Backcountry. Ahhh, just writing the word picks my mood up a notch. Immediately, thoughts of freedom, purity, and powder pour into my head. While the rewards offer me even more today than ever, there’s nothing new about the venue. Long before we started paying for our herded, scheduled sessions, so well defined by the operators of the people movers and roped into playgrounds we call resorts, riders were pioneering early snowboards in backcountry zones ranging from the local golf course to the Alpine bowls of the Wasatch.
Snowboards are little more than toys–or even glamorized snow transportation vehicles–and our good times in the hills are merely an evolution of the fun touring skiers have been on to longer than anyone can remember. How fortunate we are to be able to honor them by following in their footsteps, be it by working a backwoods hit that took a full afternoon to build, or flowing a line only possible after a long day of hiking.
And please refrain from referring to backcountry as a style of riding. It’s merely a place and a corresponding state of mind. What you do once you’re beyond the confines of your local lift service can be as limitless as the mountains themselves. While I will always have the utmost respect for the superhuman out-of-bounds freestyle and extreme stunts that seem to continually progress beyond our imaginable limits, my highest appreciation goes out to the simple rider who’s out there just for the experience. Taking in the mountains rates even higher to me than the mark we make on them, and the people who do that the best are the ones I most wish to emulate.
I present to you a piece written by Bob Barci, the person I deem the grandfather of snowboarding in Washington state. Written in the mid 80s, it still strongly captures the fundamental feeling of snowboarding’s soul. Thanks for the inspiration, Bob.
It was free back then. My friend Kevin and I drove up logging roads to the snow line and hiked up from there for three or four hours–on our own, only a responsibility to each other and ourselves. We had to have fun, not get hurt, and get off the mountain by dark. I used my store-bought snowshoes, and Kevin had none, or rented ones. Kevin used “Volume 1, Number 2″–Eric Gallison’s second handmade snowboard–and I used a Burton Backhill, and eventually a Performer.
Those expeditions were more about discovery and magic than snowboarding. Kevin and I had grown up together as children, gone our separate ways, and met again years later quite by chance at a tavern in Everett, Washington. We had grown up, but were still children with these new toys called snowboards. Snowboards were our reason to be on a mission of discovery–each of us looking for our own direction. We covered endless miles of snow-covered logging roads in the North Cascades, up avalanche chutes and across far too many steep mountain faces for our own good. It seemed we weren’t the only ones “on a mission” looking for fun and excitement.
Mt. Baker is the volcano of the North Cascades that can be seen standing above all the peaks. It serves as a landmark, a point at which to gaze and admire for its beauty. It always seemed to be in our view on those hikes Kevin and I made. Others went with us on our expeditions, some who had been to Mt. Baker Ski Area with their snowboards. These others would usually only go with Kevin and I once or twice, then return to Mt. Baker because the chairlift made more sense than snowshoes–understandable if you’re young and impatient and looking for something other than what we’d found. We had found the success of meeting the mountain in a spiritual way and learning how to survive one day at a time.
As our experience accumulated, a certain amount of pride grew. One of my favorite moments waas watching the lights of Mt. Vernon come on from the face of Sauk Mountain at 4,800 feet. That became the time of day we would finally leave, dropping in on one of the four avalanche chutes for the last ride down to the logging road and the long walk back in the dark to the car.