Monday, March 16, 2015

Skin Track Rage

** the interests of point-making this post is a bit fraught with a bit of non-family-friendly language....

I recently heard of an interaction.....nay, I think it can be called an "altercation"....that happened in the Wasatch that was pretty disturbing, and I think warrants a bit of discussion.

A friend  -let's call him "John",  since that's (sorta) his name - went out solo one fine midweek morning into the Cardiac area to get a little untracked powder, since that's what we do in these parts when it snows.  A few people were in the 'hood, the skin track was in, and there were a few sets of Wasatch Wiggly (ie small, slow turns) tracks on a pretty mellow, pretty popular, pretty low-angle slope.  John got to the top, pulled his skins, and had one of those sublime runs that some of us practically (do) live for: untracked mid-boot powder turns under a bluebird sky.  Because he has the mid-phat skis that he'd happily invested in (along with thousands of other folks) and has the skills bequeathed to a person who's been skiing his whole life, he didn't really feel like wiggling his way down the slope at a near-walking pace, and opened 'em up and let his skis run a bit, making maybe one turn to every two that were adjacent to his tracks, and kept them pretty tight against the old tracks.  He definitely did not take the 1100 foot run in 10 turns, which is actually a very viable thing to do.

He got to the bottom and slid to a stop, breathing hard and glowing in the unique sensation that skiing such a run creates.  When suddenly his sublimnity was shattered by a scream from the skin track above:  "Hey you MOTHERFUCKER! WHY DON'T YOU GO BACK TO ALTA, SINCE YOU'RE A  FUCKING GAPER WHO DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO SKI IN THE BACKCOUNTRY!" and so on.   Whoa! Huh? John literally looked over his shoulder to see if there was someone around whom he hadn't seen who was the recipient of this tirade, but no, he was indeed the target.  Apparently he had violated someone's "rules" of how "we" should ski, and was therefore subjected to the wrath of The Gatekeepers:
Ghostbusters reference; a bit of a stretch, but still...Sigourney Weaver's finest role....
John - who is about the mellowest cat I know, and not easily ruffled - understandably got his dander up a bit and  (also blessed with an unusual level of fitness) hustled up the skin track to have a chat with the assailant and find out why she (yes, it was a woman) felt compelled to literally ruin his day by shrieking at him because he didn't feel like mimicking her uninspiring turns.  I won't go into the details of the rest of the interaction because it wasn't that pleasant nor does it matter, but it brings up coupla good questions:  how should we ski  -or do anything, for that matter -  and do we have an obligation to do it the way that others do?

The venerable Wasatch avy forecaster Drew Hardesty has been working on promoting a "Backcountry Code of Ethics" that has been years in the making due to the ever-increasing numbers of people in the backcountry in the winter and the implications of those visitors, but it mostly deals with avalanche safety:  basically, as participants in a communal activity that involves inherent risk to the community, we all have an obligation to each other to practice safe protocol.  Makes sense.  However, does obligation to the community extend to aspects with much lesser impacts, such as the "style" with which we choose to partake?  And if so, who determines The Style? And does Style-conformance need enforcement?

Recently Andrew McLean did a good blog post of things to avoid when backcountry skiing that are pretty common sense.  But Andrew  -whose seen a lot in his years embedded in the backcountry ski world - wisely didn't talk about how we all enjoy what we do.  Big turns, little turns, straightlining,'s all good.  I have often said that I've been tempted to get one of those Mad River Rockets 'cause they look like a hoot; use snowshoes to climb and then ride the things down (but I haven't because I'm not sure my knees could handle them); would I make ski-worthy turns?  Yes, no, I don't know.  All I really know is that it's really fun to slide on snow.

But apparently there are the handful of the righteous among our "community" who apparently have chosen to not only ignore the advent of big skis, snowboards, skimo skis - basically, the cool innovations that have essentially changed the sport for most of us - and the implications of these new tools, but also feel compelled to RAGE in a really unfortunate manner against those who partake in one of the best activities known to man in a slightly different way. Ironically, it would seem that if indeed everyone had their big rigs - and/or the skills - that enabled the fast, long radius turns, then we could all "farm" those tracks, but apparently "we" need to farm the little wiggly tracks, simply because......?  Come come now, people!  It's not necessarily the same as it ever was!

To be fair, untracked powder is a scarce resource - particularly here in the Wasatch  -and we all know that scarce resources make people do crazy things....
2nd old movie reference:  Mad Max
But the intersection of scarce resources and people also creates the absolute need to be able to share those resources, and understand different perspectives.

Don't get me wrong; I've done my share of griping at what people do in the backcountry, but I've tried to understand that while that's not what I would necessarily do, as long as we don't jeopardize each other's safety, there's plenty of room for everyone to do what they want:

without resorting to Skin Track Rage.

It's the best activity I know; please don't ruin it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. ah hell. Blog entered my comment twice. Tried deleting just 'one', but apparently I deleted both. I just said "wow. I've tried to comment on this but all my words are vile."

  3. I've rented my home out near the mouth of LCC for the last two years and haven't lived near the beloved Wasatch since. Reading these posts reaffirms my growing disdain for the attitude the area harbors with the increase in skier numbers and overall crowding in the Wasatch. I wish I could convince my wife to sell our house and not move back there. Maybe my sentiment will change over the next few years......