Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering

Idaho State University Yurt System

So this weekend was a yurt weekend, which is always a favorite weekend. We take the lift up to the top of the mountain and then traverse two miles over to yurt. Or, we could climb about four miles and 2300 feet, but I think at $15 one-time lift ticket is worth it. I’ll give you a trip report later, but first I want to put this trip in terms of training.

I track my training volume using a points system I got off

– run 1/4 mile = 1 point
– bike 1 mile = 1 point
– swim 100 yards = 1 point.

This point system isn’t perfect, but it gives a better idea than just time alone can do. It doesn’t provide a measure of intensity, which is what I’m really looking for. And it doesn’t allow for someone to be good at sport and not-so-good at anther. For me specifically, the effort level and time needed for 100 yards swimming is much less than running 1/4 mile but about the same as biking one mile (although the swim is 90 seconds and the bike would be 2 mins 30 seconds).

A friend climbs up the hill on a nice day……last year! Weather this weekend was near-zero visibility.

So, the question becomes: How many points do I count for this weekend’s ski effort? This isn’t walk-in-the-park skiing, either. It is a significant effort to get to the yurt, and very difficult to get back (climbing alot in the snow!). It took 90 minutes to get over to the yurt, most of it downhill except some traversing and a 15 minute climb. Overall, I think it felt like a four mile run, so that’s what I’m calling it (16 points). Then, because the snow was so crappy with a quarter-inch ice crust on it, we decided we didn’t want to ski for turns. Instead, we would do a little cross-country tour down in the valley. I figure that was 4 miles each way…..but downhill was significantly easier than uphill, which wasn’t that bad either. Anyway, although it was 8 miles and four hours round trip, I’m calling it equivalent to an eight mile run (32 points), giving me 48 points for the day.

Now, coming home this morning was a bit different. It is two miles from the yurt to the saddle where the downhill starts, but there is significant climbing. It takes just under 90 minutes or so. I’m calling this equivalent to a very hard 12 mile run, though, because that’s how I feel afterwards. It really whoops me!. So, 48 points going home. Although my legs burn alot on the downhill coming home, I’m not going to count the downhill today.

There you go….. how I score backcountry skiing and cross country skiing. Very subjective. Tomorrow, when I go cross country skiing with Paul and use actual cross-country skis (much lighter than backcountry skis!), I’m count each mile as one point, even though I’m pulling Paul. If I wasn’t pulling Paul, each mile would be a half-point. This is because of the glide involved and the near-zero-effort for going downhill. Overall, I think that’s how the points should work for me to maintain some consistency of what a point “feels” like.

Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book, Revised and Even Better!: Traveling & Camping Skills for a Winter Environment (Falcon Guides)How was the skiing? The downhill skiing sucked because of a think ice crust. Not sure how that got there because it was at all elevations, even up high on the ridgeline. So we didn’t look for turns. The cross country tour was a great alternative because it was something we normally wouldn’t do but was scenic, and the weather was much nicer  and visibility significantly better down low. 

Oh yeah, the weather: heavy wet snow at the yurt this morning while we ate a Jimmy Dean maple sausage (yum!) and coffee. Then wind blown hell up to the ridgeline and over to the saddle with short calm periods in the trees, and then basically rain on the lift-served side of Pebble as we came down. My outer layers were soaked from rain when we got to the bottom, but they held the rain off my fleece layer underneath.

The yurt was awesome as always. I don’t know why, but I love spending a night in the yurt. It’s a great way to get out and going camping in the winter without freezing to death.

Yurts: Living in the Round

Here’s a map of where we were: Click on “full map” to get  a topo version:

Yurt trip Jan 16 2011

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