into the summer trail head! Also, about 6 miles of that was on "ungroomed" road, where the constant barrage of snowmobiles leaves big mougles that act as jumps for both sledder and skiier.

My views: Phil driving the sled, and Matt and Greg following close behind.

With sore knees and only one close pass by another 'biler, we arrived at the summer trail head in about an hour. A quick lunch followed, and soon we were skinning up old sled tracks into the basin under Esmerelda. The day was turning out quite nice, and despite the tons of snow that had fallen, there was just about zero avalanche activity. We had decided to ski up to Ingalls pass and ski the North facing slopes along the ridge line. We made good time up to the pass, perhaps faster than we would be able to in summer! We were greeted with nice powder on the other side of the ridge too. The getting heavy powder on the South side was nothing compared to the good foot and a half of dry first tracks we found on a couple steep 500 foot slopes.

Matt and Mt. Stuart on an awesome winter day.

Still we saw no sign of avalanche danger, so we forewent the digging of pits or testing the slope. As it was, we had light snow on top of a good crust with basically no wind slab below the pass. The other guys were all good skiiers and using telemark gear. I was just returning to using lockdown heel skiing on my new randonee ski setup. To make matters worse, I was skiing in plastic climbing boots--not the ideal AT ski boot. I managed to thrash my way down some nice first tracks, but didn't share the joy of face shots and smooth turns like my companions. I resolved to kick their butts with a snowboard someday!

Dave cutting into some deep powder. Woo, watch that balance there Dave!!

After skiing the North side a couple times, we headed back down the South side to join up with the road back to the truck. The snow was heavy and I was sucking hardcore. My legs had almost lost all ability to do the requisite jump turns in my heavy AT skiis. Secretly, the tele boys were basking in the glow of hundreds of years of free heel snobbery. "Ah Dave, you must use this technique: pop, pop, pop, pop! That is what the skiing should feel/sound like," Phil instructed. Hmm, the only things poping in my turns was my sore knees! But we were soon back to the sled, and quickly trying to make it out before night fell. The sledding was particularly fast on the way out for we were skiing down hill. At times we would catch up to Phil, and the ropes would cross under our skiis. Matt likened one of my wipeouts to a action scene in a movie where things go exploding past you while you zip along in a car. Luckily, the only explosions came from my high speed impact with the snow bank!

A lovely alpine shot of Ingalls Peak. Notice the south ridge is mostly snow free, except for the first pitch which is all snow!

As luck would have it, Phil's sled trailer had a flat tire. Maybe it was a freak accident, maybe it was a conservative sledder that took offense to Phil's "Snowmobilers for Nader" bumper sticker... who knows! The fact was, Phil and I are plagued by flat tires. Having no spare, Matt and Phil bargained with some other bilers and we borrowed a tire that amazingly fit! After driving into Cle Ellum, we were able to fix the flat with that spray flat-fix stuff and thus made it home at a decent hour. That time at least!

[Return to Home]