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East Coast skier venturing into Backcountry.... need advice [headed to college in PNW]

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello all!

 

I'm a Washington DC boy, and i've been skiing up and down the east coast for years. But I also frequently take trips out west, to powder-meccas such as Jackson Hole or Whistler.

 

Skiing is my life's biggest passion, and thus, I knew I was going to eventually leave the slopes of New England and venture west, to the skiing powerhouses. So, I applied to college throughout the Rockies and PNW, and eventually settled on Western Washington Uni. The local mountain there is Mt. Baker, well known for ridiculous amounts of powder and freeride skiing. Up until now, the east coast has limited me to Groomers and Icy Carves, but I'm now preparing to take the official step up to All-Mountain skiing. I'm an expert at carving and moguls, and i've spent weeks on west-excursions skiing hip-deep pow. I consider myself a very hard-charging and aggressive skier, and i'm on the bigger side at 6'2 185 Pd. 

 

I'm not at a financial standpoint to have multiple skis, and i'm looking for the do-it all ski, one that can handle the deep wet backcountry at Baker and Whistler, tear through Cold Smoke in the Rockies, and still enable me to carve (somewhat) for when i return to the East or for when i'm in a carving mood. 

 

I guess i'm looking for a all-mountain back ski, one that's wide enough to handle feet of powder, but still can maintain decent groomer ability. Anything between 105-120 MM would be great, and i'm assuming i'll spend 60% of my time off-piste, and 40% on. 

 

Any suggestions? Thanks!

 

Moderator Note: moved to Ski Gear

post #2 of 16

What skis do you have now?  Ideally, three skis would be good out for west, ~85mm for firm days 20% of the time, 100mm for soft, but not fresh snow days 40% of the time, and 120mm for powder or crud days 40% of the time (hopefully in a good winter:)).  If I only had to pick one I'd go for something in the ~100mm width.  I skied a pair of Blizzard Bonafides (98mm) often in UT and CO this winter and they were quite suitable for about all but the firmest or deepest days, that is about 90% of the time.  A lot of people out west use Rosignol Soul 7s (107mm) for daily drivers out west.  That might be a good choice for one ski quiver too.  I have demo'd them and they are pretty darn nimble on groomers for a wider ski.  Although it sounds like you might want to go for something even wider than either of those to ensure you get the most out of deeper powder days.  There is no doubt that something in the 120-140 mm range allows you to charge harder on days when there is ~12 or more inches of new snow.  Especially if snow is a little heavy, you don't get mired in it.  Hopefully, folks will chime in with more wide suggestions.

 

PS:  welcome to EpicSki.  Go Terps!

post #3 of 16

If you ski at Mt. Baker mostly and you are a hard charging expert you should expect to ski about 90-95% of your time off piste, if you mean by that "off-groomed."  There is little grooming inside the ski area and none of the good stuff is groomed, so you will use the groomers to get from one stash of powder or crud to the next or to get across a flat spot, and that's about it.

 

If you're skiing on one pair of skis only, I would suggest something around 100 under foot or so.  The snow here can vary a great deal in density and depth so you should try to have a ski that is really flexible as to the types of snow it likes.

 

DO NOT just head out into the back country here without becoming very familiar with the terrain and conditions.  Avalanches are frequent and we lose people almost every year, this year being no exception.

 

Also, welcome to WWU (Western).  I'm an alum and live one block from campus.  It's a great school in a great spot.  You'll love it.

post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the reply, I currently have a beat-up pair of 2013 Atomic Panics, which are pretty much bricks in anything deeper than 10 inches. When traveling to the west, I normally end up renting a pair of better-suited skis at the local shop. So far i've been looking at the Atomic Vantage 100 CTI's and the K2 Pinnacle 105's, both were great skis, My concern is that they won't get as much float in the deep stuff. I've heard great things about the Pinnacle 118's as well. I plan on buying a pair of Powder skis eventually, i'm just searching for that "inbetween" ski, in the 100MM Range. Thanks for the Help!

post #5 of 16

The Baker "powder" is hardly ever like Jackson Hole powder.  Coastal snow is wet.  Even when it isn't actually wet, it doesn't have the crystal structure of Rocky Mountain snow.  Find skis that are suitable for the usual Cascade Concrete.  I've had a lot of fun skiing fresh deep snow in the Northwest, Whistler and Washington & Oregon, and I've also had a lot of fun skiing the different fresh snow in the Rockies.  A good skier can do great with almost any skis, but the optimum skis for one aren't the optimum for the other.

post #6 of 16

What I'm reading here is that you're a teenager from Maryland who is moving to Washington, and wants to shred the gnar. Okay, sounds good. 

