If a picture is worth a thousands words, then you’re in for a real treat. Check out the following album, with shots taken by the amazing Ken Lucas during his travels in Alaska, which, in his words: “included backcountry skiing and some snow-kiting. We hit both the Chugach Mountains and the Kenai Mountains, including a great ski-plane segment.”
The annual Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival is an outright celebration of human-powered winter adventure. What’s more, it honors environmental preservation while working to showcase the pure beauty of non-motorized recreation. And to put the cherry on top, the Backcountry Film Festival expressly promotes the work of grassroots filmmakers who tell these inherently awe-inspiring stories.
If you spent the winter months playing in the snow, now’s the time to submit your footage of it because the 9th annual Backcountry Film Festival is now seeking entries! Here’s are the requirements for — as well as process of — submitting your quality footage:
Crystal Mountain, Washington is one of those iconic ski areas that many skiers would wish to call home. Its got it all – steeps, trees, airs, accessibility to a big city (Seattle), and best of all for us last weekend – POWDER!
25 KEEN Rippin Chix students and five coaches, including free skiing champions such as Kasha Rigby, Karen Reader, Susan Medville and Molly Baker all converged to Crystal February 9th and 10th for a steeps camp run by founder and Osprey Ambassador Alison Gannett.
Gals attended from all over and ranged in age from 14 to 59. Goals varied from overcoming past tumbles, to building confidence and skills, to learning Alison’s five fun ways to catch air. Four ability groups formed, with the “lower” group working introduction skills for steeps and the upper group charging out the gate demanding to “jump off more stuff.”
The hardest part about running Rippin Chix is always my worry that gals will push it too far and too fast. I have always believed that the best way to jump off a cliff is to learn how to jump a snowball on the groomer. Once the skills are solid, then the terrain can be pushed, and always on stuff with lots of runout room should things not go as planned. Crystal Mtn is perfect for this, with lots of fun north-facing powder bowls and zillions of chutes that fan out into big aprons. Luckily I had nothing to worry about, as these gals were fast learners and keen students.
Big smiles abounded on Sunday as we organized a group introduction and shared what everyone’s favorite skill was from Saturday. While I have adored my PSIA and race coaching training, I’ve never connected with terms like “functional tension,” and instead teach gals things like “squeeze the thong,” get rid of your velcro butt or tyrannosaurus arms and instead focus on “pouring the wine” and smushing the grapes.
Sad to say, we had quite a few flurries and clouds that prevented much video for this particular camp, so I’m going to attach the video from this year’s KEEN Rippin Chix Steeps Camp at Silverton Mtn, Colorado:
Next up on the powder seeking agenda? The Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Festival located in the heart of the legendary Selkirk Mountains at Whitewater resort near Nelson British Columbia, Canada. See you there?!
I have spent the last 20 years trying to check off every possible place on my skiing bucket list. Some years I would tick off more than others and some years I actually added more places to the list than I could cross off. A few years ago there was a lot of hype about Japan and people that had been told epic stories of copious amounts of light and dry powder, tree skiing that never ended and a really unique cultural experience. Every athlete and photographer I knew had gone to Japan and nailed it for powder. Being more of a realist than an optimist, I figured that eventually someone was going to go to Japan seeking the dream and get completely skunked. I didn’t want to be the one that came home with nothing to talk about but groomers and carving.
Over the summer, I started thinking more and more about Japan, so when an offer to go shoot with elite photographer Grant Gunderson came up, I jumped on the chance. As the trip approached I surfed the internet looking for an accurate weather report. We were heading to Myoko on the Honshu peninsula of the main island. Although this area is believed to get more snow than anywhere on the planet, the forecast I found called for a dusting of snow during the 10 days we were slated to be skiing there. Grant said to ignore the forecast and told me that it always snows in Myoko in January. Our tickets were already booked so I figured I would just take what I got and deal with it.
We arrived in Tokyo, hopped a bullet train and started the three-hour journey to Myoko. We drank beer served from vending machines and had our first of what would become endless meals of sushi. We arrived in Myoko under starry skies. Day one was clear and the locals were calling for light snow. We took advantage of the weather and toured above the highest lift at Akukura Onsen ski area. We skinned for 30 minutes and set up shot one of the trip. Within minutes, fog rolled in off the Sea of Japan and climbed up the mountain, engulfing us in a misty shroud. We skied the birch forest for some depth of field until we ended up back in the ski area. We were all tired and jet-lagged so we took a few laps to get our ski legs and headed to the hotel for afternoon tea, an early dinner and bed. As I looked outside I could see snowflakes picking up in intensity and size.
Our second morning couldn’t have been more different than the first. As I pulled open the curtains, I was shocked to see a full meter of new snow. I had never seen it snow so much in such a short amount of time. It was 7 a.m. and I had to control myself for 90 minutes until the lift opened to deliver us to the goods. In North America, a storm like this would almost guarantee a huge line-up for the chair. We found the ski area completely void of anyone but lifties waiting to brush of our lift seat.
