Winter Wrap-Up and So Close to Home

Time got away from me the last part of winter. I had so much going on after my Japan trip that I let the posts on this website fall behind. So I will do a big wrap-up post to give a highlight reel from the last part of my winter into the spring skiing. I started out in the Upper Peninsula Of Michigan at Mount Bohemia and the Porcupine Mountains for Midwest Telefest, rolled back to Utah for a variety of content and guiding work, judged a junior free ski comp at Taos New Mexico, had the old college buddies come to town, skied plenty of Ogden backcountry with the local homies, did a lot of backcountry ski guiding, my wife and kids came to visit me in Utah, bought a new snowmobile, and wrapped it all up with a couple last crusher content days with the fellas before hitting the road back across the Great Plains of America to my hometown in southeast Wisconsin. It was a hell of the finish to winter, and here are some of the highlights.

^Right after Japan I rolled up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
to Mount Bohemia with a classic crew of local Wisconsin fellas. My Dad, cousins, and a bunch of Wilmot locals joined me up in the U.P.'s gem of the midwest. We lucked out with some really good snow to ski some classic Mount Bohemia Lake Superior lake effect powder.

^My good buddy Joey Wallis works up at Mount Bohemia all winter making the hilarious and powder packed Mount Bohemia TV series online. I was really pumped to get some quality time on snow with him again. Joey and I go way back by now. He is one of my favorite people to ski midwest powder with. Joey has a way of lighting up any room he enters. His stoke is really contagious. I always love getting to hang with my buddy Joey.

^My cousin, Randy, getting some of that U.P. powder.

^After a few quality days at Mount Bohemia we always make our way down to the Porkies in Porcupine Mountains State Park for Midwest Telefest. This year my wife and kids came up for the weekend with my mother to join the midwest crew for the festival. The weekend is always packed with good music, good friends, and plenty of telemark turns. In this picture above my two boys are getting down to Feeding Leeroy, the band of tele heads that makes an appearance on the opening night's welcoming party. 

^Event organizer, Keith Opperman, and his friends always throw a good party. Keith gave me a good beardy pose in this picture above in his classic one-piece as we overlook the Great Lake Superior before we jumped into some powder. Keith teams up with Matt Manders to throw this event every year. It has become a tradition for me and my family over the years. I have so many good friends that come up to this event by now. I am so grateful for all of them. 

^My Dad and cousin, Tom, trekking out to the goods with a stack of telemark festivarians following behind. 

^My wife and kids enjoying some of the bluegrass boys doing their thing on the Saturday night potluck dinner party. It was really cool to share this weekend with them this year. My oldest son, Amos, was all about the music too. At one point he grabbed his kazoo from my mom's bag, pulled a seat up with the bluegrass boys, and joined the band. It was pretty hilarious. He was super pumped. 

^I was honored to receive the Sondre Norheim award this year. It is an award for a Telefester who embodies the mountain man spirit and has given a lot of heart and soul to the festival over many years. I did not see this coming, but I was super grateful for the show of love and support from the Midwest Telefest faithful. It really meant a lot to me to receive it.   

^First thing when I got back to Utah after the U.P. trip was catching up on more avalanche courses that the guide world decided to add to the guide track that did not exist when I first got started down this track many years ago. I was a bit over qualified for the course, but it never hurts to practice the skill sets. I think now I am all caught up and ready to progress further again into the courses that will be much more of a steep learning curve for me. The next courses to get ready for are the Alpine skills course, the Avalanche Instructor course, and then the Avalanche Pro 2. 

^Then it came time to get back to Snowbasin again. This season my home resort has been a tough one for me because my best buddy and go-to backcountry ski partner, Ben Geiger, died this summer. It was so weird being there without him meeting me in the parking lot every morning. We had some big plans for a lot backcountry days and exploring some new lines in the Ogden Wasatch this winter. I spent a lot of solo time out there this year just trying to get my head and heart around it all. I did not get to check off the lines he and I had been scouting. I didn't really have the confidence to solo them, and I also just didn't really have the motivation yet. I was still just kind of lost out there all the while knowing exactly where I was. 