 

First off, let's dispense with the "expert" tag. An expert skier is one who can ski anything anywhere, and ski it well. You admit yourself that you only have proficiency on a couple things. So before you head West, eliminate the word "expert" from your vocabulary of self-description. 

 

Okay, so why am I being so curmudgeonly about this? Because you're about to realize that you are suffering from "pond size syndrome." In other words, at present you're a relatively big fish in a very small pond. The PNW is a gigantic lake compared to the hillocks you've frequented from the DC area. 

 

You say you want to shred Baker BC gnar, and you want to spend some money on skis. But wait.. how is your avy equipment? Have you taken an avy course? Do you have a beacon/probe/shovel setup? I can tell based your comments so far (particularly where Posaune gave you a warning, and your response doesn't even address it) that you likely have none of the above. Forget about skis until you have taken an avalanche course, and you have a beacon, a probe, a shovel, and you know how to use them all. The best powder skis from DPS or Icelantic aren't going to help a whit when you're buried under 10 feet of compacted slide snow.

 

Sorry to dump a massive bucket of ice cold reality on your stoke, but you're a self described trail-bound skier from the Mid-Atlantic who is talking about skiing the backcountry in the PNW. You have no idea how big of a jump that is, and how far out of your depth you are if you're talking about what skis you need. I really can't impress upon you more strongly that leaving the trail is a dangerous proposition, and can get you killed. People die out in the backcountry every year, and its mostly people who had no idea what they were getting into, because they considered themselves "experts" on their home hills. And don't fall into the trap that says "sidecountry" skiing isn't really dangerous. If you leave the trail network, you're entering uncontrolled terrain, where avalanches can happen inbounds and out. Don't be a statistic.

 

Forget skis. Get survival equipment first. 

post #7 of 16
post #8 of 16

Avalanche courses are also available through the Mt. Baker Ski Area.  Check them out and a wealth of mountain safety information as well at: http://www.mtbaker.us/mtn-safety/

post #9 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Posaune View Post
 

Avalanche courses are also available through the Mt. Baker Ski Area.  Check them out and a wealth of mountain safety information as well at: http://www.mtbaker.us/mtn-safety/

Holy crud. An avy course for under $200? That's insane. I bet those spots fill fast. 

post #10 of 16
I'd leave the back country out of the equation entirely your freshman year. Learn to ski the inbounds stuff well. Keep your old skis for groomers, and buy a second pair. See, now you have multiple skis. Buy the second pair to complement the existing skis. Figure out what the first pair didn't handle (snow over ten inches apparently) and get skis that float. At the end of freshman year, figure out what pair of skis you never used and adjust accordingly or spend money on shovels, probes, beacons, skins, technical bindings, etc. if you've conquered all the inbounds stuff.
post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post

I'd leave the back country out of the equation entirely your freshman year. Learn to ski the inbounds stuff well. Keep your old skis for groomers, and buy a second pair. See, now you have multiple skis. Buy the second pair to complement the existing skis. Figure out what the first pair didn't handle (snow over ten inches apparently) and get skis that float. At the end of freshman year, figure out what pair of skis you never used and adjust accordingly or spend money on shovels, probes, beacons, skins, technical bindings, etc. if you've conquered all the inbounds stuff.


While I agree that the above is a very good plan for the first year out here, I have the feeling that when he sees all of the bros heading up Hemispheres in what looks like a caravan, the OP will be sorely tempted.  The ski area will pull your pass if you head out of bounds without the correct gear AND a training course.  I've seen them bust folks several times.  It helps that there is a culture of avalanche safety there which keeps a lot of otherwise idiots in line. 

 

Almost all of the best back country lines are accessed from inside the ski area, so you are required to play along with their rules, which is a very good thing.  There are so many people doing this that the side country is sometimes more tracked than inbounds and the true backcountry areas are mostly tracked out if it's been a couple of days since the last snowfall.

 

The general way it works, especially on weekdays, is if there is 6" of new or more all of the power hounds show up and many of them hike to the bottom of the lifts since the ones accessing the best terrain are not near the parking area.  At 9:00 exactly they start loading the lifts.  There are lines and people are all wound up.  By 11:00 or so everyone disappears and inbounds seems like a ghost town.  The crowds have done one of two things: 1. They area headed out of bounds for the freshies since they've tracked out their favorite places or, 2. They are heading home to go to work or school.  I'm beginning to like the days with 5" or less, because the place is so much mellower.

post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post

I'd leave the back country out of the equation entirely your freshman year. Learn to ski the inbounds stuff well. Keep your old skis for groomers, and buy a second pair. See, now you have multiple skis. Buy the second pair to complement the existing skis. Figure out what the first pair didn't handle (snow over ten inches apparently) and get skis that float. At the end of freshman year, figure out what pair of skis you never used and adjust accordingly or spend money on shovels, probes, beacons, skins, technical bindings, etc. if you've conquered all the inbounds stuff.

