raising little ones in the great outdoors

MacGyver Lives! — A First Ski Tour

If it wasn’t hard enough to wait for snow before, it’s gotten even harder since Abby caught the skiing bug. Now every forecast without snow causes a fit of depression and exasperation. For both of us. To make things even worse, she recently won a major award – a package of technical outdoor clothing from First Ascent. She’s decided that the most worthy use of her new gear would be backcountry ski touring. I couldn’t agree more, but we have some challenges here.

The idea of ski touring is to climb a mountain and ski back down. Simple, right? Not so fast. First, you’ve got to get to the top. You can either hike with your skis on your back, wallowing in waist-deep snow, or climb the darned thing with your skis on your feet. Just one problem there, downhill skis are designed for…downhill skiing. You can use telemark skis (like I do), but that requires learning a new set of skills. Or you can put together an alpine touring (randonee) setup with specially designed boots and bindings. That’s a great option but expensive, especially if the person decides that slogging uphill for hours is not much fun after all.

There is a third option, an adapter that fits into regular alpine bindings but allows the foot to pivot for climbing. I put out the word and soon found a friend that had a pair of Secura-Fix’s that I could borrow. Judging from the fuchsia/teal color scheme, I deduced a mid-80’s vintage. A quick visit to the virtual museum of ski touring at Lou Dawson’s Wild Snow confirmed my hunch and added this ominous comment, “Clip the base of this contraption into your alpine bindings and away you go. Or actually, away you waddle with enough weight on your feet to cause permanent orthopedic damage.” Well, she’s young, her bones and joints are still resilient.IMG_0100

We had a bit of a problem, though – the designers hadn’t planned for smaller feet. Also, one of them had been slightly bent and wouldn’t adjust. Nothing a trip to my dad’s fully-equipped shop couldn’t fix. A bit of grinding, a dash of bending, some light hammering, and voilà – a pretty good fit. Next, she needed a pair of climbing skins that give the grip that propels the skier uphill. I already had an adjustable strap-on set, but there again the smaller size was a challenge. Again, we found a solution that worked without being ideal. After weeks of scheming, the day arrived. Would the equipment work? Would she like it? Would she be willing to endure severe cardiovascular torture for the pleasure of solitude and a few turns in possibly terrible snow? We were about to find out.

Abby was so excited for her first backcountry ski excursion that she didn’t even complain about the 6:45 wakeup call. I guess you could call it a teenager alpine start. While she got ready I attached skins to skis so we would be ready to go when we hit the trailhead.

Abby with her new torture devices.

Abby with her new torture devices.

We decided to keep things simple for the first time out. We drove to our local ski area, which happened to be opening a limited amount of the mountain that day. A rarely-used cat track leads to the summit from a trail-user parking lot. From there you can ski down the groomed runs or head to more adventurous terrain. In fact, it’s only a backcountry experience in the sense that you’re hiking, not riding the lift a couple hundred yards to the north. You don’t get the untracked powder, but there’s no breaking trail in deep snow and no avalanche danger.

Abby had gotten in pretty good shape during cross country season. Skiing uphill in single-digit temps with an extra 10 pounds on each foot was a different story. It turns out that I’m a genius motivator. I had shown Abby part one of this story the previous day. When the going got tough and she was tempted to quit, she had the extra motivation of knowing that all the Outdoor Parent readers would think she was a wimp if she quit. And as it usually happens, she soon felt better and we emerged from the cold, dark gully into the gleaming sunlight.

While there may be a certain satisfaction in skiing up a mountain, it really is (to borrow a quote from the Black Diamond catalog) “all about the down.” With the 80’s orthopedic torture devices stowed in her pack, Abby clicked back into her skis and pointed them down an unmarked sheet of corduroy. Our first turns were a bit rough after an eight-month break. The snow quality was marginal – icy here, thin there, occasionally more weeds than snow, and a few base-gouging rocks. We didn’t care, we were skiing again. We even found four inches of powder. There is definitely more appreciation for skiing when you’ve gotten to the top under your own power.IMG_0149

All too soon we neared the bottom, gliding onto a cat track we normally fly down to the lodge. We didn’t want it to end, so we did something we never could have done with the mountain open – we skied the rest of the way backwards. We would have loved to take another run, but we had family visiting at home and Abby’s shins were sore from the climb. Abby’s first ski tour was a success. The equipment worked, she had a great time, and she can’t wait to go again. She made a resolution to hit the treadmill and get into better hiking shape. Hidden deep within most backcountry skiers (not so deep with some) is a hint of arrogance, a pride in being different from the masses taking the easy way up. I could see that pride as Abby thought that she was possibly the only 13 year old girl in America hiking for turns that morning. Teenagers love to be different. Maybe backcountry skiing will provide a way for her to be different in a positive way, as opposed to the negative or self-destructive ways that many kids choose to be different. I think we’re onto something here.

–Steve Bohrer

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4 Responses to “MacGyver Lives! — A First Ski Tour”

  1. Andrea says:

    Great job, Abby!

  2. LIs Barker says:

    Abby you are an amazing girl…obviously superior parenting…..dad and mom. All kids should be so lucky.

  3. Luke Nelson says:

    Abbey, way to crush it! You may not realize it now but your parents are doing something incredible for you by introducing you to these types of activities this early. Keep it up!

  4. Seth Neilson says:

    Super cool. Time to start digging up some skins for my boys…

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