The reasons I took up backcountry skiing and why I’m not looking back!
In solitude I make my way up the freshly laid skin track. My friends are nearby, and yet I’m alone with my thoughts, the gentle sound of snow beneath my skis, and the occasional plump of snow falling from a tree branch. The air is brisk and yet I feel warm. I unzip my jacket slightly to let in the cool air. Soon I’ll be carving fresh tracks on my way to breakfast. Just one of the many reasons I love backcountry skiing in Colorado.
I wasn’t always a backcountry skier. Actually, like many, I had switched to snowboarding in my teens. Certainly it was the cool thing to do and growing up with a big brother meant I was always trying to be cool or keep up. I am always trying to keep up. Still.
The suffering to pleasure ratio
In college I got into mountaineering, a strange sport with an insane suffering to pleasure ratio. It was on one of these many suffer-fests when I discovered that fun could be part of the equation too. While I was somehow post-holing in snowshoes, taking one step forward and sliding back two, I got passed by a group on skis. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was too busy cursing my climbing partners and wondering how I was ever going to catch up.
Eventually, I made it to the next ridgeline only to see the countless ridgelines ahead of me and the imperceptible progress I had made. In that moment, as we were trying to decide how much suffering we were willing to endure for the sake of a summit, we heard a hoot. Then that hoot was followed by a holler. As we turned to look toward the commotion, we saw two gentle snake-like patterns making their way down the previously undisturbed face of the mountain.
Those skiers, the same group that had passed me hours maybe minutes before, were now making their way back down the mountain. And they were loving it. Me, I was hating it. Heads hung, we made our way back to the car feeling defeated. Our trip was neither successful nor fun.
All of that was about to change.
Choosing backcountry skiing
Marc, my then boyfriend and now husband, helped me make a list of what we needed.
- Sign up for an avalanche safety course. Check.
- New skis. Check.
- Remember how to ski. Check.
- Backcountry bindings, boots, poles, backpack, shovel, beacon, probe. Check.
Finally, we were on our way to being backcountry skiers.
For us, choosing skiing over splitboarding was a simple matter of trying to increase our suffering to fun ratio. Certainly, the more simple we could make our set-up, the more time we could spend hooting and hollering down the mountain. Simplicity has actually become a mantra for us over the years. As barriers to adventure increase with responsibilities like work and kids, we’ll do whatever we can to keep fun within reach.
One of the ways that we knew we could make getting outside easier was to live in a place where our backyard was a playground, queue our move to Colorado. While our literal backyard doesn’t always have enough snow for skiing, we live close to a lot of backcountry terrain. The best part of backcountry skiing in Colorado is you get that light and fluffy white snow. And you get it all to yourself.
(Check out this video of the Bergreens skiing in their backyard. Some days they get enough snow to ski out the front door, allowing them to turn their backyard into a playground.)
My kind of lines
As countless adventure seekers sit in traffic on their way to the resorts or wait in lift lines, I would rather earn my turns a different way. I would rather ski up a hill than be stuck behind a semi truck on one. Instead of holding my breath and nervously making my way down an icy, crowded, and tracked out ski run, I choose to seek my own line through the trees.
My line is peaceful. It is playful, gentle, and rolling with just the right amount of excitement. It winds through the trees and takes me to the most breathtaking views. My line is discovered, not dictated. It doesn’t come easily and yet the reward is unmistakable, a cheek-splitting smile and spontaneous joy.
BRENDA BERGREEN is a storyteller and photographer living in Evergreen, Colorado, with her husband and adventure partner, Marc Bergreen. When she’s not writing or taking photos, you might find her backcountry skiing in Colorado. For more from the Bergreens visit www.bergreenphotography.com and www.thebergreens.com.