^In early March the college homies came to town and joined me for some ski days in all the old classics. It was funny how we were all feeding off each other's vibes just like we always have. It was definitely not the same without Benny, our director of stoke, but it was a real treat for me none-the-less to have them in town. It felt really good to have them there. It was kind of a lonely existence for me there this winter. In this picture above we're all posing with a statue that his brothers built on a peak in his likeness.

^The crew marching upward into the future. A future we never expected to take on without Ben in tow with us. That is life though. I have lost quite a few friends too young by now in some really strange tragic accidents and situations. My shoulders are covered in memorial tattoos for lives gone too soon. Each one of those stories though has served to make me a better man. They've taught me the kind of hard knocks life lessons that despite the horrible scenarios I am oddly grateful for. They have made me who I am. My friends lives are never in vain if I let their deaths change my life and force me to live a life of intention, purpose, and determination. I am an ardent soul searcher always striving for my true path. I think it is because of these tragedies that I am living the life I have chosen. One that I step towards each day with intention.

^I managed a lot of days in the backcountry anyhow. I did do some exploring of a bunch more lower consequence terrain in some areas I have been meaning to spend more time in. I actively reached out to more backcountry partners then ever before. Obviously none of which I was nearly as completely dialed with as Ben. I am not sure I will ever have another backcountry partner that I will be so in tune with as he and I were. We just looked at things and thought about things in the mountains the same way. Mostly because we spent twenty years learning our way through them together. However, this is where I have found myself. This is life, and these new partners are also my friends. They are also stout travelers, and they are also really good people. It is good for me to branch out. To learn to travel with new people. To learn to interact in the backcountry with new perspectives and abilities. It feels like growth. 

^My buddy Rob Harris wigglin' and gigglin' some low angle loveliness in this picture above. I found a bunch more of this kind of smaller lower angle terrain to ski in all of my solo backcountry missions this year. I have learned to love it more than ever as I age, and as I spend more solo time out there. I am totally aware that I am bending the rules in so much solo backcountry time, but such is my existence to a certain degree. I am okay with it. I definitely dial back my risk when I am alone in the mountains, but I also know full well the choices I am making. Twenty years in the backcountry and I have made plenty of mistakes. I take as many precautions as I can, but these are the choices I have to make some times. 

^Alex Leblanc and I have become more frequent touring partners as well. Alex is a super stout young telemark skier I have come to love skiing with over the years. I like to say that he is the coolest dude on telemark skis. He is laid back, dialed, and never in all that much of a hurry. He is also almost always on time. He usually beats me to the trailheads and parking lots. I have come to have a lot in common with him and his style. He is one tough as nails dude too. It has been a real blessing to get to know him and watch him learn his way out there. He is also now moving into fatherhood as well with a brand new baby girl.

^Alex has some undeniable style. I have really come to enjoy taking pictures of him skiing. He makes everything he does look easy, which is a true sign of a naturally talented skier. 

^I landed a gig guiding for Inspired Summit Adventures out of Park City, Utah. We mostly guide the Uinta Range just east of Park City and I am super grateful to learn the new terrain and new skills from my good friends, Shaun and Weston Duetschlander. I came up through the pro ski scene with Shaun and Weston long before they ever became a couple and started their business. We have skied some big lines and drank our fare share of cold frosty beverages together over many years of tall peaks, deep powder, tall tales, and deep belly laughs. In this picture above Weston is leading me out to the Castle Peak Yurt that we guide to run some supplies out to Shaun with a client group and also give me some more experience in seeing more and more of their terrain out there.   

^Weston stoking the fire for Shaun and her group before they came back in for lunch, and stoking me out with an exploration of the possibilities in the years to come. 

^I ran down to Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico for the first time to judge a junior telemark freeski competition with USTSA. The Taos staff was incredible to work with and were so dialed in their event hosting. They made the whole weekend a breeze. They also put me up in The Blake hotel which is so posh that I didn't even really know how to act or what to do while I was in there. Valets and incredible guest services all catered to the rich and famous and this ski bum didn't even know what the hell I was doing, when and if I am supposed to give someone a tip, or even what to do with my hands. It was a bit weird for me staying in such a posh establishment, but I was grateful for the hospitality. Even if I didn't know how or when to tip, or not, or even where to put my skis or wear my ski boots, or not. I am not used to that kind of world. 

