Midwest backcountry… that's right…

I grew up in the heart of the midwest in southeastern Wisconsin.  Just a five minute drive from Wilmot Mountain.  Wilmot Mountain retains a deep emotional connection to my hometown for me.  It was there that my father taught my brother and I the art of skiing.  It was there that I was introduced to the craft that would become my career.  As a young man I had no idea the places that my skis would take me.  I did not even know that it was an option for a lifestyle.  Now, flash forward to Moena, Italy many years later, and I am a skilled pro.  I had learned to ski big mountain backcountry in Utah while attending college, and was skiing and filming in some of the most remote and dangerous places on earth.  In a small italian restaurant on the streets of Moena I was talking with photographer, Joey Wallis.  Joey was born and raised in Iowa, and shared the deep respect and love for the midwest that I did.  As we gushed about our perspective hometowns we stumbled upon a conversation about skiing backcountry in the midwest.  That night Joey and I decided to try to shoot midwest backcountry to show the world that it was not only possible, but fun.  Since then Joey and I have embarked on a variety of projects to do just that.  Last winter I was back at home in Wisconsin for a Telemark Skier Magazine movie premiere party at Wilmot Mountain.  The area had received more snow then it had in years, and I took advantage of the chance to test some of my theories.  I knew there were skiable slopes in the backwoods around my childhood home, and I was determined to test them out.  The editor of the magazine at the time, Josh Madsen, was in town with me for the premiere party, and I talked him and my big brother into joining me for an exploration mission.  What I found was not what I expected, but exactly what I had hoped for.  

^My big brother, Tyler, and I played in these hills throughout our childhood together, but never really looked at them like this before.  As Tyler skinned towards me on this trail I was flashing back to visions of him riding his bike on that very same trail in our childhood summers.  Back then skiing in these hills was not even on our radar.  It was almost like we were rediscovering this area we knew all our lives.  This photo was a really cool moment for me.  I had never been able to share the backcountry skiing experience that had become so dear to me with anyone from home before.  To see my big brother skinning towards me in the natural winter setting was a big deal to me.  

^TSM editor, Josh Madsen, must have thought I was a bit crazy for dragging him out into this micro terrain, but I didn't really expect him to understand.  However, he appeased my begging and joined in the exploration for backcountry turns in the Dairyland.  In this photo he found one.  I knew they were there.  I just need to find them.

^This is a photo of me finding some more.  I was even able to link up a good string of turns on this slope.  I don't wish to paint the picture of plentiful backcountry powder turns all over the region, but I do want to show that they do in fact exist.  Even in southeastern Wisconsin.  

^There is much more to backcountry skiing then big powder turns on giant western mountain slopes.  A big part of the backcountry experience for me is in getting out into the natural world and taking in all the beauty of it with people I care about.  A smile like this on my big brother's snow covered face is worth all the tea in China to me.  We may not have made 200 turns through a giant glade, but we did have a memorable day seeking out powder turns the backwoods of Wisconsin.

^The slopes we skied that day were not the heart pounding thrill rides that I take on  everyday in my pro pursuits out west.  As I said, I didn't find exactly what I was looking for on that exploratory tour that day.  I had hoped to find more turns then we found.  I had hoped to find cleaner coverage then we found.  I had hoped to find more skiable options than we did.  However, once I stopped thinking about what I didn't find I realized that I did indeed find something that day.  I found that I had a gorgeous winter day touring in the woods with my big brother and an old friend.  All the while enjoying the woodland nature and some ski runs.  To me, that is the definition of a good day of backcountry skiing.  Thus, proving that backcountry skiing in the midwest does exist, and it is fun.

I know there is bigger and deeper stuff going on in the midwest then this particular day.  I just got back from the U.P. of Michigan, which actually is pretty plentiful most years.  Also, Joey did well in the Mississippi river basin around Dubuque and just north last yearl.  If your out there finding it, then I'd love to hear about it.  I know your doing it, and Joey and I are going to find you one way or another.

get ready for more...

Traveling is becoming the mainstay of my life again.  This time of the year is always so busy for me that I can barely think a week ahead.  I go from project to project and town to town without regard for even what day of the week it is.  I just returned from the U.P. of Michigan, and I am moving right into training with the crew I will be traveling to Norway with in just a few days.  I am judging a big mountain competition in Grand Targhee this weekend, and then immediately departing for Oslo, Norway.  I am trying to fit in some quality time with my wife, as well as get familiar with the group that I will be touring completely foreign terrain with.  Europe is a bit heavier place to ski backcountry because there are no rules over there.  It is very loose, and people are free to make their own decisions.  Which includes making their own mistakes, and suffering their own consequences.  I agree with the philosophy whole heartedly.  We could use a little more of that mentality here in the U.S. if you ask me, but that is a whole different conversation.  The main point here is that I need to get out and get familiar with the crew that I will be touring all of this new and unique terrain with.  That can get heavy. 

