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An Ode to Hike-To Terrain

by Jack McNary | January 4, 2022

Why you should bootpack that extra bit

We all ski for different reasons – for some of us, it’s to enjoy the beauty of the mountains on a gorgeous sunny day, reveling in the warmth of the high-altitude sun and the wide-open groomers. For others, it’s about charging moguls or the terrain park from first chair to last, to slake our never-ending thirst for improvement (or punishment, depending on your perspective!). For others still, it’s about getting the most out of each run, be it snagging the remaining snow between two tight trees, or like today’s topic, spending the extra amount of time it takes to hike up the mountain and secure the best snow to be found anywhere.

A-Bay’s East Wall

A couple hundred feet oftentimes makes all the difference in terms of accessing the best snow. Across the west, some of the finest lines can be found this way, whether it’s on the fabled East Wall at A-Basin, to the Headwall and Casper Bowl at Jackson Hole, to the good stuff you can find above the Wildcat chair at Alta, just to name a few of the seemingly limitless options. There are tons of benefits to hiking to the terrain, aside from getting that sweet powder, so keep these in mind next time you see that symbol that beckons on the trail map:

First off, the snow stays better. This should be obvious, but that distance to hike helps act as a barrier to entry for many, and while on a powder day it’s usually good everywhere, it’s that much better to go that extra step. You might get in less vertical that day, but there are certain areas, like the West Basin in Taos or the Knife Ridge off of Alberta Peak in Wolf Creek, where the mountain takes on a completely different dimension than it otherwise would. Moreover, on a day where the rest of the mountain has been picked over you can still find freshies, or at the very least, softer snow, than elsewhere on the mountain.

Your sweat-soaked author and his brother at the top of Alberta Peak in Wolf Creek

Second, it’s a great way to improve your conditioning. The thinner air makes it harder to breathe, and a little pulmonary edema, aka lung cookies, is bound to happen for those of us who are not in the greatest shape. But, like anything in life, if you spend a whole day doing it, you’ll find that each subsequent time gets a bit easier. There is a point where you hit the wall, but it’s awesome to hit that wall, because it means that you’re giving it your all. In turn, you feel more worthy of having your share of après-ski indulgences, be they a nice cup of cocoa or something a bit more adulterated.

Third, taking off your skis and schlepping them up can help you get more comfortable with the equipment. It’s tough walking around in ski gear when you’re not used to it. Just hang out in any lodge with stairs and see folks do the side-step to get an idea of what I’m talking about. The sheer act of walking around and stepping into those bindings helps you familiarize yourself with the process, as well as preparing you better to handle unintended obstacles, like the snow that is wont to collect on the bottom of your boot from the hike. This is particularly an issue on days where conditions are on the wetter side, and it can really slow you down if you don’t know to look for it first. Like always, be careful and know your limits with the terrain, because the last thing anyone wants is to see someone take a nasty tumble down the steep-and-deep.

Lastly, it’s a great way to warm up your freezing tucchus! If it happens to be an extra-cold day, or if you’ve forgotten to layer correctly, a little movement can really help change the momentum from one of ‘I want to go home’ to ‘let’s do one more!’. Sure, all that sweat is going to freeze on the ride down and the next chairlift ride up, but that’s all the more reason to just hit it again, then bid a retreat to the lodge for a nice warm beverage and a snack when you’ve reached your limit. If that doesn’t compel you, you can always do jumping jacks, but they tend to be a bit awkward in full ski gear!

Hike-to terrain is of course just a suggestion, and regardless of how you choose to spend your well-earned time on the mountain, be sure to check with us first for the best deals on ticketsrental gear and lodging!

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