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Retrospective: 2018-19 Ski Season

Cy Whitling

My first few seasons skiing I was so obsessed with the sport that I kept a little notebook with a few sentences summarizing every day I got to spend on the hill. I’d note the conditions, what runs we skied, and any new progression or big crashes. Looking back, sure, I was a nerdy high school kid, but it’s also neat to be able to remember when I first hit some cliff, or tried a new trick. So, 6 years of skiing later, here’s a summary of this last winter, complete with highs, lows, and maybe some takeaways. It’s pretty dorky, but I love breaking down my goals and what I’ve learned.

Inbounds Highlights

As long as Targhee continues to deliver sleeper powder afternoons I will continue to buy a pass. My favorite type of inbounds skiing is heading up at one after a productive weekday morning, skiing deep snow with no lift lines, and heading home.

This year I had a couple of goals in mind at the start of the season:

I wanted to do a 360 every day I skied inbounds. I first landed one years ago, but have been wildly inconsistent since then. This year that changed and I feel like I’m finally comfortable spinning off natural hits into variable snow. Now I’ve just got to make them actually look good.

I’ve been eyeing the Diving Board out Scotty’s Gate since I moved here, and I felt like this was finally the season to hit it. So the morning after a big storm, Tyler and I headed out to check on it. No one had hit it yet this season, it was a little earlier in terms of snowpack than when most folks hit it, but I felt really good about the landing, so I stomped in what I thought was going to be a long enough run-in, and sent it. I barely had enough speed, and ended up pole-planting off the lip to make sure I’d clear out over the rocks. I went over the bars on the landing, lost a ski, and blinked out a contact, but everything felt great, and I wasn’t sore at all the next day. Putting in the bootpack back up Scotty’s ended up being the worst part of the ordeal. Later this season someone else came out and measured it with a laser gun at 111 feet, lip to landing, with a much deeper snowpack. I’m pretty stoked to have skied off it, and now I have no motivation to try going that big ever again.

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Finally, I’ve never had the sort of legendary day at the Village that folks rave about. I’ve never quite understood the hype over there. Thanks to the patience and guiding skills of Nate, I finally had that day, ducked out the gates and skied some great, safe pow, and got to know that hill a little better.

Other, smaller highlights: Big Sky mobbing with Pat and Shannon, Making the most of the worst at Sun Valley, rekindling my love for snowblading.

Backcountry Highlights

Last year we skied one day in Grand Teton National Park, the year before we skied two. Part of that’s due to the fact that the first winter I lived here I skied in the Park a lot, and made a lot of mistakes. I was a liability who didn’t know it, tagging along with often unprepared partners, climbing much better than I skied, and tumbling down a lot of consequential lines. I eventually woke up to how unsustainable that was, but instead of fixing the underlying problems (less than ideal partners, and lack of experience) I just stopped skiing in the park. This year I didn’t really have any plans to change that, but a quick walk up Wimpy’s and out Peaches in perfect conditions reminded me how much I love that place, and how much potential it has. So we ended up skiing the park a lot, and had some great days, some long days with great views, and some pretty dang mediocre days. Here’s the truncated breakdown:

Peaches with JT: Face Shots all the way down, easy exit

Shadow alternate route with Dapper, JT, Brendan: Bad route, bad snow, long day, long exit. Never skiing those specific Shadow couloirs again, that’s the third time someone in my friend group has had a bad day in there.

4 Hour with Tyler and Dapper: Cool line, don’t ski south facing stuff when it’s warm and hasn’t snowed in a while. Gross.

The Spoon with JT and Dapper: Went for redemption for tomahawking most of the line a few years ago. Were met with high winds and very firm snow. Still skied it better than last time, and the turns out the exit were wonderful.


Son of Apocalypse with Sam: Nothing better than looking into a new line, worried about snow quality, then dropping in and getting face shots on your first four turns. What a blast of a line.


Turkey Chute with JT, Dapper, Bones: Not our first choice for the day, but got sent that way thanks to border wall funding battles. Got lucky with not-so-sloppy seconds. Great snow, great group, cool line.

SW Couloir of the Middle Teton with JT, Bones, and Dapper: Set out for redemption for JT, ended up with a little more exposure and down-climbing than we may have bargained for. No summit, no problem. Mediocre skiing home after a long day.



Fallopian Tube: JT, Bria, Andrew: Thought we were done with skiing for the year, watched an episode of the 50 Project, and went for it. Great intro to North Park skiing, great views of Moran, climb with just the right amount of spice, a ski that was just flat enough for me to deal with the bad snow, and a heck of an exit. A perfect end to a great season.

The Park always wins.