^My wife and I went out for Valentine's day to a live tapeing of "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me".  It is an NPR news quiz show that we enjoy listening to together on Saturday mornings.  Abravenal Hall in Salt Lake City is a really beautiful venue downtown.  The lobby adorns this large glasswork centerpiece that draws you right into the building. 

^The auditorium is quite magnificent also.  We were in the front row for the show, and it was a neat scene to look back at the room once it was filled to capacity with "Wait Wait" fans.  

^The show did not disappoint.  The host, Peter Sagal, is addressing the crowd in this photo at the beginning of the program.  It was a really unique experience to see, and I'd suggest it to anyone.  The evening was entertaining, but the smiles and laughs I got to share with my lovely wife will carry me through more travels and time away from home.  She loves me, and I am lucky to have her.

^Our golden retriever, Murphy, loves me too.  I am also lucky to have her.  I was fortunate enough to find some time to get out and tour the lower elevations with her.  Again, I am traveling a lot right now and I don't get to go out with her as much this time of year either.  She is taking a break in the shadow of "Toll Booth Willy" which is this old stump that marks the entrance to a couple of our favorite short ski lowland ski lines. 

^Murphy follows my skin path with ardent determination.  She blew out a knee a year ago and is still a bit slow through the deeper snow.  However, her young heart still beats with the vigor of a healthy brand new puppy.  Whatever hold up her bad knee is, she makes up for it in persistence.  She hasn't really gotten off trail since her surgery.  I was a little nervous for her, but she trooped right through.

^She sits proudly in the foreground of Snowbasin's Hell's Canyon.  She deserves to be proud of herself.  Coming back from a knee injury is no easy task, even for a golden retriever.  I know a lot of people that have handled knee surgeries with much less determination and strength then my little dog.  Inspiring.

^The Norway group, Kjell Ellefson, Tony Gill, and Kate Hourihan.  As I mentioned, I am traveling to Norway in a few days with Telemark Skier Magazine and this is going to be our crew over there.  We took the opportunity to get out and tour together a little to get comfortable with each other in avalanche terrain.  I have toured with some of these folks a few times before, but European backcountry can be more tricky then our own.  Anytime your touring in strange places things can get interesting very easily.  I am glad that we were able take some time to get familiar with one another before we jump right into foreign terrain together.

^Wasangeles is a fitting nickname for this area sometimes.  This photo one of those times.  Backcountry traffic jam.  We won't see a whole lot of this in Norway.  We were taking it easy because the avalanche danger in Utah is nuclear right now.  That means rolling into the most popular and relatively safe terrain.  In SLC that means Wasangeles in full force on a Saturday morning.  It was still super beneficial just to get out and move around in avalanche terrain together.  A little gel time before the bigger and less familiar terrain.  

^Wolverine Cirque is starting to fill in some.  Still thin and sketchy, but there is a good chance we may be doing some filming in there when we get back.  I thought it would be a good idea to get a good look into it now.  That way when we come back after Norway we will have a heads up to how it was looking and coming together.  We always seem to do some work in there every year.  Hopefully the snowpack will cooperate.  

^Tony Gill was happy to be out from behind the editor's desk for some blue sky views.  The snow was pretty good despite our unambitious line choices.  It was really just about getting out together and getting a feel for each other's tour travel practices.  Soon enough it will be for real in some brand new mountains.  The trip is exciting, and the group seems poised to take best advantage of the opportunity.  Trips like this don't come along often for many folks, and I am pumped to be making the journey with such a good group of individuals.  Here we go.

cold and warmth at Midwest Telefest...

The frigid shore of Lake Superior is a foreboding and bone chilling sight.  Photoman, Joey Wallis, and I shivered in our warm rental car as we drove along the daunting coastline out of Marquette on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Our destination, the Keewenaw Peninsula, which juts off of the U.P. northshore out into the middle of Lake Superior.  The Keewenaw is home to the Midwest Telefest.  Downwind Sports hosts the thirty-plus year old annual event.  Telemark skiers emerge from all over the Midwest to make their way to the frigid shoreline each winter.  They come in search of the camaraderie of the telemark turn deep in the woods of the north country.  Telemark skiers have a sense of community all their own, and this event is a shinning example of it amidst the dark blue waters of Lake Superior in winter.  The temperatures may be bitter cold, but the atmosphere around this event is as warm and inviting as homemade apple pie on the window sill in summer.  I came to this event a few years back, and I was elated to receive the assignment to go back again.  

^I snapped this cellphone shot of Joey braving the wind chill to capture the winter landscape views of the Lake Superior shoreline.   

photo: Wallis
^This is what he captured.  Mysteriously beautiful.

