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Ideas for the ultimate backcountry touring trip?

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

Hey, I guess it is the off season, so maybe some of you all will have time to offer some advice...and maybe it will be useful for others, too, and maybe you will enjoy arguing the point.

 

I'm planning a trip for next year, and the question is where?, when?, and should we hire a guide?

 

For context, there are maybe 6 or us; we are mostly intermediate or so resort downhill skiers, and are used to extreme southern Michigan backcountry skiing on heavy touring gear—meaning severe bramble patches, no hills to speak of. I myself can boast of something that sort of feels like a telemark turn, but I doubt really looks like it.

 

We are used to outdoor travel in winter, reasonably fit, but kind of old—50s or so. Not much experience with avalanche safety, but some rock/ice/mountain climbers in the group. We don't have beacons or technical gear.

 

So we are looking for a fairly mellow ski tour kind of experience in some beautiful western spot, with enough ascents and descents to make it interesting. We'd like to learn some new downhill skills, but we aren't looking for monster powder-filled couloirs. Scenery and ambiance is important. This will be our first time doing anything like this.

 

Backcountry camping is way too much work for us, but huts might be possible. Or some nice cheap lodge or rental, if it possible to get to nice areas with day trips.

 

I'm thinking that if we go later in the season, on consolidated snow, we can cover more ground, and have fewer worries about crevasses and avalanches. But maybe powder is so great that we should look for it? I have no idea, and will consider all opinions.

 

Basically, the question is, where is the ultimate spot, in the US or Canada? Also, what about hiring a guide—especially if we need some handholding on glaciers or avalanche areas. Some ski instruction might be good, too.

 

An thoughts on planning a trip would be most welcome. In return I'd be happy to provide advice to anyone planning a ski trip to Michigan (Hahahahahaha!)

 

Ps I've really been enjoying browsing the trip reports—thanks to everyone who posts.

post #2 of 24
10th Mountain hut system out of Aspen should be high on anyone's list.
post #3 of 24

This one is pretty spectacular.

 

The Haute Route - Guided Hut Skiing in the Alps Chamonix to Zermatt.

 

A ski touring route through the heart of the Alps. Takes between 7 and 10 days.You need a guide.

 

post #4 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nathaniel View Post
 

Hey, I guess it is the off season, so maybe some of you all will have time to offer some advice...and maybe it will be useful for others, too, and maybe you will enjoy arguing the point.

 

I'm planning a trip for next year, and the question is where?, when?, and should we hire a guide?

 

For context, there are maybe 6 or us; we are mostly intermediate or so resort downhill skiers, and are used to extreme southern Michigan backcountry skiing on heavy touring gear—meaning severe bramble patches, no hills to speak of. I myself can boast of something that sort of feels like a telemark turn, but I doubt really looks like it.

 

We are used to outdoor travel in winter, reasonably fit, but kind of old—50s or so. Not much experience with avalanche safety, but some rock/ice/mountain climbers in the group. We don't have beacons or technical gear.

 

So we are looking for a fairly mellow ski tour kind of experience in some beautiful western spot, with enough ascents and descents to make it interesting. We'd like to learn some new downhill skills, but we aren't looking for monster powder-filled couloirs. Scenery and ambiance is important. This will be our first time doing anything like this.

 

Backcountry camping is way too much work for us, but huts might be possible. Or some nice cheap lodge or rental, if it possible to get to nice areas with day trips.

 

I'm thinking that if we go later in the season, on consolidated snow, we can cover more ground, and have fewer worries about crevasses and avalanches. But maybe powder is so great that we should look for it? I have no idea, and will consider all opinions.

 

Basically, the question is, where is the ultimate spot, in the US or Canada? Also, what about hiring a guide—especially if we need some handholding on glaciers or avalanche areas. Some ski instruction might be good, too.

 

An thoughts on planning a trip would be most welcome. In return I'd be happy to provide advice to anyone planning a ski trip to Michigan (Hahahahahaha!)

