Photo: First tracks on Triple Direct, south of Teton Pass, WY, January 8, 2019. Photo credit Max Markusen.
This is the ninth and final installment of my series Deliberate Training: Principles of Periodization. Whether you are alpine climbing, ice climbing or backcountry skiing, mental and physical fitness is your key to enjoying the moment and returning safely.
I pulled the climbing skins off my skis, reset the bindings to downhill mode; donned hat, gloves and goggles. It was January 11, 2019 and I was alone at the top of Edelweiss Bowl, just south of Teton Pass, Wyoming. My son Charlie left two days earlier to go back to school and my other son, Max, had to work. In the last seven days, we spent one day skiing Jackson Hole Ski Resort, a day the risk of avalanches was so high we decided not to venture into the backcountry. The other six days, including this day, I skied a total 31 hours, 35 miles and 21,000 vertical feet of unassisted backcountry touring and powder skiing.
At age 64, I could not have done this trip without my nine week program of Deliberate Training. Every day was physically demanding. Temperatures ranged from negative four degrees Fahrenheit to the high twenties. On the second day, it started to snow. The two day storm dropped 24 inches of fresh light powder. Winds averaged 36 mph with gusts as high as 60 mph. At times, visibility was down to 20 feet. We broke trail through the deep snow. Our packs weighed ten pounds and our alpine touring gear weighed 12 to 15 pounds. On some days we climbed three to four hours for a single 3000 foot descent. On other days, we did multiple runs, switching from climbing mode to downhill mode as many as four times. For up to seven hours a day, I never sat down.
The days were also mentally demanding. We dealt with avalanche conditions rated Considerable and High. Travelling in suspect and uncontrolled terrain, we had to constantly assess the potential risk of avalanche starting zones and terrain traps. Halfway through the trip, a snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche on the other side of the valley. Traversing an open slope during a storm, I remotely triggered a slide below me that was sixteen inches deep, 200 feet wide and ran 300 feet down into a gully. Being physically strong allowed a clear head to make good decisions.
Nor could I have done it without the support of my sons Max and Charlie. They put up with my slow, measured pace, meticulous attention to nutrition, early to bed each night, and up before dawn to hit the trailhead. In true partnership fashion, we shared breaking trail, decision making and route finding. The payoff was an epic week of skiing. We had a great time and no one was injured. I achieved my goal of skiing seven straight days and we all made it home safe.
It was the final day of my trip. The storm had passed, but clouds stubbornly gripped the peaks. Openings between clouds allowed glimpses of blue sky and circles of sunshine to race across the snow. I watched two skiers descend the bowl, each carving turn after turn in the fresh snow. I paused to enjoy the serenity of the moment, recalling ski runs on Teton Pass over 45 years. I clipped into my bindings, put my hands through the straps of my poles, pointed my skis downhill and pushed off. My last run–for the trip–perhaps forever. You never know, life is uncertainty.