For the next week, I skied the best and deepest powder of my life. We had more than 9 feet of snow during the trip and a bluebird day following each major storm. Myoko had some other skiers eventually show up, but they were not there for the powder. All the hype about the tree skiing in Japan is true. The forests are made up of birch trees that have no branches near the ground so you just line up a lane you want to ski and drop in. The trees are perfectly spaced and the snow is hero snow so you can just charge all day long.
I wasn’t expecting super gnarly terrain in Japan, but I quickly found out that you can get into trouble quickly if you get too adventurous. Nothing in Myoko is off-limits, except skiing under the chairlift, and little is marked so going off-piste is the real deal. Plenty of pillow lines, spines and steep gullies waiting for those with a nose for adventure.
The routine of eating sushi for breakfast, slaying powder all day, soaking in the natural hotsprings (called onsens), and then feasting nightly on a bounty of seafood and sake did not grow old. Now that I have been and tasted the nectar of Japanese skiing in January, I’m not so confident that anyone will get skunked, but I can gladly tell you that it wasn’t me. If you keep a bucket list, I highly recommend Japan be added to the docket, unless of course you are averse to powder and sushi.
Well, whether or not I can comprehend it, my season ended two and a half weeks ago. If you follow my posts at all, you’ll remember that it was a questionable start, after getting an ankle joint infection from a cut from climbing that required surgery and three weeks on the couch. I fought back more slowly from that than I had anticipated, with five weeks of antibiotics and a few weeks of doing nothing while they took their toll on me more than I would have liked. But about three weeks later, all of that had faded into the background of being immersed in the life of running our ski touring business.
It’s a routine that makes the days fly by, including a 5:30 a.m. wake-up to do the weather, chop wood, prep breakfast and lunch, attend guide’s meetings, help guests with gear issues, and finally get out the door to ski at 8:30. That’s when the day gets simpler, lodge maintenance fades into the background, and the purity of one step forward at a time and snow assessment take hold. Your skis grant you the freedom to escape from the grind, whether you are a guest on holiday or a guide/owner/operator for a day at work. We all lose ourselves in the moment of striding uphill and flying downhill, from valley to mountain top and back again. Smooth and fast, we slide back to the lodge, the tasks take hold for me again, with a mirror image of the morning routine, but its great to watch the guests stay in that zone, melting away in the sauna, replenishing the burned calories and continuing with the simple life.
But then my world decided to change. Just when you are hitting your stride, sometimes the world has a different path for you to follow. I had just finished a big week of guiding with a group of guests, we averaged between eight and nine thousand feet of skiing a day, a few people squeaking in 50 grand for their week. Six weeks after having surgery, I was worried if I would pull it off, but hard and tiring as it was, it was also rewarding, considering as well that we had uncharacteristically bad snow for a bunch of days from an abnormal wind event that seemed to jack every bit of open snow in British Columbia. The next group came in and a few days later so did the snow. We settled in to the ‘normal’ five to six grand of skiing per day, which is plenty by my standards, and with 30 centimeters of fresh snow, it felt like a new world out there. So I was skiing like it was bottomless Kootenay cold smoke, but then I hit bottom. Or at least started my journey to the bottom.
In my typical, ‘I want to ski to inspire’ fast and fun style, I found the wind-jacked snow just below the surface, and my left ski decided to auger in and go a little to the right while my body kept going straight and maybe a little to the left. Then I heard the ‘pop’ you hear about and fear as a skier/athlete/guide. I instantly knew something was wrong. As is human instinct, I tried to get up and walk it off, but boom, I was right back on the ground, my left leg not working right. Deep in the backcountry, I looked at my watch and started to make decisions. I was still with a group of 12 guests and two other guides, so support was there, but that was the rest of everyone’s day, dealing with me. A few super labored zig-zag turns and collapses and I made it off of avalanche terrain and met up with the group, almost blacking out with pain and adrenaline. With cloud-building and a quality rescue sled made by Kootenay Rescue Bubble, Jasmin, my super tough wife and co-guide, made the right call to drag me out. So we immobilized my leg, put me in the sled and spent the next three hours getting me back to the lodge. It took 100 percent from everyone to make it happen, team work at its finest, but for sure Andrew (the other guide) and Jasmin worked the hardest.
Getting back to my cabin at the lodge is when it all broke down. Waves of emotion crested over me as I knew my path had changed. There will be no freedom in the hills for many months now, my endorphin source taken away. A new uphill battle through the ‘non-life threatening’ public health care system was setting up to be my fight. I wasn’t scared or upset at hurting my self, and looking at surgery and the road to recovery, I was more upset about letting down my wife, having doubled her workload at our lodge with me out of commission, scared at losing my freedom and becoming a prisoner of immobility, scared of losing touch with my wife and hound as I knew I wouldn’t be able to be up at the lodge for the rest of the winter as I battled down the road of recovery. The preciousness of the special and unique life we have seemed all too real.