 

Ps I've really been enjoying browsing the trip reports—thanks to everyone who posts.

 

Your brave posting this here. I'm surprised some of the other members haven't jumped in yet about how irresponsible it is to go with out training and such. Since I'm of the opinion that some internet chastising isn't going to change anyone's opinion; here's some info:

 

First thing, I absolutely would not go with out beacons but this is going to present a problem as pretty much no one rents beacons these days. Unfortunately people aren't smart enough to understand beacons aren't magical things that prevent avalanches and companies are worried about being sued.

 

Second where ever you decide to go start reading the snow reports for the area as soon as the season starts. This will let you be aware of the history of the snow pack and give you an idea of what the problem areas/terrain are. When you are out there check the report every day, digging pits and everything is great but the reality is 90% of people never do. Going out on a sketchy day then for sure dig a pit but the whole point of the report is that pros do most the work.

 

Third, you need a whole kit. It's great to have a beacon but doesn't do you any good to find a person and not be able to get them out.

 

Fourth, obviously the best thing to do is to take classes. If you aren't going to start reading now, there is more information then you could ever read on the internet and a multiple of sites offer basic avalanche training online for free. That info is the same stuff you are going to get in a class but your losing out on the field training which is the big benefit of a class.

 

Now as to recommendations. Are you looking to do a point to point trip or would you be happy doing tours that end at the day and then just heading to a hotel for the night and doing something different the next morning? If the latter I would recommend the Vail pass/Shriner pass areas. They have groomed trails to travel on and there are all kinds of guide services, including cat and snowmobile trips. Now there are avalanches every year in those areas so don't think all the groomed trails means you don't need to follow normal safety standards.

post #5 of 24

So basically you want some place for mellow backcountry day skiing in the spring? You've cast a wide net. A few places come to mind -- North Lake Tahoe-Truckee, Bozeman, Salt Lake City, the I-70 corridor through Colorado. Each of those places would offer plenty of options to ski safely in almost any conditions, with the added bonus of having hotels nearby and a decent airport.

post #6 of 24

I moved from rugged BC skiing on Fischer Ottabounds in Central NY to BC skiing in the PNW last year. so I hear ya. Lots of beauty in the mountains all over the west. Call up some guiding outfits ( you WILL want a guide if you want some awesome that won't kill you) in different areas and talk about your plans. Mention "meadow skipping" i.e. under 45 deg it seems. Do your due diligence and go with one you feel comfortable with. An outfit that answers questions you didn't think of asking is a good sign. PM me for some req's in Washington.

post #7 of 24

Meadow skipping is under 45?  How about 20.

 

Driving out to Leadville or Glenwood and then doing a three day hut trip loop would be cheap. There are a bunch of hut loops you could do without any avi gear, if you just stay on the trail.

 

http://www.huts.org/In_The_Field/avi_info.html

 

If you want a guide, Aspen Expeditions is good.

post #8 of 24
post #9 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dane View Post
 

http://sawtoothguides.com/guided-backcountry-skiing/guided-hut-trips/

 

it puts  smile on my face :-)

 

Second the sawtoothguides recommendation, Chris is a really nice guy as well as everyone I've ever been in contact with from SMG!

 

But the one thing I guess would be amazing to do is the 42 days Alaska Mountaineering course that shows up from time to time on The Clymb, I believe it includes a full Level 1 avy class and a bunch of other climbing, alpine training! really cool! wish I could stay away from work for the 50 days this would require!

post #10 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by SHREDHEAD View Post
 

Meadow skipping is under 45?  How about 20.

The CNY black diamonds I skied were 22. I'm sure there is a lot of 25 - 35 here. For 20's are here but were I to stumble about unguided odds are good I'd be crossing 45+ with a cliff out to get to them.

post #11 of 24

I'd look at any of the Canadian or Western States alpine touring commercial  huts offerings.  Most will offer guided and unguided  packages.   A good one will offerr "guide" and "instruction" plus the opportunity to ski on your own as a group.

.

