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Marolt: Skiing in the real world

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

We don’t come back to the real world after a trip into the backcountry, even if we commonly describe reentry that way. Pristine places where you can get away from day to day stress of everyday materialism, where the important things in life come into focus, that beg contemplation of our Creator? To me, these describe the real world. If I’m wrong and it turns out that extended periods spent in the outdoors are actually the artificial flavoring, I’ve lived my life all wrong.

Don’t worry. I’m not going anymore philosophical than that.

It’s a funny feeling returning from the wilderness, though. The first thing is the car. It’s one of the objects that make up “all”, as in getting away from it all. It takes us to the edge of what we crave so we can’t dismiss its value in that, but it certainly provides stark contrast in comparing that worth to what we’re really looking for. It’s just a tool, not an extension of our bodies or a defining characteristic of our personalities.

It’s a similar thing with alpine touring (AT) gear. As we sat on the perfectly positioned deck of the Markley hut this weekend, absorbing heat shot at us by the sun through a sky without obstacles to deflect its ammo, bands of skiers passing by and stopping to chat about the glory of the premature spring weather populated to capacity that suburb of Ashcroft, the alleged ghost town. More than a few commented on the incongruity between the Power of Four long underwear I wore and the relatively ancient gear on my feet and propped behind me against the cabin wall.

It surprised me that anyone in that setting cared enough to notice, because it doesn’t matter. I’ve always thought of AT gear as a tool, like a hammer or wrench. The engineering behind it is all about shaving weight, increasing comfort, and guaranteeing reliability. As for skiability? Sure, they try to make it ski decently, but when that’s the fourth priority in design I think the best you can hope for is something like, “Huh, that stuff works better than I expected.”

I’m not traipsing around the woods on 80-foot hickory planks mounted with bear trap bindings. My gear is probably a half-dozen years behind the times. I treat it with the delicacy of a tire iron. Between my boots, bindings, and skis I could perhaps whittle off about a half of a pound by upgrading to the latest and greatest racing set-up, but I figure the extra couple grand for the renovation would only serve to push me back into the rat race.

I don’t like the idea of competing in the wilderness on streamlined ski gear. I proved that once in the Power Of For What ski mountaineering race. It’s better to savor the beauty and solitude on another, quieter day along that route. I see no wisdom in suffering and rushing through an authentic outdoor experience, breathing hard with my head down only to prove that I can get it over with quicker than most men over the age of 50 who place an exaggerated priority on physical fitness. It is the chase for a gold-colored medal made of tin, literally and figuratively.

If you want to shave weight for a winter excursion, I’d say ditch the avalanche beacon and shovel. Sound irresponsible? It’s not. You have almost complete control over getting buried in an avalanche. It makes no sense to abdicate the power of your brain to a beacon powered by one double-A battery.

If the odds are less than about a million-to-one of me getting buried in an avalanche while crossing or descending a slope, I’m not placing the bet. The winnings are nothing compared with the wager. I’ve logged a lot of vertical feet skiing off-piste (as the avant garde skier calls it) — 90 percent of them after the middle of April on snow nearly as hard as the rock it’s frozen to, 9.9 percent on mid-winter powdered slopes about as steep as Mill Street, and the other .1 percent on steep, unstable slopes, far from home where I was harshly educated on this matter. The truth is, if you are completely buried in a snow slide to where they need a homing device to find you and then have to dig you out, you’ll most likely be dead by the time they do.

High-tech, super-expensive gear. Homing devices to save us from bad decisions. Turning a wilderness experience into a race. We can’t get enough of the fantasy world we never quit expanding around us.

Roger Marolt can’t wait for the next chance to sneak off into the real world for a little while roger@maroltllp.com


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