^On the comp venue though, I was right at home. I know that world. I know the inside of a judges booth. So did the Taos event staff. The local judge they threw into the telemark judges booth with us, Jacob Herrera, was really great too. He was dialed and it was really great to have his local knowledge. 

^Kaela Gillum and her team had the whole weekend all worked out. They crushed every step of the logistical nightmare that these events can present. I was totally impressed. 

^Plus the kids were fantastic. The junior telemark skiers skied an incredible weekend. They all skied safe, smart, and calculated. Their coaches had them all prepared to the tee, and it showed. I love watching these kids ski, and I love being a part of these events. The freeski competition scene has brought a lot of gifts to my life. I have met some of my best friends through these events. I make so many new friends each and every time I do another one. I love seeing these kids make so many good friendships on these weekends too. I enjoy seeing them enjoy themselves. I work hard to try to do my best to give them good experiences and judge as fair of a comp as I can. It is always hard when you take an art like big mountain skiing and try to turn it into math in order to place a kid's run into some sort of rank order. However, it seems that these kids understand what I am talking about when I preach about how the scores are not what these events are really all about. Sure, we all want to have the outcomes emerge as best we can, but those friendships, those memories, and all those good times are what the weekends are really about. That is what really matters. I see that in spades every time I work one of these events, and for me that is the best of all.

^Plenty of guiding. Lots and lots of guiding. As I age in this industry the path towards guiding in the backcountry has been really great. It is what I have always wanted to do and what all of these years of preparation have been leading to. Even all the pro ski stuff has been about getting the experience and the resume to be taken seriously in the backcountry as a skilled traveler and someone that others would actually choose to pay to take them to remote and dangerous corners of the mountains. All my networking, all of my industry connections, all of my certifications, and all of my travels have been preparing me to do this work. Ever since I was a nine-year old kid wide-eyed and star struck by the mountains on Colorado vacations with my family this is what I have wanted to do with my life. I am so blessed and grateful that it has worked out for me. Lord knows there where times that it could have all come crashing down, but I stayed the course. I kept learning, and growing in the mountains. So now to be able to continue to scratch out a living doing this kind of work in these beautiful mountains is an incredible feeling. I absolutely hate the cliqué saying that I see on social media all the time when my peers in this line of work talk about, "another great day in the office" in reference to some dope powder blaster photograph of themselves slaying it, but I certainly understand where they are coming from. I understand their own amazement with how they somehow ended up doing exactly what they love doing in incredible environments. I am right there with them on it. You'll just never see me use that line on my social accounts anymore, but I definitely feel it on a daily basis when I am out there sharing amazing mountain experiences with friends and strangers. 

^My old friend Matt Roberts and some of his friends on a sunny day in the Uinta Mountains just east of Park City, Utah. 

^Gitin some!

^Matt shreds. He and I went to college together. There was a time when I did not see him for a pretty long time as he toiled his way through medical school and into a really great job. However, when he called me up a few years back and asked me to help him get into backcountry skiing I was so stoked. It was a chance to reconnect with him. It has been a joy to watch him fall in love with the backcountry experience. Plus, now we are skiing together and taking trips all over the world together like we never left off. At one point a while back he told me that he was thankful to me for helping get his backcountry chops because it had reinvigorated skiing for him again and brought a whole new joy within skiing for him all over again like he had back when we were green college kids learning and burning in the mountains. I can't really tell you what it felt like to hear that from him. I can't really express how good that made me feel to be a part of being a catalyst of that for him. That is like the frosting on the cake. I love doing this work, and when a dear friend like Matt tells me something like that I know with all my heart that I am doing this right. I don't pretend to be right about really much of anything anymore in my life, but I know when something feels right and hearing words like that from a good buddy... well, that just feels right and is all the validation of my life choices that I need.