You got me thinking and if it were me I'd  hook up with a hut that was cat or helo served for intitial access  so that skiing is skin served around the Hut/cabin or yurt to get the goods.   One move in offers more skiing.  And the right hut location will offer you new and incredible terrain and optimal snow conditions every day.

post #12 of 24
post #13 of 24

Something a little closer to home, to consider:

 

http://skichicchocs.com/en/activity/the-all-glide/

post #14 of 24
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the ideas and replies to my original post.  I may have to plan more than one trip.

 

I have read about the 10th mountain huts, and that seems pretty appealing.  I do get the impression that is more of a midwinter kind of destination, with potential for a lot of slogging through unconsolidated snow, as opposed to miles of effortless, reasonably safe,  touring and exploring.

 

I'm drawn to the North Cascades at the moment.  Somehow the further away a place is the more beautiful the pictures are.  Now I just saw pictures of Yoho National Park in BC--I could be driving for days.

 

Above timberline with great mountain vistas, low angle ridges and slopes, warm sun, corn snow...that's what I'm dreaming of.

 

"Meadow skipping" sounds good, too.

post #15 of 24

Bob Lee's list is a mixed bag worldwide that includes snowcat/heli examples as well as pure backcountry touring lodges.  While my personal experience is with cat/heli I know there are a lot of touring lodges in British Columbia.  A quick search came up with this list: http://www.doglotion.com/bc-backcountry-huts-ski-lodges.   If you want you can get similar amenities as at the snowcat lodges, but others provide facilities to prepare your own meals at a lower price. One of my friends Jim Pfeifer from the Ice Axe Antarctic cruise likes Blanket Glacier Chalet http://blanketglacierchalet.com/thechalet.html and has been there 7x in the past decade.   Jim is an experienced backcountry skier in your age bracket from Idaho and loves his powder but is not looking for extreme terrain.  Thus I pass along his recommendation.

 

I strongly recommend being guided for this trip.  Guides know the terrain/snow and avalanche profiles of their areas.   The cat/heli lodges provide avalanche gear to clients.  I would guess that's not so likely at backcountry lodges but you might inquire.

post #16 of 24

You could have a lot of fun and do the trip safely.  I was part of a group that flew into a hut called Fairy Meadows several years ago.  It is one of many such huts.  This particular one involved a lottery to get into.  You might be able to still do it for this season, I don't know when the dates are for application.  We hired a guide.  I was against it, but it turned out to be good for the group overall.  You might enjoy a trip like that.  We skied some steep stuff, summited a few peaks, and returned to the cushy lodge every night for a huge tasty meal and a sauna/shower.  I think that area had something to offer almost any group of skiers.  It is just one of many huts out there.

 

There are guided yurt options here in the Tetons that you might enjoy.  It might be possible to get an Avy1 cert while doing your tour.  Another option that came to mind was ski touring in Yellowstone.  There aren't too many big descents that come to mind in YNP, but there certainly is some great ski touring to be done and the scenery and wildlife would be great.  You could go in on a snowcoach and stay in the Old Faithful area.  I think that with some common sense you could tour there safely.  There have been a few avalanche deaths in YNP, but they were on Dunraven Pass and involved Snow Scientists collecting data.  I think if you were selective about your routes and stayed away from Dunraven and Sylvan Passes you would be fine.

 

I have heard good things about the Sawtooth Guides.  One of their guides and I were in some Avy training together many years ago.  I thought about applying for a job there.

post #17 of 24

Despite what you might think, you can have a great time back country touring here in Massachusetts! There are plenty of things to do like whitewater rafting, heritage museums and gardens, Boston Gondolas that give you the tour of the state in a non-traditional way. Check out the LGBT Massachusetts Website for more information if it peaks your interest: http://www.lgbtmassvacation.com/things-to-do

post #18 of 24
I think it is totally foolhardy to do this anywhere in avalanche country without a guide. There is no safe time of year. I don't think it is wise to take vacations into BC terrain without a guide even with a group that has all had training and is avalanche experienced. How can you keep yourself off risky terrain if you don't know the terrain? How likely are you to sensibly evaluate risk if your choice is to ski it that instant or never?

