Ski Mountaineering

WBC Snow Camp 2010

Mar 20, 2010

Alvin Walter

Camping on the snow during the winter sounds like an experience that must people would just as soon pass on. Yet for a hearty bunch of people who just spent the last 10 weeks learning the basics of camping, a snow camping weekend was the highlight of the course that they were eagerly looking forward to.

Various leaders give the 100+ students options to participate in a number of different ways from snow shoeing to cross-country skiing to igloo building to telemark skiing which is my specialty. The destination that we all head for via four different buses is the Mammoth Lakes area where we can rent enough specialized telemark equipment for all the participants.

Once my group is fitted for skis, boots, poles and skins, we get dropped off at the trailhead for Minaret Vista where I give an orientation lesson on the new equipment. Along the trail we make adjustments to the new equipment and clothing as I provide refined recommendations on technique and form while proceeding up-hill to our downhill telemark skiing destination.

At Minaret Vista we enjoyed the majestic view of Mounts Ritter, Banner and the Minarets as we stopped for a snack break before embarking on the new challenge of learning Telemark skiing. On this clear, mid-Spring day, the snow had ripened to a fine soft texture making for ideal conditions to practice turns. Telemark turns are the oldest and most universally functional method of turning on skis where the heel is not locked into the ski, allowing for graceful variations of all types of turns. The most conspicuous difference is that one ski can be positioned very comfortably in front of the other and as the lead ski is transitioned forward, the skier executes graceful carved turns. My group was taking well to the challenge and good progress was being made; then after a couple hours, it was time to set up camp.

The San Joaquin Ridge that we were on is oriented northeast to southwest and, due to a west wind that picked up, I decided that we should camp facing the White Mountains to the East. Then to make snow camping a more social affair, I set up my Mega Mid tent that does not have a floor over my sculpted kitchen table and benches that easily accommodates my group of seven. Once camp was set up, there was time for more turns and we proceeded about 700 more vertical feet up San Joaquin Ridge until the sun was low on the horizon, then used a combination of the newly learned telemark skills and traditional resort skills to make our way back down the set-up Sierra snow pack.

At camp, we gathered in my tent-kitchen and fired up the stoves to melt snow and prepare our mostly dehydrated dinners while enjoying conversation and sharing info about the interesting and exciting occupations of our entire group. The physical efforts of the day began to take effect about 9:00 p.m. and the new telemark skiers headed off to their own tents while Ellen and I spent the night in our combo kitchen-bedroom.

After a pleasant and well-deserved restful night camping out on the snow, we gathered again in my kitchen about 7 a.m. for breakfast and a short lesson I gave on avalanche safety showing how to use my avalanche beacons and probe, then reviewing information on the safest route selection to take while traveling in avalanche terrain during the winter.

All members of my group were eager to get in some more turns after we broke down the tents and packed for heading out. We skinned up to the same place as the evening before and again used a full combination of skiing skills to descend back to camp and out to the buses that met us back at the trailhead.

What was learned from this telemark skiing snow camp weekend is that much enjoyment can be had on the snow during winter in a safe and comfortable way while exploring the pristine, uncrowded winter world with existing and new skills that can be applied to many more exciting adventures all around our world.

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