 

I *mostly* agree with this, but with a slight tweak. 

 

I definitely like the idea of putting off buying the avy gear and such for a season. Maybe doing part 1 of the course at Baker (heck, it's only like $40, which is insanely cheap), and holding off on beacon/shovel/probe, and using that money this year to buy a new set of sticks. However, I'd advise getting AT bindings on those skis. Not necessarily a pair of Dynafits or the like, but a pair of Dukes or WTRs that have a detachable heel. That way going into the following season the OP isn't faced with once again buying a new set of bindings on top of paying for his avy gear and part 2 of his training. Maybe hold off on buying skins until sophomore year, too. That will eliminate the capability to go uphill on his skis and make it easier for him to stick to staying between the ropes. 

 

Still, in the end... slow it down some and buy smart. Your pass and your life are at risk from ill-advised trips off into The White. 

post #13 of 16

Get your student loans now and get your skis, avy gear, avy course, season pass to Baker..... if Bernie becomes president college will be free any way, right ?

 

You may want to wait till you get to WWU and you may be able to get decent used gear that are just right for Baker conditions - I would guess there's lot's available among WWU students ?

 

There's also regional 'cool' factor.  Skis that may be the cool 'bro' skis on the east coast, Colorado, etc, may not necessarily be the 'cool' skis to be on at Baker, even though they may be functionally just fine for the conditions - if that matters to you.  Also, advice from old guys (like me) could steer you into some really uncool skis.  

 

You may want to check out ON3P skis, (Billy Goats)  - 'Cool' Portland made indie ski brand.  Awesome skis too - very highly rated.  I'm planning on getting a pair this year - but does that mean they're now uncool as I'm an old guy? Or am I the exception ?

 

But do listen to what Freeski919, Posaune and Sibhusky say about the backcountry and avalanches - they do happen in the PNW and at Baker all the time, and people do get killed here in the backcountry, sidecountry (which really is backcountry) and even in-bounds - Tree wells are also a real and serious concern that can be deadly.  People die in the PNW BC just about every year - often very close to resorts. Get the avy gear, get the training, practice using the gear, and only travel in the BC with others who have the same and that you trust your life to!

 

Check out the Northwest Avalanche Center website: www.nwac.us   They've stopped daily avalanche forecasts for the season, but get familiar with the site. If you're going into the PNW backcountry you should be checking this site daily, even the days you're not skiing - it gives you a better understanding of how changing weather conditions changes the avalanche danger.  Definitely check out the Accidents tab and 'Accident Reports' - very sobering. It's not only the unprepared and inexperienced that get caught in and die in avalanches - backcountry experts and professionals also are victims as you will see.  The backcountry is spectacular, especially around Baker and can be traveled in relative safety.

 

Best of luck at WWU and skiing Baker - Be safe, enjoy and have the time of your life!

post #14 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by ILOJ View Post

 

You may want to wait till you get to WWU and you may be able to get decent used gear that are just right for Baker conditions - I would guess there's lot's available among WWU students ?

 

The Komo Kulshan ski swap is held in Bellingham at Blodel Donovan Park Pavillion on the third (?) weekend of October.  It's a big sale.  Check the Mt. Baker web site for announcements about it in the fall.

 

Also:

Another place to get avalanche safety training, cheap rentals of avalanche gear, information about like minded students, and a whole lot more is at Western's Outdoor Program that's run by the ASB.  It's located in the Viking Union building (VU).  Check it out when you get on campus.

post #15 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Posaune View Post
 

The Komo Kulshan ski swap is held in Bellingham at Blodel Donovan Park Pavillion on the third (?) weekend of October.  It's a big sale.  Check the Mt. Baker web site for announcements about it in the fall.

 

Also:

Another place to get avalanche safety training, cheap rentals of avalanche gear, information about like minded students, and a whole lot more is at Western's Outdoor Program that's run by the ASB.  It's located in the Viking Union building (VU).  Check it out when you get on campus.

Good point on rentals - not sure what prices are at WWU, I have a son at CWU (Central Washington University) and their Outdoor Pursuits Center rents avalanche backpacks (pack, beacon, probe, shovel) to students for $10/ day or $15 per weekend (3 days)  - awesome deal!

post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 

Warning heeded.

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