Monday, December 12, 2005

Deadman telly --- where are the younger backcountry skiers?

Somebody's got to break trail

Mark Hertenstein above Deadman bowls

I'm cutting some nice turns in great powder
For those who are wondering, the Deadman ski run from King’s Hill in the Little Belts is broken as far as the long ridgeline down to the creek --- more than half the total run.
That’s where we dead-ended for four hours of telemark skiing on Saturday in near perfect conditions.
We skied on a base of more than three feet with about a six to nine inches of powder on top of it, some of it hoar.
There was some wind near the ridgeline that crusted up the snow, but only for about 20 feet.
Below that it was velvety powder that made for dreamy turns.
The day was sunny, the sky clear blue with wispy clouds, and the temperature in the 20 degree range.
Mark Hertenstein remarked that it would probably be the best day of skiing during the winter.
Since we’ve got another nine days of fall left, I’ll ignore that remark and hope that it even gets better.
It won’t take some other skier much to break the rest of Deadman, something we’re considering for our weekly Thursday outing.
A group is considering getting together Thursday’s at Morning Light Coffee at about 7:30 a.m. for trips each week. We would carpool from there.
Mark and I were the only skiers on the unbroken Deadman powder.
It got me to wondering where the younger backcountry skiers are.
The conditions couldn’t have been any better, but the only skiers out on this prime real estate were two 50+ geezers.
Certainly, Showdown across the road was filled with downhillers enjoying the best opening weekend, possibly ever.
I know that there was a gathering of other older cross country skiers at Silver Crest to celebrate Larry Winslow’s birthday.
Neither Showdown or Silver Crest are backcountry runs.
The logical spot for younger skiers to get started would be the Great Falls Cross Country Club, which initiates and cares for Silver Crest.
However, I was at its annual Christmas Party Sunday and the youngest member at the party was over 50 years old.
There’s a dismay in the group that it hasn’t been revitalizing itself with younger, newer members.
What happens when the Kohuts and the Willets are no longer able to care for Silver Crest?
Why isn’t the backcountry attractive to young skiers?
I asked John Schukei, owner of Big Horn Wilderness, why the 20, 30 and 40 somethings aren’t in the backcountry skiing with the same frequency as those of us 50 and older.
He speculated that it might have something to do with the popularity of snowshoes.
He said he rents a dozen pairs of snowshoes each weekend compared to a half dozen skis.
I find snowshoeing more difficult and less interesting than skiing. You can’t get into the backcountry as quickly or as far as on skis.
What could be the attraction?
And why wouldn’t a younger outdoors enthusiast opt for faster and farther?
Once again, Schukei speculated that it might have something to do with how expensive it has become to get into some of these individual sports.
When I started cross country skiing I could put together a full backcountry package for less than $150. You can’t buy a good pair of boots for that price. A quality pair of backcountry boots, like the Scarpa T3s might cost you nearly $400. A pair of backcountry skis to go with the books will cost you another $325. I just bought bindings on sale for those skis for $160, and it will cost to mount those. Then there’s the poles, and the clothing and pack. That’s a chunk of change for any young skier.
I also suspect that better jobs with benefits are harder to come by than when I started as a professional worker more than 35 years ago.
I might buy Schukei’s cost argument at this rate.
Anyway, the backcountry seems to be emptier and emptier, and its users older and older.

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