^My good friend, Keith Opperman, whom I talked about early in this post as the organizer of Midwest Telefest came to see me too. Keith and I have become good friends over the years of my attending his festival. I have come to love him and his family like friends I have had for a lifetime. They are among the most genuine, kind, and generous people I have met on this journey I have been walking. Keith told me he wanted to come to Utah and ski and tour with me. He talked about a yearning to do the kind of big western skiing he felt like he'd never really had the chance to pursue in his life yet. He wanted to come out for World Telemark Day at Alta that Freeheel Life puts on. He wanted the whole package. I was honored to be able to give him some of that. We did a classic Wasatch backcountry tour whipping his low elevation lungs into altitude shape, and we skied some creamy powder.

^The next day we hit up Alta to ski the World Telemark Day celebration with all of the Utah telemark community. I introduced him to all my friends...

^... and to a few Alta classics. In this picture above Keith goes deep into crush town on Alta's famous High Rustler! He was so amped and so leg beat by the end of the day, but we were both all smiles and laughs all the way home. He linked up with my buddy Travis Bellantino his last day at Snowbird. Travis gave him a ripping tour of his home mountain and sent Keith back home to the midwest on the long train ride complete. I felt like we gave him a taste of everything we could have in a whirlwind weekend tour of the Salt Lake City scene. There is obviously way more to show him, but with just a weekend we could only get him into so much. The good news though is that it leaves plenty for us to show him next time.

^A mentor and friend of mine, Fred Buttard, hit me up as he was passing through the area for some beta and to take him and his friends out for some new to them terrain. Fred is a French IFMGA ski guide living in Norway. He and I first met on a Moonlight Mountain Gear product test in Italy years ago. We promised to keep in touch and all that, but the best part is that we actually have and when his travel plans brought him through my area of Utah he reached out. We had a beautiful day in the sun, and a really great day touring the Ogden Wasatch. I was stoked to meet his friends that he works with in Europe guiding the European Alps, Norway, and all over the world.  

^We had a pretty big day getting a taste of all the aspects and elevations of one of my favorite zones. Weather, schedules, and travels rarely line up all together, but I was really excited to have it all come together with Fred and his buddies in my backyard this particular day. Can't beat it.

^I got to guide my friend, Rick Sojkowski, and his daughter Julie for some of their first big mountain touring. The weather was slamming. I slammed my old Subaru into a five car pile-up on the interstate on my way to the trailhead meet-up as well, but we still managed to have a really great day in the mountains together. I loved watching the light bulbs turn on in their skill progressions throughout the day. It was really amazing how quickly they latched on to the concepts and the skill sets. 

^Best of all was their incredible attitudes in learning from me and Weston as we trudged up hill through the storm. Often times it can be difficult for folks to be able to stay positive and upbeat when they are learning new skills all the while the weather is also slamming them in the face. Rick and Julie not only prevailed, but were a joy to be with. We had a lot of laughs, and for a day that started out really shitty for me being involved in a five car fender bender on the commute their positivity and great attitudes helped me end up having one of the highlight tours of my season. I could have trudged through the day a curmudgeon, as could have they, but good friends and some good laughs in the mountains seem to be a quality prescription for any rough start to the day. 

^Of course slaying powder turns with my buddy Rick makes for a quick attitude adjustment too. 

^A new friend I met through the Freeheel Life shop last winter, Tim Schofield, from San Diego came to see me this year too. We also lucked out with a spring storm that could not have timed out better for us. We managed to find some cold high elevation powder, and became even better friends with every step up the skin track. 

^The clouds broke out for us from time to time to be able to get some really good views too, but not too much to heat up our cold powder too fast though. That was key to helping us prolong our day of skiing the goods before the spring temperatures did too much work on the snowpack. I was stoked to get a solid weekend in with Tim and something tells me that this was just the beginning for Tim and I having some really cool mountain adventures together in the near future. 

