Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ten Things for Backcountry Skiers to Do While Waiting for Old Man Winter to Get His Head Out of His A**

Something's missing.

Unless you’ve been busy hiding under the bed with a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’ve probably noticed that there’s been a determined lack of snow in the Northeast.  In between checking the depressing weather reports from the solitude of my couch-cushion spider hole, I’ve developed a list of activities to help us backcountry skiers cope with our increasing despair. 

So put down the half empty bottle of spiced rum, put some pants on, and gather around for my list of ten things to do while you wait for Old Man Winter to get his sh# together.

10.       Google Earth

Those who can’t do, plan. 

Lincoln's Chin. I've been there many times on GE.
Generally there’s isn’t a functional snowpack in December for backcountry skiing—even when it actually snows.  So it is no coincidence that my article on how to use Google Earth to determine the steepness of ski slopes was written last December.  Generally this is when I like to play around in virtual space.

Do you know how many river crossings there are on the Wilderness Trail out to Guyot?  How many miles is it from the road to Hancock slide?  How about to Lincoln’s chin? 

Google Earth isn’t just for trying to see if your car was in the driveway the day that they took the satellite photos.  There are actually some very useful applications for us backcountry skiers.   You can scout out slides for skiing, set GPS waypoints, and generally develop plans for possible winter tours.

The more time you spend creating pre-packaged tours now, the less time you’ll need to spend on a computer when the snow is on the ground.

9.         Indoor Climbing

Sometimes you have to climb it to ski it.
If you’re a skier that’s afraid of heights, I’ve got a cure for you.  Climbing!  There’s nothing better to desensitize you to standing atop a 45 degree slope than standing atop a 90 degree slope.

Also, the same concentration you use to focus your body movement on no-fall ski lines is cultivated with the meditative space provided by climbing.

On the other hand, if you’re one of those freaks without a healthy fear of heights, then climbing helps develop the skills you’ll need to climb and ski the pucker worthy steep sh# that the rest of us tend to avoid. 

Indoor climbing is ideal for December because it isn’t weather dependent, and doesn’t require the equipment investment needed for ice climbing.  And besides, the decent routes for ice climbing don’t usually fill-in until February.

So when you’re all done sitting in front of a computer, go out and get yourself a harness and belay device, and check out your local climbing wall.

8.         Gear Shopping

If skiing fanatics aren’t skiing, they are most likely talking about skiing.  And if they’re not talking about skiing then they’re talking about their gear.  There are always plenty of new skis, new boots, and bindings to obsess over.  In fact, if you check a backcountry skier’s browser, there’s probably more than few bookmarks to gear that they are stalking.  (Hint! Hint!)  

Even the most cynical Grinch in Who-ville has to love the deals that are available around the holidays.  Free Shipping… 20-50% off… Coupons!  December may not be the best month for ski gear shopping (reserved for January and September) , but it is pretty darn good.

7.         Work

Yeah right.  On second thought, forget that one.

6.         Correspondence

Have you written an angry email to your Congressman lately?  How about random acts of praise and kindness to complete strangers?

There’s nothing more fun, and fulfilling than getting out of your shell a little and reaching out to the outside world (especially in a positive way).

Write a letter to a friend.  Tell somebody they’re doing a good job.  Do a FOIA request for your FBI file.  The opportunities for entertainment are endless.

5.         Write An Article

If your FBI file indicates that maybe you’d better hold off on those angry emails to Congressmen, then maybe it’s time to put your creative juices and energies to better use.

Write an article about backcountry skiing! Share your knowledge and tales of your (mis)adventures with other like minded folks.

From the discussion boards at places like Time for Tuckerman or Telemark Tips, to the various blogs, there are plenty of opportunities to get your story out.

And when you can’t come up with any good article ideas, just make up a bullshit Top Ten list.

4.         Music

You may not believe me, but I actually put a lot of thought into the music that goes into our videos.  I’m constantly scouting iTunes and Youtube for music that would make a good soundtrack for mountain biking or skiing.

So if you’re thinking of making some skiing videos this winter, or just want to have a decent soundtrack to cue up on your iPod, now is a good time to put something together.

Just go easy on the Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and Portishead this time of year.  We don’t want you climbing back under your bed.

As an aside, can we nominate this Portishead song as the Seasonal Affective Disorder anthem?  Should we have anthems for medical conditions?  What would be the anthem for an ACL/MCL tear?  Okay, back to the task at hand.

3.         Resort Skiing

Resorts are our friends.  They make snow, they give us a ride to the top of the mountain and they even provide a warm place to eat our bagged lunches.

For the most part you’re not going to find powder this time of year, and the trails are going to be crowded, but it IS skiing after all.

When you start to think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.  The lift tickets are usually cheaper before Christmas vacation.  Where you might not want to shell out $50 for a day of piste turns, $20 and the opportunity to knock the dust off your skis might just get you out to the local White Ribbon of Death.

Unless you’re touring atop Mt. Washington, you don’t really have a choice.  You need to embrace the resort for December skiing.  Make the resort your friend. 

A haircut after emerging
from the basement = good idea.
2.         Repairing Relationships with Family and Friends

You’re going to be a little scarce for the next few months, so before the call of the wild lures you into the wilderness it might be a good idea to spend some quality time showering your loved ones with… well… love. 

Let them know that it’s you- and not them- that will be driving you into the woods for the next four months.  Also, be sure to take some pictures with them so that they can show their friends you really do still exist, and so they have something to give to the media when your out of shape ass is twelve hours late returning from a three hour tour.

1.         More Mountain Biking!

There’s been a silver lining to all of this warm December weather and that silver lining is called mountain biking.

If there’s anything I hate more than bare ground in December, its two hours on a stationery trainer.  While a half hour of indoor riding feels like an eternity, a couple hours go by before I’ll look at my watch when I’m riding outdoors.   Mostly this has to do with not being able to take my hands off the handlebars, but it’s also a lot more interesting to exercise outdoors.

The bottom line is that our lack of snow isn’t the end of the world, nor should it keep you from adventure.  When bleak times threaten, hope and distraction are our best weapons.  So be sure to make the most of Ullr’s procrastination by honing your skills and making yourself better prepared for when you finally head out into the mountains.

Just promise me that you’ll try to avoid making one of those top ten lists.  I really can’t stand those.


  1. That post was exactly what I needed today. Still laughing.

  2. Thanks Jeff. We're all getting a little stir crazy.

  3. I love this post!!! what ski resort is that with the tiny amount of snow?

  4. Can I win a week-long blizzard if I correctly guess the answer to Grant's question? Boreal.

  5. Well, we mtn biked into December. But now we had a ton of rain and the trails have turned to mush. It's tough to enjoy being outside this time of year when it isn't at least frozen. I'd be happy if I could be ice skating on my pond or mtn biking on hard frozen ground. I'm heading to the WROD. Praise the snowmakers! They are up all night making something for us to ski upon.

  6. Boreal it is. (Courtsey of Google Images) I took a photo from my recent outing to Wachusett, but it just made me sad... No frozen ground on my route the other night... except this one spot where it had frozen, and then unfrozen, leaving a layer of mud on top of frozen ground... which was like cornering on a greased pond. Needless to say, I took home a bruise souvenir.