We all adapt and change though, and we settle in to our new roles as best we can. Or maybe we just cope. Again and again, folks like to talk about the ‘reasons’ behind things happening. I don’t think things happen for a reason. I think we are all in control of our destinies. I think the ‘silver lining’ is something we find on our own and decide to focus on. One door closing just makes you realize that there are other doors to open and explore. I found my path and partner in life and I am going to fight like hell to get back on it and with her stronger than before. Eventually I will get in to surgery to repair my ACL and meniscus and my bruised up bones will heal. Maybe I will learn some cool things along the way, or maybe I will realize that in my mid 30s I need to stop breezing through my physical life and start making my body work harder for it and training. Either way, my eyes are open to what needs to get done and now I need to do it!
So you won’t find the deepest faceshot, most majestic views or insane physical feats coming from me for a few months. You will find me filling you in on the slow road to recovery that I know many of you have traveled down, with the small victories and defeats of the daily struggle. I know a ton of you can relate, and my strength comes from standing on the shoulders of so many of you that have hurt yourselves before me. In the end, no one died, and I should be charging in the hills again before I know it, so really it’s just a flat tire, with a busted spare, and a long walk to the nearest service station for help. And when I get the tire fixed I can continue down my wonderful path in life!
Above is a quick vid showing you the life I am now missing…
Alison Gannett is a World Champion Extreme Freeskier, founder of The Save Our Snow Foundation and an award-winning global cooling consultant who has spent her life dedicated to solutions for climate change.
A reporter asked me yesterday how I find time to shovel pig poop and run a farm with my busy schedule. In general, I avoid this job at all costs, but for some weird reason, I bonded with it this week and decided that it is extremely similar to skiing powder.
It may be the middle of June, but some of our favorite filmmakers have us thinking of deep turns and powder shots. If you didn’t make it to this year’s 5Point Film Fest or Mountainfilm, you may not have seen the inspiring and creative film with the whimsical title: Unicorn Sashimi. Whether you’re a powder hound or not, the magic produced from Felt Soul Media and Sweetgrass Productions is going to make you yearn for the white stuff…
Oh, the withdrawal. Staring out the window with a distant look. Wandering through the office with hunched shoulders. The utter lack of focus. For several years, I have joined a close (and ever widening) group of friends to spend one week in Canada ski touring at a number of the fantastic huts in the mountains of Southeastern British Columbia. Powder Creek, Kokanee Glacier Lodge, Fairy Meadows and this year, Valhalla Mountain Touring.
I’ve been back for a couple weeks, but the rhythm of VMT is still with me. Our guide and the owner of VMT is Evan Stevens. Along with his wife Jasmin, they have established one of the best powder skiing locations you will find anywhere on the planet. Top it off with incredible food prepared by Annie Strucel, a fellow “tellyer” and the experience is stellar. In fact, I’m pretty sure that VMT is heaven on earth.
Three months al fin del mundo in Puerto Natales, Chile I was waiting on a climbing permit to go and attempt a new route in the Torres del Paine National Park with some good amigos. We festered a bit in town, checking emails, drinking coffee, itching to get in to the valleys we planned to climb in. One of those emails I checked was an invite for an Osprey backpack photo shoot that would take place in the mountains outside of my home in southwest Montana.
Seemed like a good enough job: climb ice and ski in the backcountry with some like-minded folks. It was hard thinking about Montana when I had Chile and Argentina on the mind. What if I decided I wanted to stay? I thought… Then I replied in the affirmative — committing myself to a weekend of “work” that would start the day after I got home from my travels. I was a bit leery at first, but things went well, I Iiked everyone I worked with and now I am happy to be a part of the Osprey Envoy Team.
Osprey Ambassador Alison Gannett here, writing from Crested Butte, Colorado. Lots of time I’m training for competitions, or fighting to save our snow, but today was one of those days were I just SKIED. Not only was there stellar powder, but I was hanging with my good friends.
Gareth and Sam from Osprey had just sent me a new KODE 30 to test, so I guess I was really working hard today – right? I must say, I loved the gear compartments, the side zipper access, and its sexy look. Another test item I brought along was a jelly jar filled with coffee, wrapped in a hot pink Osprey beer Coozie. I think everyone should have one.
Great powder days like this not only remind me of why I fight to SAVE OUR SNOW (http://www.saveoursnowfoundation.org) but also it really recharges my batteries, gives my life a blissful balance, and reminds me of how damn lucky I am, especially in the wake of Haiti.
Stay posted for my upcoming competition – The 7 extreme hours of Banana, and I’ll try to dig up some good photos of my 42k skate race in a thong bikini.