Ben Birk has been at the forefront of snowboard photography for more than a decade. Based in Lake Tahoe, California, Ben has been relentlessly chasing snow in the Sierra’s to the extent that he has been snowboarding and shooting at least once a month for the last 23 consecutive months. We reached out to Ben for a few tips on never saying goodbye to winter, as he has thoroughly proven that you don’t need to let it go if you don’t want to. You can continue to follow along with Ben’s exploits in the mountains, here.
All words and photography by Ben Birk
I look up and tumbling down the face is a rock, big enough to kill me. I make a quick shuffle to my right to avoid the falling granite and watch it tumble a thousand feet down to the valley floor. The three snowboarders had left their flatlander home states over a decade ago in a pursuit of a life in the mountains, riding snowboards. That pursuit had led them to the idea that they could snowboard 12 months a year. The trio lives in California and most people call their idea unconventional at best. But to Chip Snyder, Justin Mullen, and Ben Birk it's one of the few ways they keep sane during the four months of June, July, August, and September when it typically doesn't snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Currently, they are at 23 consecutive months snowboarding in California. And while they are not yet masters of the "summer shred lifestyle," they have learned a few items one should take note of when attempting to snowboard year round.
1. Hike in Snowboard Boots
There are three things they learned while putting almost 50 miles on their snowboard boots this summer. Snowboard boots provide amazing ankle support making rolled ankles damn near impossible. They have more cushion for pointy rocks than any hiking boot. And the grip on the bottom is pretty top notch.
2. Go High
Snow will stay softer, resist sun cupping, and generally ride better as you gain elevation. In June they rode lines at 8,000 ft in the Lake Tahoe Basin, in July they rode lines at 10,000 ft in Desolation Wilderness, and in August they rode lines at 12,000 ft in Tioga Pass.
3. Bug Spray / Sun Block
Mosquitoes are no joke. They will eat you alive and ruin the following week after your ride. Everyone should have their own bottle of bug spray and keep it in reaching distance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists only four chemicals as being effective for repelling mosquitoes: DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (or its synthetic version, called PMD) and IR3535. Sunburn not only hurts, but repeated sunburn can lead to cancer. This summer Ben tossed out the cheap, runny sunblock from the gas station and upgraded to an organic sun paste like the one made by Manda. He highly recommends making the move yourself. The paste, he claims, blocks the sun and the wind better than anything he has have tried before. Make sure to look for the following active ingredient zinc oxide.
4. Put Your Stick on Your Back
Hikes can last for 5+ hours. You don't want to be carrying your snowboard in your hand for that long. Use the straps on the back of your bag. Or the best case scenario is if you have a split board you can attach it to the side of your bag to distribute the weight out more evenly.
5. Bring a puffy
During their August trip, two thunderstorms came in and sandwiched the boys from the north and the south. Temps dropped as the winds picked up. None of the crew had a puffy and they got cold quickly. Weather can change from a perfect day to a shitty day in under 10 min. Have respect for the power of the mountains and bring an extra warm layer.
6. Bring Lots of Water and Food
This should be obvious… but people make this common mistake all the time. Hiking in the summer will cause you to sweat a lot making you get thirsty fast! It can be really scary to run out of water when you're deep in the backcountry. Bring 2 maybe 3 big bottles. The guys like to pack about 1200+ calories in Some of their personal favorites are RxBars, dried apricots & mango, tuna, avocado, almonds, packets of condiments, and Edible Espresso.
7. Do Your Homework
Don't go into the mountains blind. Look at some maps, do some googling, and talk to people that spend time in the zone you want to ride.
Bonus: Just send it once you have done enough homework, SEND IT! Don't get stuck doing too much homework. Get your bearings and go!