^The crisp cold nature of the big lake was only countered by the warmth of friends sharing beers and stories in a quant cabin nestled in the shadow of Mount Bohemia.  Just as the last time I was here, the good terrain is only eclipsed by even greater people.  Joey and I were pleased to be greeted that first night by many of the same friendly faces we met two years ago.  

^Joey sharing one such story over an icy cold beer the first night…

photo: Wallis
^…followed by me jumping over an icy cold creek the next morning...

photo: Wallis
^…and an icefall rock at Mount Bohemia.

^Ullr, the snow god, graced our weekend with some snowy abundance.  Big thanks to Bob for bringing me this good luck charm and some snow.  Like I said, great people.

photo: Wallis
^Some new snow means fresh turns in the trees…

photo: Wallis
^… smiling faces…

photo: Wallis
^…and plush root ball powder.

photo: Wallis
^Descending through the tight forrest of Mount Bohemia's "Outer Limits"…

photo: Wallis
^…to a party bus pick up.  Complete with a party crowd of rowdy telemark rippers.

photo: Wallis
^Tony from Duluth, Minnesota showed us the way through the maze of endless glades of prime timber country ripe with a fresh dusting of cold lake effect snow.

photo: Wallis
^Meanwhile, Zoey showed us how the ladies of Duluth get after the powder.  

photo: Wallis
^Then I showed the whole festival crowd how the Telemark Skier Magazine crew got after it last season with a movie party on Friday night.  Tastey hot dogs on a stick, and good movie on the screen.  Sounds like a quality combination to me. 

photo: Wallis
^Midwest Telefest is chalked full of excitement with demos, clinics, races and more.  Local, Bob, comes into the finish exhilarated and exhausted from his laborious efforts in the blustery uphill downhill race.  

^All the activity and excitement of the day gave way to a big celebration on Saturday night.  These two little festival goers had front row dance floor spots for the live music from "Frank and Da Beans".  Two tiny dancers gave way to many more, and the party raged on into the late hours.  Spirits were as high as a Lake Superior lighthouse, and our collective light shined brightly through the night.  

photo: Wallis
^Our collective light burned so hot and bright in fact that the clouds melted off, and the sun came out on Sunday morning.  Thus, delivering a bluebird powder day finale to another fantastic Midwest Telefest.

photo: Wallis
^So I jumped right in…

photo: Wallis
^…and gobbled up as much of that cold Midwest powder as I could.  Yum, yum, yum.

photo: Wallis
^Of course the whole experience was made possible by the crew from Downwind Sports.  These are some hardworking fellas that do it all for the love of telemark skiing.  This festival has been running so long because of the dedication of folks like these.  I am super thankful to Ross Herr, the event's new coordinator, for inviting me.  The Downwind family lost a dear member of their family when "Downwind Dan" Wissman passed away recently.  I am touched at their fortitude in the midst of loss to make sure that the festival that Dan loved so much went on in his memory.  

photo: Wallis
^Some of the boys from my own family, including my telemark turning father, made the journey north from Wilmot for the festival.  I am super grateful for the opportunity to hang out and ski with them.  I don't get to see them much during my busy winter, and it was Midwest Telefest that made that happen for me.  I can thank the guys from Downwind for a really great telemark skiing weekend, but I might not be able to ever thank them enough for the truly warm welcome they gave me, the new friendships I made, and the rare opportunity to enjoy some great quality ski time with my family.  Cheers.     

chutes and brothers...

I had one hell of a December with deaths and illness rampant in my life.  January turned into a winterless Wasatch, and concentrating on making deals and greasing the wheels.  All that hard work is starting to pay off now, and the snow in the Wasatch has cooperated with us a little bit more as well.  

 ^The Snowbasin death cloud was in full effect bright and early the other morning.  Even though the storms haven't made their way over the basin enough lately you can still count on the morning death cloud.  When certain conditions persist she lingers silently tearing through the rocky peaks.

^However, once the cloud burns off we get bluebird surprises like this.  Ben Geiger and I were pleasantly surprised with this little discovery.  Right in the middle of the resort we can still find freshness amidst the masses.  Hiding in plain sight always works.

^Ben and I hiked up through the breaking cloud to the peaks to get into some rocky chutes in order to get the blood pumping a little.  Conditions still do not warrant ripping big and fast lines, but billy goating in some steep chutes does the trick.  Slow and technical is plenty of fun until the powder comes back around.  Fingers crossed.

^The views from the peaks alone are worth the walk,...

^...but the gnarly down is still what it's all about.

^Ben is deep in the belly of this beast, and into no-turn-around territory.  Billy goating in chutes is not what we would prefer, but what can you do.  Ski the best that mother nature has to offer, and cool hairball chutes are what is going on right now.  I will take them.  Hiking and skiing these technical lines is a challenge that is perfect for me right now.  I still have to get into shape for the heavy part of the season.  

