Why we do it
Julia and I have been into xc skiing this winter – backcountry skiing with lots of rolling terrain that lends itself towards having a burlier xc ski setup. Just this year I switched from leathers and 3-pins to NNN-BC Autos and Alpina 1550s after having been raised on the 3-pins. It was a brave move and one that I am now getting rid of after a few months trial. I am now in the midst of a bc xc ski revamp, and will hopefully have a setup completed by the end of the week. Julia is currently on a 3-pin/leather setup that she enjoys quite a bit. We both ski newer waxless, metal-edged xc touring sticks that are approximately 60mm underfoot. These were our rigs of choice for an overnight in the Gallatin Mountains up near Emerald Lake in the East Fork of Hyalite Creek just recently.
The approach is three miles of fairly flat road that isn’t plowed, then about another five miles takes one to Emerald Lake. We stopped in the trees at a nice site a little short of the lake, given our lazy afternoon departure of 2:30pm from the trailhead. Still, we had made good time and covered some ground with packs on. I carried just under 20 lbs all in and J had just under 15 lbs. Quite respectable for winter kits, albeit just for an overnight. The lows were around 20°F and it snowed nearly a foot from that evening into the next morning.
With the exception of ski issues (only the most integral part of a bc ski trip!), the rest of our gear worked great. 20°F down bags, neoair x-therms, insulated pants, down jackets, etc. For a shelter we used the bomber five-ish lb Big Agnes String Ridge 2. Double-walled, front entry four-season tent. Arguably heavy, but super strong and fairly liveable for two. NO complaints from either of us with the tent. Cooking entailed a 1L Jetboil and rehydrated dinner in homemade Reflectix coozies.
As for the ski dilemma, first up is the case of old gear – J busted a rivet in one of her old Chouinard three pins. So it goes with older gear. She managed to pop it back in a few times, before just carefully skiing on one riveted pivot point the last mile or so. My new NNN BC Autos, on the other hand, froze me out of the binding a couple of times to where I had to forcefully scrape and pry ice out with a knife. Not the most pleasant of experiences, but one that was at least correctable with some patience. One of my bindings also developed a crack in the plastic, which is not the most reassuring. Both of these events prompted us to critically rethink our bc xc ski systems and to add a few key ski-centric items our winter repair kit. So back to either the trés pin or possibly a manual NNN-BC. I’ll decide here shortly. For those interested in geeking out on setups used by some of the best, check out either Forrest McCarthy’s post on bc ski travel or Luc Mehl’s article on the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic. Both have some good insights into the world of serious bc snow travel. Worthwhile reading if you have the chance.
The highlight of the trip was night skiing a short run near our fire in the falling snow by one headlamp between the two of us. Hootin and hollerin all by ourselves in the surreal (and dumping!) winter mountain landscape. Going to sleep warm after numerous powder laps and listening to the patter of snow accumulating on the tent fly until it could no longer be heard and finally shedding off, only to start all over again. Waking to a quiet new world where our tracks from the previous evening were no longer. Breaking camp, breaking trail, and being back to town exactly 24 hours after we had set off. Rejuvenated and ready for the next round. This is why we do it.