^The end of March my wife and kids came to visit me and spend some time in Utah. I am a different kind of bird to pursue this life I do in the mountains that often involves a certain amount of time away from my family. It is a double edged sword as well because I miss them a great deal while I am gone, and I also am not myself if I don't pursue the lifestyle. I have a hard time explaining it. It is a joke amongst my wife and I that if not for her I would probably be alone in a small cabin in the woods at the base of a mountain somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I am grateful for that fact and to her for keeping from that, but it is also a certain part of my nature that I have to feed a little bit. 

^These three are a gift in my life. My time with them is very precious to me. I often feel like my time away makes the time together more special. Being away affords me the opportunity to miss them, and thus force me to relish in my time with them even more. It may not make any sense to most people, but I guess that is part of my peculiar nature. 

^Amos and Momma.

^Walt and Momma. 

^This picture above is of me and Laird Geiger. Laird is Ben's son. As I mentioned before, Ben and I grew together in the mountains the last twenty years. We were fast friends from our freshman year of college in Ogden. We quickly became ski partners and ventured into the backcountry together. We learned the ways of the mountains and had a connection that is one of the most next level understandings of another I have ever had. We literally navigated dangerous terrain and situations with hand signals and what sometimes felt like the same mind. We looked at the mountains and even the world in very similar ways. We would confer with each other on all aspects of our lives from business, to relationships, to politics, especially to fatherhood, and everything in between. It was kind like we raised our kids together. Ben and his wife, Heather, started their family a few years before Christine and I and they became dear confidants to us in figuring the whole parental journey out. When Ben died I made a promise to myself to do my very best to visit with his family and try to ski with his kids and be helpful to his wife. I know he would do the same for me. Ben and I are a lot alike and I hope I can be a little bit of a taste of a lot of things he believed and valued in life for them. I see him in all of them as well when I am with them. It really makes me feel closer to him to spend time with them as well. His son Laird has a lot of Ben's mannerisms and he moves like Ben. I see so much of Ben in him and I can't help but seek out time with him. I enjoy seeing them so much. I hope to be able to ski with Laird and do all kinds of different things with him, his sister, and his mom forever. I hope our families can remain close to one another and my kids can keep growing knowing all of them like we were when Ben was alive and we would get together. I love to watch Amos look up to Laird and be smitten by his sister, Monroe. All three of them held my sons when they were babies and I hope they'll be there for many of their milestones in life in the future as well.

^Laird is becoming such a solid skier. I can tell it is in his blood and these mountains are in his heart.

^I told Ben's dad that I would make time to ski with him from time to time as well. I want to be able to do that. It is a gift for me to be able to be a part of their lives still. Ben and I always shared our father's wisdom with each other. I still want to learn from the wisdom of Ben's father in my life like Ben used to share with me, and like Curt used to impart to me when we were all together as well. This has all been so hard for all of us, and none of us are perfect in dealing with grief or how we should react to such a tragedy. There is no right way to grieve, but I hope we can all stay together in doing so for the rest of our lives. I need them. I need his kids, his wife, his parents, his brothers, our friends, and I need to hold on to ways of feeling him all around me. He is one of my best friends, and I don't think I get to make another friend like him ever again. I am so grateful to have that kind of relationship with him for the time I did and even for the rest of my life in his influence in how I still talk to him in my dreams and in my heart. Life is hard, and beautiful, and sad, and glorious, and tragic. It is all of these things and everything in between in the human experience. It is the total package. It is the ride... the journey. I hope I can keep walking this path with all of his tribe and that I can be a positive part of their lives as much as they are in mine. 

^My time in Utah for the season was coming to a close. In the last week we were graced with a good storm, and I had a chance to get out and take some pictures with some of my freeheel ski buddies. I supply photography through my business, Vertical Integration, to a lot of the telemark industry companies for their social media marketing, and I had a good window of time to really crush some photography in good spring conditions. I had a really great sunrise tour with Taylor Johnson and Carl Heath in the Salt Lake City Wasatch. Taylor is among the hardest working freeheel skiers in the game today, and Carl is a total natural in front of the lens. Carl is a great photographer himself, much better then me, and I value learning from him and shooting with him because he sees the mountains and lines through a photographer's eye. That makes shooting with him and his line choices easy and a joy. 

