A Backcountry Adventure With Mountain Approach

(To preserve job security, we will use nicknames indicated in “quotes” instead of real names.)

Words: John Kaiser

Last Tuesday, 12 people from Portland, Govy, Ketchum, and Salt Lake gathered on the eastern edge of Oregon for a Backcountry snowboarding mission. The road signs along the way were predictive of things to come… Hells Canyon, Powder Road, Cornucopia and then the 7 Devils. The group was mostly the kind of people that you like to hang out with for a minute, then you duck outta the way while they make a mess… the type of friends that bloom into hilarious demons under each others influence.

The first night looked like a rummage sale. The floor of our rented cabin disappeared beneath a solid layer of gear, beer, procrastination and pasta. People were assembling DIY split-boards, homemade gear sleds, waxing factory splits, trimming skins and checking out the MTNApproach skis. 

The next morning we gathered our gear at the trailhead for the long slog uphill. The “Token Skier” was already a prime example of the differences between AT skiers and Split-heads. “Token” was always ready to go before everyone else….ready to go uphill, ready to go downhill, ready to go to bed, ready to go to the shitter…he’s always on his game. He did have us all jealous of his super lightweight and fast Dynafit setup…bastard.

The 6-mile snowmobile drag into the wilderness went smooth until our first sign of local wildlife, an Ermine, nearly lost his life under the sled track. That was a first.
 We had to climb, aka “skin” the last two miles uphill to the Yurt, aka “big tent” on our own. We passed across a north facing slope and “Grey Bush” pointed out an area of cold, untouched POW….”ohhh look, a little pocket of tomorrow.” The thought of freshies put a little more glide in our strides. A little later, “Young Guns” slid past “Noolander” on a small downhill section wide eyed and in a proper racing tuck while he shrieked “I’M SKIING!!” Another first.

The skinning got us all talking like real backcountry nerds. We chatted about technique, equipment benefits, gear selection and weight loads. When the “Black Lung Crew” passed “Cowboy” dragging his sled full of crap, it became very clear that he was the weakest link. He blamed it on “product testing” because he was dragging a DIY split, two real snowboards, plus 2 MTNApproach setups. (In addition to three fifths of booze and a gallon of bloody mary mix). The gear-sled-rig was overkill but hilarious to watch on the downhills. The pasta dinner farts also provided an easy study for us. It was unanimously decided that puckering is way less efficient. 

Our first shredding was close to the Yurt, an 800ft north facing pitch named “Steal Your Face”..clearly named by our hippie guides.  We ripped it, pulled up and started the climb back up to the yurt. The skin track was steep and the switch-backs were challenging but we all passed what was probably the guides test of our skills. Some of us went back for another lap on a previously unridden chute..that’s right, we got a first descent on our first day!

While everyone basked in the glow of exhaustion, we blared Thin Lizzy on a Jammy Pack, feasted on a traditional Timberline Recipe (Auggies Chicken), drank CL Smooths and decided to name our chute Jailbreak. The next morning, the guides made us do one lap in avalanche safety mode, ie. one rider at a time, everyone watch each other to the safe zone. The second lap however, our hippie guide said, “this time you guys can ride it Canadian style, gang-bang-titty-fuck it.”  After a pause and some grins, it clicked. We all rode it at the same time, a big group of friends, slobbering, hollering, giggling with high-fives and heavy breathing at the end. It was another first for the list.

A quick three-mile skin back to the Yurt, steak dinner and some cocktails ended our day with smiles. Surprisingly, “Token Skiers” only complaint was the “fiddle factor with all these split-heads”. The transition time (from uphill to downhill mode) for him was seconds, whereas the split-heads took 5-10 minutes. When he saw how fast the MTNApproach setups were, “Kelp-Noodle” coined the phrase that “MTNApproach has more banjo…less fiddle, more banjo!”

After dinner, the Tequila and Brandy led to a group discussion about Yurt-wear. “Cowboy” had the best slippers and hat, while “Seuss Boots” board-shorts ensemble were the height of weirdness fashion, errrr umm, wilderness fashion. Since it was a full moon, we took a Jedi lap. No headlamps, 800 ft of fresh tracks. Another first…and definitely not a last. 

On the third day, most of the group went back out the 3-mile skin track, to the Enchanted Forest. Several others stayed near the yurt and alternated laps on Steal Your Face and Jailbreak with Bloody Mary’s and Banquet beer. The group re-united, had a bad-ass dinner of gourmet Brats and mushrooms, while blaring Slayer over a raging bonfire. Someone yelled, “this is the first time the Wallowas have ever heard Slayer!” “Seuss Boots” spewed a verse of thrash freestyle over “Raining Blood” while our Captain literally tried to steer the Yurt away from danger. Another first.

During the trip, our crew finished over 150lbs of fresh and organic foods, 8lbs of pistachios, 7 cases of beer, four 5ths of booze and about 30 AA batteries. We learned a lot about backcountry travel, what to bring, how to pack, where to skin, what to shred, who to bunk with, etc.

The moral to our story is that a journey is best measured in friends, not miles. Sure, we ripped a few 50 degree chutes, we rarely crossed another track and we had blower pow every day, but the highlights of the trip were the new experiences and a new appreciation of backcountry snowboarding and splitboarding. Earning your turns feels better than sitting on a chairlift.

We agreed that we needed a group name, so we came up with one that applied to our environment, ourselves and our collective psyche,
”covered in snow and already burnt.”

Mountain Approach

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