Credit: Pam Johnson
My shoulders, my quads, my gluteus maximus, medius, minimus and everything in between, ache. Still, I can't wipe the grin from my face.
The Pacific Northwest is renowned for its huge rainfall amounts translating into massive snow dumps at higher elevations. Mother nature didn't disappoint and on Friday she delivered steady amounts of this white magic, just in time for my backcountry ski excursion to Mount Baker.
The plan was to ski the Lake Ann route to Shuksan Ridge. We had hoped to ski along the ridge and then head down to the lower Baker Ski area. The day began clear but quickly turned to snow. We covered a lot of territory and experienced a couple of nice powder descents but the incessant snowfall caused deteriorating visibility as we approached the Ridge. The group made the smart decision to turn around and we returned via the same route.
The next day tempted us with clear blue skies but my muscles begged for leniency. Some folks chose to skin out to Ptarmigan Ridge to ski the north slopes, others hung around the Artist Point area to yo-yo ski and collect descents. I brought out my snowshoes and camera, trekked out to Ptarmigan Ridge then returned to Artist Point. There my husband and I settled in to watch freestyle skiers filming jumps and to savour the changing views of Mounts Baker and Shuksan.
Being fairly new to this sport, I learned a few things:
Backcountry skiing uses muscles I didn't even know existed. Despite being fit I struggled to keep up with my athletic group. After a few hours on the trails the heavy snow had also accumulated on my skins making sliding difficult, like dragging mud. Clearly the best way to train for this is to undertake similar activities such as climbing, hiking and more backcountry skiing, something I hadn't done.
Don't step out of both skis at the same time to remove your skins, unless of course you want to sink up to your hips in snow, waste tons of energy getting back out and then incur the wrath of your group as they patiently wait for you to get your act together. Truthfully, the wrath was more in my head than from my group but you get the point. I was exhausted and the day had barely begun. Practicing a system of efficient transitioning between backcountry and downhill skiing is recommended.
Still, spring backcountry skiing in the West Coast is an extraordinary experience. Consider it. I'm already preparing for next year.
Looking for further mountain adventures and courses, contact the Alpine Club of Canada.