A few other non-Park highlights:

Every time I get to ski with Sam and Jordan. They go hard out of the car, are fast and competent, and great company. Jordan’s first day skinning, Sam’s first Park day, Jordan’s first birthday couloir, Glory gut laps off the plane, Shoshone sending, party shred the Poop Chute. What a blast.

Finally having a good day on Mail Cabin. For years I’ve felt like I was skiing Mail Cabin wrong. There’s all this super playful pillowy terrain in there, that I always feel like I’m just walking past. We figured out a few laps in there that scratch my itch for tons of small airs into great snow. What a great place, and what a fun area to ski with the dog.

Which brings me to: Skiing with the dog. Jolene was a new addition to the regime this year, and she mostly fit right in. It turns out that she’s fast uphill, really slow in deep snow, and really good at not getting ski cut. She got to ski a fair number of pass days, and did just fine, mostly. I think she’s found her top end skiing, and is content to stay in the car on days that won’t work for her. But blasting down the gut of Glory with her hot on my heels was pretty incredible.

After the Best Yurt Trip Ever a few years ago, we’ve wanted to get back out with Amanda and Co. Skiing with Nate and Amanda is always a blast, even when most of it is just a luge track exit.

After a few years of looking at Stouts and wanting to ski it, we hit it in prime spring pow conditions. What a fun Idaho lap.

Also, I’d be remiss to mention our mission to clean up an abandoned tree stand on Brewer’s Butte. I’d rather never try to ski a two person tree stand out of the woods again, but it worked out just fine, and my brother got a new toy for Christmas.

Takeaways:

Preparedness: This year I decided that I wanted to be an asset and a leader during backcountry days. This meant being prepared, having a plan, and having navigation dialed. This was a big step for me, since in the past I’ve been very content to just do my best to keep up. Overall, I’m really thankful to all the partners that let me practice on them, and I am excited to keep progressing here.

There were a few vital ingredients to this:

Pack More: I carried more food, water, and gear than I ever have this year, and it payed off bigtime. Sure, I never had to use the bivy, or sam splint, or extra skin that lived in my pack all year, but I’m really glad they were there, will continue to be. Same goes for pointy things. I see no reason to enter GTNP without a whippet. And a Shaxe and crampons make a ton of sense on a lot of missions there. I love not quite needing crampons, but being able to slip them on anyway and feel really safe.

Navigation: In the past I’ve generally just gotten on a skin track and hoped it went where I wanted. This year I went ham with Gaia, and it made a huge difference. It’s huge to have topo, satellite, and slope angle, especially when you’re dropping in blind, or dealing with low vis. The Smiley’s GTNP ski atlas download is the best money I’ve spent on skiing new lines safely.

Being Picky:

I realized this year that I can afford to be really picky with my backcountry partners, and I love it. I used to just jump at any chance to get out, without really vetting my group. That was fine, but I had too many days where we “got away with it.”  This year I was lucky to have a great core group that shares my priorities and sensibilities, as well as risk tolerance. This group was a huge factor in making this season awesome. Thanks guys and gals!

On that note, having a consistent ski partner that I fully trust was the single biggest ingredient this year. Julia sees the mountains and their hazards in a unique way that is a huge aid in decision making. She keeps my risk taking grounded, while also pushing me and the group to travel more efficiently and intelligently. I can’t imagine a better partner, and it’s been awesome to learn from her, while also getting to watch her grow in confidence on more exposed terrain, and in competence with pointy things.

Gear

I have struggled massively with finding the right gear, and then sticking to it. I hate days where my gear is a limiting factor, which leads me to experiment more than I maybe should. This year I felt like I finally figured that out. Quick list of things that are making me happy:

Moment Deathwish: This is my favorite ski ever. I don’t really feel like skiing anything else inbounds, ever.

Moment Deathwish Tour 112: New for next year, I got on these a little later in the season, and fell immediately in love. They feel so intuitive, have great edge hold, and are a blast in any backcountry  conditions I’ve found.

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Big Sky Mountain Products Skins: They’re cheap, and perform better than options that cost three times as much. Hard to beat.

Flylow Women’s Foxy Bib: I love bibs, but most men’s bibs are cut way to loose for me to tour in. The Foxy bib has a great pocket layout, and a flattering fit.

Scarpa Maestrale RS Boot: Every year around January my feet start to swell and my formerly great ski boots become unbearable. Ben Swanson spent a long time doing “science” on my feet and finally got me into these. Light, stiff, great ROM, and a perfect fit for my monstrous feet.


I was blessed to have more great days this year than ever before. I learned so much, got to ski so many new lines, and built a bunch of skills that I hope with help make my backcountry process safer and more sustainable. Now it’s time to ride bikes with small children!