Apr 07 2012

Rerun: Lone Rangers

This article was originally published in Couloir Vol. XIX-4, Dec. 2006.

If you’re a regular reader of these pages, you’re a hard core skier, some might even say extreme. When you consider that the average skier only logs four days a year, and we log an average 35 to 40 days a year, yeah, maybe we do take it to extremes.

Part of the appeal of skiing solo? Solitary tracks on an untracked sloped.

About half of those days are at a resort, and half in the backcountry. On average.

Now when you consider that the main reason people don’t ski more is because they don’t have partners you have to wonder what is up with the hard core earn your turns types, like you and me. Does that mean we’re the friendliest skiers out there and we log that many days ‘cuz we exude a je ne sais quoi magnetism that attracts others to us all the time?


No, the thing that really makes us extreme isn’t that we occasionally huck cliffs and ski 50 plus-degree slopes. It’s the fact that skiing is so important to us that we do whatever it takes to ski as often as we can, no matter what. Careers have been sacrificed in this pursuit, even families. I’m not endorsing that behavior, but we are all guilty, at least by association. In its most benign form, it means we will ski with or without partners.

I’ll admit that when I first started touring solo I was not only cautious, but self conscious too. Those thoughts have long since faded. Now skiing simply means setting a time and going. No need to arrange partners, wait for them, or hold them up.

While I love conversing with friends on a skin track, I’ve found conversation needn’t be lacking when I’m touring solo either. It just isn’t verbal. It’s usually more profound, whether simply admiring the beauty of the creation all around me, or embracing ideas from heaven above. It is hard to articulate thoughts too deep, too wide, and too high for mere words. But when I’m touring alone, I can steep myself in them and, by grace, perhaps even absorb and own some of them. As Polly McLean says, “I am in awe of how, simultaneously I am so small, and yet so big, in the immensity of our world.”

So the satisfaction I get from skiing alone far outweighs the damnation incurred from those who say it is foolish. We hear it all the time, and yes, it is true that within our own pages we extol the virtues of the buddy system ad infinitum. There is a sound reason for it. But that doesn’t mean skiing solo is inherently wrong, dangerous, or irresponsible. Undoubtedly, part of why we do it is to thumb our noses at society’s narrow definition of appropriateness. Skiing is inherently rebellious, not only to the laws of gravity, but to the oppression of daily rules and expectations as well. It is why Peter Kray accurately states part of the reason we go alone is to escape everyone else.

The reason I even bring up this point is to recognize that, as skiers it is in our blood and we will not be denied. Thus, it is inevitable, if not already common, for us to ski alone. The ironic thing is, once you’re skiing solo, and you’ve been doing it awhile, the rebellion dies. When you’re a lone ranger, you realize how easily you could slip. It makes you more conservative, allowing you to absorb the simpleness of earning your turns. Rather than ignore that phenomenon, it is high time we acknowledged this communal secret.

I ski alone - yeah, with nobody else.

© 2006

  • mrgooddave

    Amen Craig. For me going solo is not only rebellious but, as you touched on without actually saying it – spiritual.

    I went up to the Sierra Buttes alone yesterday and broke trail straight up from 5000′ to 7000′. I was wishing for my partner in the thick ass warmer than forecasted deep snow. I learned a few things to share.

    First, I modified an old pair of skins for my homemade fatties and it worked great. I cut the skins like a fish from gills to ass, spread them edge to edge for wall to wall carpeting, held them in place with painters tape, flipped glue side up, duct taped the gap, flipped to skin side and covered duct tape sticky with packaging tape – I think they are getting a second life!

    Second, after the fatigue of breaking steep trail in deep snow more like mud than powder, I worked out a step that saved a ton of energy. When I kicked a step forward I would point my toe and tip inside as I lifted the ski and pushed the tip forward in the existing depression left by the previous step forward. That way I was not hefting the weight of the Sierra Cement on my skis with every step. Maybe this is old hat to you, but it was a revelation to me.

    Remind me to start skinning at 4 am next time I seek powder in mid April!

  • http://ThompsonPass.Com/ Matt Kinney

    Good read. I think I’ve come closer to real serious situations solo than I have skiing with others. My broken bone and other minor injuries and stupid terrain choices have come solo. With none to back you up, you are vulnerable. Those were not fun ski days when you get hurt and have to struggle home knowing no one will care til its possibly to late. Something that is so simple can get real hairy quickly solo But then again, its pretty cool to pull off a fat powder line when no one’s looking

    Today we have cell phones so solo is a bit safer for most anyone if you know the limits of coverage. SPOT is another ally.