Showdown for the ages.
For many of us, skiing brings back memories of slurping hot cocoa in the lodge after a day of lapping our favorite zone at the resort. But it also reminds of us skinning through a silent forest toward fresh powder turns as sunlight filters through the early-morning mist. Nowadays, there are almost as many yahoos schlepping through the backcountry as there are parking at the resort, and it’s hard to know which method is best for enjoying our favorite winter pastime. Time to settle this the only way we know how, with an old-fashioned face-off in the snowy streets of winter. Let the duel begin.
The line at Schlasman’s on a powder day resembles a scene from The Walking Dead: a bunch of half-baked rippers aimlessly grouping together and somehow, some way, making it on the lift. The folks that are fully conscious are so worried about getting fresh tracks that they’ll slice your Achilles if you don’t move along in a timely fashion. That’s not to say that the backcountry isn’t overrun with MSU freshmen from Denver looking to make a name for themselves, and in the process burying you and your buddies in a slide. At the end of the day, though, the backcountry is a veritable no-man’s-land compared to the resort.
Unless you’re one of those folks that “loves the groomers off Andesite,” this one is a no-brainer. Even if it hasn’t snowed in days, there are always fresh stashes in the backcountry if you’re willing to look. Not so much at the resorts, being that they continue to add non-stops from Atlanta, New York, and Dallas.
Between ski school (read: babysitting) for the kiddos and the close proximity to bars, a resort is what dreams are made of for parents with smaller children. While the more adventurous moms and dads bring their kids with them into the backcountry, junior doesn’t make the best partner if the fit hits the shan.
While most of us use winter as an excuse to pack on a few, breaking trail and climbing for your vert definitely keeps the waistline slim, even if you want to eat bacon for every meal until the weather changes. Lapping Six-Shooter might keep the quads firing and the lungs burning a bit, but getting high-speed shuttles back to the top pales in comparison when it comes to calories burned.
More people in the backcountry means more opportunities for a dangerous situation. And the dangers aren’t limited to avalanches; weather, injuries, and getting lost are all very real considerations. Resorts are dangerous, too… if you’re an idiot.
Sipping beers, hot toddies, and tall drinks with attractive members of the opposite sex while sitting next to a warm fire as your dogs run loose around the parking lot: yes, please. Sipping half-frozen, chunky PBRs while crammed into the cab of your friend’s truck with frozen toes and a wet dog on your lap: not so much.
There are few activities that provide a closer relationship to the mountains than touring through a winterscape under the power of you own two feet, so long as your sled is parked conveniently at the trailhead. While you can experience moments of quiet reflection gliding along North Bowl Road in the late-afternoon light as the sun sets on the Crazies, that’s typically broken by a rowdy group of skiers three Olys deep.
At first glance, the prodigious pricetag of a season pass makes the backcountry seem like the cheaper option. But by the time you fuel up the truck (and the sled), buy the more expensive lightweight skis and bindings, and throw in avy-safety gear (and training), you’re just about even.
There you have it: the backcountry is the place to be. But it was close—closer than we might have thought—and we’re not so convinced that chairlifts and slopeside bars aren’t the best way to spend a winter’s day. What it comes down to is this: get outside this winter, and look for us while you’re out there—we’ll be the ones sleeping in our vans at the trailhead, sipping chunky PBRs, cuddling up to our wet dogs.