^Carl in one of the last frames of a burst of shots in this frame above. The better ones are going into the Vertical Integration library so I won't share them here online, but this one just before he goes into the tree's shadow gives you a good idea of what the money shots just moments before this frame look like. Hopefully you will see those ones in an industry magazine or social media feed at some point in the near future.  

^Then my very last day on snow for the season I had another crusher day in the Ogden Wasatch range with Taylor Johnson, Greg Roman, and Alex Leblanc at Snowbasin and in the backcountry surrounding it. We absolutely nailed it that day. I could not have been happier with a finalé for the season. 

^One of my last runs was a classic that Ben and I skied often. After I skied the line it just felt like it was a tribute to him. I skied in a way that would have made him smile and was completely influenced by his style. I took this picture of it and posted something online with some sort of post about this one was for him or something like that. I remember that a lot of our good ski buddies chimed with comments about how they knew exactly where I was and what I was writing about. That was validation to me that they could see it and feel it too. I can't imagine a better way to end my first winter skiing these mountains without him on the skin tracks with me. I believe he was all around me out there this winter, and in the vast amount of solo backcountry skiing I did this year I felt like I gave myself enough silence and opportunity to feel that. It both hurt and felt good to do so, but I feel like it was exactly what I needed.  

^I had one last course of business to attend to before I drove back across the Great Plains to Wisconsin for the off-season. I had to re-certify as a Wilderness First Responder to keep that certification and training current for guiding. These courses are hard for me because the skill and the memorization involved does not come naturally to me. I have to labor and study a lot to keep getting better at it.

^CPR practice.

^I also bought a free ride snowmobile as a tool for next year's guide work there. I am working for a variety of guide shops in Utah next winter and the need for a solid snowmobile became undeniable. I lucked out to find a really great sled and a really great deal with a friend from the ski industry, Jenn Berg. Jenn and her husband, Pete O'Brien, are legends in the ski world. She took good care of me in the transaction, and also sold me a really well loved snowmobile that helped me rest easy with the large purchase. She took great care of this machine and it showed when I started digging into the condition of it. I will give this sled a good home. I look forward to saddling up on it to cruise out to some glorious terrain next winter and then sending her some pictures of the scenes. I am grateful to her and her and Pete for making a deal with me. This ride is gonna be a great tool for my work in the coming years. I am really excited to see where it will take me. 

^Just like that it was all over. I was back in my van and pedal down across the country again heading east to Wisconsin for the off-season. I had a job as the Kenosha County Trails Coordinator fall in my lap that will present a whole new set of challenges and skills to learn. I was looking forward to the experience as I glared out the windshield for two long days of driving. 

^In the last hours of the road trip as the western sun set in my sideview mirror and I crossed my last state line of the trip I could not help feeling metaphorical about the winter. Perhaps it was road trip delirium, but I was emotional about the situation. I was thinking about my buddy Ben and how much I still miss him every day. I was thinking about my wife, kids, and family and how much I was looking forward to seeing them and spending warm summer days with them again. I was thinking about next winter already and the goals and ambitions I wanted to prioritize for the coming year and to start working on. I was thinking about mountain biking and all the things I wanted to pursue in that world as it emerges more and more as a part of my life and career in trail work, guiding, and how I should go about that whole new endeavor. I have been mountain biking for nearly twenty years all over the west, but making it a part of my work is a relatively new pursuit. I was awash in all kinds of thoughts and emotions. I took this picture to mark the moment and remember to write about here as well. I wanted to hold on to the metaphorical state of mind, and the thoughts and feelings flowing through me. I wanted to make sure to go forward with as much passion and zest as I always have and the way that Ben always did in his life too. I wanted to remind myself to take each and every moment that I could manage with appreciation and put a fist to the sky at sunset in tribute to each amazing day on this journey. Just like this picture below of Ben that I took of him on one particularly spectacular day he and I shared in the Ogden backcountry the last winter that I had with him. I wanted to hold on to that memory even closer to my heart now after this first winter in the mountains without him came to a close with the end of my road trip driving away from the setting western sun and so close to home.