Paul Andersen: ‘Woodies’ make skiing the way it used to be

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Wooden skis are beautiful. That’s why some people bolt them onto walls. As decorous as they are, that’s a sacrilege. Wooden skis are meant to be skied.

My son’s Norwegian skis are at least 50 years old, inherited from Bob Lewis. I’ve had my Bonna 2400s for four decades. We pine tarred and waxed them for a backcountry tour last week with good friends and fellow “woodie” skiers, Graeme and Cooper.

The morning of the Solstice was clear and cold, a blessing to woodie skiers who know that blue kicker wax holds best on the cold, dry snow. I learned that in Gunnison in 1972 when I was first introduced to wooden skis.

Leaving town that summer, I had left my alpine skis with a friend, who had propped them outside against a shed. By the time I found them in the fall, they were totaled.

I went to the ski shop where the salesman convinced me to try cross-country skiing. He showed me a pair of hickory boards that had an aesthetic quality I had never seen on alpine skis. I tried on leather boots that were the most comfortable ski boot I had ever worn. With cable bindings and bamboo poles, I was sold.

So began my life and love of backcountry skiing, something the four of us — two fathers and two sons — were to renew on this perfect Saturday morning by touring from Tiehack to Snowmass and back again.

Skinning up Tiehack, our skis felt remarkably light underfoot — agile and fragile. Graeme, an old hand at backcountry skiing, remarked: “These mohair skins climb and glide better than any of my other skins.” Ah, the pleasures of lifelong skiers.

Our stoke grew with every step, and soon we were perched above West Buttermilk looking over the deep, glacially carved valley of Maroon Creek. We were in no hurry, basking in the sun and passing a repurposed syrup bottle holding the sacrament of single malt scotch.

Dropping down the ridge toward the Sugar Bowls, we handled our woodies with caution. Old boards can break, so a finessed approach must be part of the woodie culture.

Stripping skins atop the Sugar Bowls, we gazed at the untracked run below with a sense of humor. “Who’s going to make the first face plant?” cracked Tait. We gave that honor to Graeme, who glided 10 feet before flopping onto his face. We laughed a bit nervously.

I pushed off, expecting to punch down to the ground. Instead, the Bonnas felt buoyant enough to lean into a tele turn. Damn, if they didn’t respond with a graceful arc. This was followed by another and another. Suddenly, I was back on the Slate River near Crested Butte executing the first tele turn of my life, a turn that defines me as a skier over 45 years later.

Tait and Cooper came swooping down behind me, and Graeme followed with a hybrid “telellel.” Our beaming smiles matched the bright sun glinting off a shimmering layer of hoar frost through which our skis cut with an effortlessly swish.

We flowed down through the aspens over untracked pillows of powder to the slight indentation that marked the untracked Government Trail. We took turns breaking trail, weaving through the silent forest, our wax providing the perfect kick-and-glide through the deep woods.

We had a casual lunch while sitting on a log bridge crossing a frozen creek where the sun glinted off frost crystals flocking the willows and aspens with diamond-like sparkles. We talked and laughed and, as the scotch bottle neared empty, felt our hearts filled with brotherly spirit.

Another hour of blissful tracking through the woods dropped us onto the Tom Blake Trail where we rode out a wild luge run filled with pratfalls, laughter, hoots and hollers. Finally, we burst onto the Owl Creek Trail for the trek home.

We put our heads down for a fast, nonstop pace over the meadows and through the woods until we crested the ridge of West Buttermilk, then zoomed down to Tiehack. We felt tired and elated — loving every moment of a classic woodie tour.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at