^This is how we roll in the northern Wasatch.  Lonely.

^After a few days billy goating with Ben, the good old boys rolled into town.  It was some what of a reunion of sorts.  A bunch of my old college buddies all came in, and we skied up Snowbasin like the old days.  There was a good showing of the old ski bros from my days at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.  We all grew up a lot in these mountains, and cut our big mountain teeth together.  It was a real treat to get to rip it up with all of them again.  Rob, Greg, Porter, Zach, Ben and myself were all getting after it like we were 20 years old again.  The conditions were not the best, but the skiing was still pretty hot.  All of these guys are still top-notch skiers, and we fell right into our old ripping routines amongst all the same lines we used to challenge each other into all those years ago.

^Greg is dropping in front of the bro-bra gallery.  High fives and smiles were being passed around like cold beers in the parking lot.  These guys are a big part of why I was able to have the opportunity to do what I am doing now.  Some of these guys were co-founders of Vertical Integration with me.  All of them were pivotal in helping me learn to ski the mountains, and progress to a level that gave me the skills to pursue a pro skiing career.  I am deeply grateful to each of them for being the kind of lifelong friends that builds a person up.  I would never be able to pursue the life I am leading without guys like these riding with me along the way like family.  I learned my trade alongside these guys, and I can never thank them enough for that.  Life and death situations and risky calls have a way of making friends into bros.  We went through the ups and downs of the backcountry together learning the ways of these great mountains, as well as life.  I am stoked that each of them could set aside some time in their now busy adult lives to get together and allow me to wear out the 80's cliche, "the boys are back in town."
^Rob edited up this shorty of his GoPro footage further wearing out the 80's cliche, "the boys are back in town". Bam, that is right.

hard work does pay...

Yes.  I am aware of my tardiness in posting new adventures.  In my defense, I have been getting after the less flattering business operations of my ski career.  The winterless Wasatch has afforded me the time to focus on these efforts, which is the real substance behind the glory show.  These operations are what makes my whole world turn.  It is not as glamorous as tales of gnarly ski lines and avalanche terrain, but it makes all that possible.  

^The Telemark Skier Magazine crew making the walk toward the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show.  This is the first show in the trade show season.  We got after it with reckless abandon.  Big risk.  Big reward.  We are all in.

^Josh Madsen is interviewing Jason Layh of Rottefella about their newest binding release, the NTN Freedom.  This binding is a big deal and takes the evolution of the NTN system further into the future.  We are excited about the new binding and look forward to putting it through the ringer this winter.

^The Colorado Convention Center in Denver is host to the Snowsports Industry Association(SIA) tradeshow.  More of the same action takes place here, and I am thankful for a very successful trade show season for myself and the Telemark Skier Magazine crew.  We crushed it, and the momentum we are carrying out of these shows is exciting motivation for the prime time of winter.

^Making big deals in the big city.

^Trade show steeze, bro bra.  Fashionista. Aspen anyone?

^Even with all of the exciting deals the TSM crew was making, the trade shows have a way of taking it out of you.  I hike and ski thousands of vertical feet each day, but two weeks on the trade show floor tires me out just as much as any athletic pursuit.  By the end of the shows I wanted to lay down right in the middle of the isle with these two dogs and take a nap.  Never knew I could get so tired without ski boots on.

^Leaving Denver in a shuttle bus early in the morning was a welcome retreat.  While the deals were exciting, the prospect of getting back to SLC to start going to work for the companies that made the deals with us is eating away at me.  I am ready to get after it, and the weather in SLC has finally began to cooperate with my ambitions.

^While I was kicking ass and taking names at the trade shows, my puppy Murphy was patiently enjoying the snowfall on the back porch and awaiting my return.  She has been craving the snow just as much as me.  In my absence SLC finally received the snow we both have been waiting for.  That made my ambitious return all that much more attainable.

^It has arrived,…

^…and Murphy is stoked.

^So is my long time ski buddy, Ben Geiger.

^With good reason.

^The high country lines are starting to fill in well.  Here we go.  Once the avalanche conditions start to settle out we will be ready to start getting gnarly again.  Finally.

^Beautiful Snowbasin provides.  As she always does.

^She provides much, including ample fresh turns. Those are mine on the looker's right.  Good looking rhythm, huh.  It felt so right.

 ^Basin also provides the stoke.  The arrival of the snow has finally filled in the lines enough that we can start getting up into the high country.  Avy structure is scary, but Geiger and I were comfortable getting down with some inbounds chutes at Snowbasin.  Geiger is ripping into the Hidden Chute with much appreciation.  The deals are getting done and the winter in SLC has finally decided to cooperate.  Let's go!