For the last decade or so a big part of my life has been devoted to achieving a healthy work-life balance, finding new ways to separate myself from the daily grind. From November to April that means snowboarding. As much as I love riding Bogus Basin, sometimes I crave a more serious adventure. Outside of standard resort riding, the last several years have been spent easing into backcountry splitboarding. What started out as a means to escape the crowded Colorado chairlift lines on a weekend or evening, has become a kind of spiritual endeavor. The same way that people go for a hike to clear their minds, I choose to load up my backpack with snacks and safety gear and silently climb a (hopefully) fresh skin track. Ideally waiting for me at the top, a fresh canvas to paint on the descent. With some Payette brews waiting in the parking lot.
Splitboarding with PBC
By Jesse Vernuccio
Recreating in the backcountry and doing it safely isn’t as easy as jumping in the truck with your gear and being delivered fresh lines right away. There’s a huge sense of responsibility that comes with it to have a good time and make it home safely. First and foremost, having the right education and experience to avoid avalanches and the equipment to locate and extricate anyone should an avalanche occur. The proper way to be introduced to riding in avalanche terrain is through a guide service such as Sawtooth Mountain Guides or an official AIARE clinic. This is true for all backcountry users, including skiers, splitboarders, snowshoers and snowmobilers. Once you have the education, safety equipment, and something to shred on, all you really need is some friends to share the stoke with.
At Payette Brewing Company, we have an eclectic group of recreationists in our midst. One of those adventurous types is our resident jack-of-all-trades Evan Kramer. I was stoked to learn when I was hired that Evan had just become introduced to splitboarding and was equally anxious to get out there and ride. We managed to get in one quick introductory split back at Mores Creek Summit in January while conditions were still more or less early season.
After an unreal month and an impressive storm cycle the last week or two, it seemed like the right time to return and hit some new lines we had eyed up on the last trip. I remember the majority of the drive both of us questioning where all of this record snowfall was, with Lucky peak and most of the drive up Hwy 21 through Idaho City looking pretty dry. Our doubts were set aside after the first switchback heading up to Mores Creek with the landscape transforming from typical winter to something out of a Dr. Seuss book. It’s been a while since I’ve seen trees that caked with powder and warped under the weight of several feet of fresh snow.
The first 45 minutes or so of a day in the backcountry usually goes like this: stoke, coffee, layering indecision, boots and bag, skins, beacon check, then a healthy conversation on route and terrain choices for the day. If you’re going about it the right way you already have an idea of an objective based on avy reports and recent weather analysis. So we set out and headed in the direction of Sunset Peak and the mellow northwest aspect off the summit.
The skin up in this zone was surprisingly chill, I’m usually the one lagging behind wondering where the summit is. Plenty of breath leftover for us to run out of adjectives describing how awesome this scene was. Fresh snow, intermittent sun, and no crowd fighting for lines. After leaving the main artery heading up towards Sunset Peak, and breaking trail on our own, we started to compare what we were seeing to glades in Japan, or what we hope glades in Japan look like (neither of us have been, yet). Perfectly spaced trees, untouched and loaded to the trunk with pow. I started thinking to myself this is what ‘Hokkaidaho’ should look like.
Topping out on our objective meant finding a similar aspect nearby that we intended to ride and asses the snowpack by digging a pit to check the stability. Just to confirm that what we intended to ride was safe. Thumbs up all around on this particular aspect, so we wolfed a Clif bar each and transitioned from touring to board mode. From there it was just face shots and surfing all the way back to the road. With the occasional stop to regroup and high five, obviously.
I’m by no means marathon tourer but with enough gas left in the tank, we decided to go check out the zone across the street beneath Pilot Peak. Something we had both done before but never with these conditions. This ascent took a bit longer. The Pilot side of the road requires a steeper, longer skin up but Evan did a good job motivating me to keep on trucking, promising jerky and beers once we finished. Tired legs and all, this descent was actually more fun than the first. We were more familiar with the terrain on this side so we were able to let loose and ride a bit faster and harder. Hitting all the rollers and stumps along the way. I even managed to snap a shot or two of Evan slashing his way down.
This has become one of my favorite rituals in life. Setting out with friends, getting fresh lines and cruising right back to the truck is such a great feeling. After a day like this, it was a relief to find that the Payette Brewing Aprés Hazy IPA cans that I stashed in the snowbank were still waiting to be cracked on the tailgate. I don’t understand how non-truck owners spend their apres’ ski these days without an obvious place to hang in the lot.
Although none of what we’ve done so far in the Idaho backcountry has been that extreme, there’s something really fulfilling about setting your sights on a zone, doing your homework, and scoring fresh lines. All the while knowing you’re being a good steward for the environment by taking part in human-powered activities on public land. A lifestyle that organizations like Winter Wildlands Alliance and Protect Our Winters fight incredibly hard to protect. Both of which we support through various events and causes at Payette Brewing Company.
As for Evan and myself, the following day was business as usual back at Payette Brewing, dreaming of the next adventure.