Going BC on a vacation with no training, no guide, and no gear sounds like a death wish to me. Spring skiing is not safe, just safer, and getting buried in a wet slab can kill you in minutes.

Go with a guide. If you don't want to buy gear, go with a guide that can provide gear.
post #19 of 24

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^........................+100

 

SJ

post #20 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by SierraJim View Post
 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^........................+100

 

SJ

 

I fundamentally agree. Although you can get some training and limit your routes in order to have a pretty reasonable experience, the evidence seems to say that many do not quite manage this. And it is non-tivial to line that up in advance for a single trip anyway.

 

For my .02, contact http://www.bergmenn.com You'll get a great guide, see some exotic places, ski some cool terrain. Learn a bunch along the way. Airfares to Iceland are surprisingly cheap. I've only done heli skiing with those guys - but I have seen their touring groups out in the mountains. Struck me as a very nice setup. 

post #21 of 24

 2 posts in Sept. Wonder where he decided to go.


Edited by wooley12 - 11/29/13 at 1:00am
post #22 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by TQA View Post
 

This one is pretty spectacular.

 

The Haute Route - Guided Hut Skiing in the Alps Chamonix to Zermatt.

 

A ski touring route through the heart of the Alps. Takes between 7 and 10 days.You need a guide.

 

Yes, but the OP said they are a group of intermediate resort skiers.  There have been a few fatalities on that route, which is too challenging for intermediates.

post #23 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by chraya View Post
 

Yes, but the OP said they are a group of intermediate resort skiers.  There have been a few fatalities on that route, which is too challenging for intermediates.

 

Well I have done some of the huts and runs including the Vallee Blanche and those are doable by decent intermediates with some back country experience , time on skins and a fair degree of fitness. Here is a quote from a pro guide.

 

Quote:

Haute Route Qualifications

Ski Ability: The Haute Route is not an extreme ski route in any way. It does, however, require participants to be decent skiers. Things you should feel comfortable doing include: skiing with a backpack, skiing a wide variety of snow ranging from powder to breakable crust to corn, and climbing and descending 3500-4500' on skis for a week. It is not advised to undertake the Haute Route without any experience outside of a ski area. You will want to do some AT skiing in advance of the Haute Route and will want to show up having used your boots in the time prior to the trip.
 

 

 

More here http://www.mountainschool.com/content/main/haute-route-ski-tour/

 

I know there are variations on the route which invove some risky climbing but those can be avoided.

 

But yes people have died on the Haute Route, it is riskier than couch skiing for sure.

post #24 of 24

The most popular version of the Haute Route (i.e. the Verbier variant) is well within the capabilities of fit intermediate skiers. But I would agree with those who have urged the OP to hire a guide. If the weather turns you can find yourself in serious trouble if you get off route or can't read the avalanche risk or don't know the procedures for crevasse rescue. Someone was killed and another badly injured in an avalanche below the Trient Hut the week before my first crossing of the route, so yes the route is not without risk. A great many people complete the route every year, without incident, however.

 

The Verbier option (Les Grand Montets-Trient Hut-Verbier/Mont Fort Hut-Prafleuri Hut-Dix Hut-Vignette Hut-Zermatt) takes less than 10 days. 6 days is more like it. 7 or 8 if you head to the Bertol Hut after the Vignette. Some guides begin with a descent of the Vallee Blanche to get a sense of the clients' level before committing to the route. That can add another day.

 

I would say the biggest challenges are posed by the physical demands of skinning and boot-packing uphill at altitude. The skiing isn't hard.  It is, however, one of the most beautiful routes you'll ever see.

 

For a day by day route description, with photos, check out this page from Cosley and Houston's website: http://www.cosleyhouston.com/alp-ski/hr-d2d-verbier/hr-day1-verbier.htm

 

I can recommend either Fred Cambe or Alexandre Ravanel as guides. Both are superb Chamonix guides.

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