Sometimes the best plan is a loose one, and its best strike when the iron is hot. Skiing in the High Sierras of California can often be a mix of conditions so when it looks good you better pack the truck up and hit the road for the Range of Light.
This past March after a less than stellar winter in California of watching storms, snowpacks and forecasts, it finally looked like it was time to strike for the Sierras. After a few quick emails and phones calls with my buddy and photographer Jason Thompson, or JT as most call him, our plan was hatched.
The plan was to start at the northern part of the range in Bridgeport, a small little ranching town high in the Sierra Nevada’s. The first thing you realize skiing in the Sierras is that the days consist of big, long approaches which lead to similarly long climbs. We started to call it the Sierra bootcamp, you might not be in the best shape at the beginning of the trip but by the end you sure will be.
Having the proper gear on a trip like this can make or break your experience. New in our arsenal this year was the XT3 Tour Pro boot. It was so awesome to see Lange come with a touring norm boot that could handle long approaches and steep boot packs with crampons but still perform on the decent with the same great Lange feeling that you would expect. Confidence in your preparation, partner, and equipment are vital to the success of any backcountry mission.
Rising early, skinning beneath gigantic ponderosa pine trees, linking up snow patches, spring had already sprung in the valley bottom of the basin. After several hours we arrived at the base of our line for the day, a long granite walled couloir.
Transferring from skins to the skis on the pack we keep climbing higher and deeper into the couloir.
Soon we found ourselves swapping leads as the snow got deeper and deeper. At times waist deep.
Looks like we had hit it just right. A 40-degree couloir in powder. Jackpot.
JT and I pitched the idea of a quick overnight strike mission up towards Red Slate Mountain and then skiing it’s north facing couloir at the end of the trip. A true Sierra classic.
As we continued climbing higher, we soon found ourselves in a full-on winter storm wallowing in waist deep powder. So, we pulled the skis from our packs and dropped in, leapfrogging each other down the couloir in some of the best spring powder we’d ever skied.
It’s conditions like these, in this type of setting, that make these trips so memorable. All the work and sufferfest climbs, but this will be the takeaway we remember.
Over that past week we had climbed and skied six of eight days in three unique zones, hitting some classic lines. Sometimes you just need to strike when the iron is hot, and then make hay while the sun is out. Or if you’re in the Sierras just climb and ski as much as you can.