Skiing Yellowstone: Part I, Top Notch Peak

The northwest face of Top Notch Peak. [Photo] Chris Kerr

While Yellowstone National Park is familiar for its geysers, bison and the requisite family road trip, it also offers intriguing potential for backcountry skiers. With two million acres of terrain, easy access and a deep snowpack, it’s an alpine playground that skiers share only with grizzly bears and foxes. And on that mid-May morning, we had Yellowstone seemingly all to ourselves.

Backstory: Christmas Powder


I sit in a recycled ski chair on the cabin porch in Ouray, Colo., and watch giant, Christmas Eve snowflakes fall softly as I call my parents to wish them Merry Christmas. I am eager to tell my parents that I’m going backcountry skiing for the first time tomorrow. Instead, Mom reads her oncology report: cancer. In my mind tumors twinkle like Christmas lights throughout her. The conversation ends and snowflakes merge with my chilled tears.

Backstory: Outerspace


As early winter light spills over the North Cascades of Washington, dawn touches the heights of our little valleys. Eastward, my view stretches toward the silhouetted, ragged edges of an untrammeled landscape, snow draping everything. Gazing toward the near-solstice sun on this December morning, I bask in the knowledge that no roads interrupt the expanse to our east for almost 50 miles: nothing between us and the rising sun but true Cascadian wilderness.

Backstory: Release Me


At 0545 the phone rings. Dispatch has a one-vehicle rollover north of town. The driver might have a broken neck. “10-4. I’m on my way,” I say as I wipe the sleep from my eyes and turn on my bedroom lamp. Donning uniform and duty belt and patting the still-sleeping black lab on the head, I step out the door into a fresh dusting of snow on the back porch. Roads must be bad up north, I think as I switch on the light bar of my patrol vehicle and speed north out of this sleepy Montana town.

Backstory: Seasoning in Ski Boots


I eat my breakfast of oats quickly while standing up. At the same time, I make myself a to-do list: dishes; peach-ginger cake for dessert; roasted tomato soup for après; marinated pork for dinner; granola for tomorrow. As the cook at a Canadian ski lodge, I aim to make great food each day, but I […]

Backstory: Dawn Patrol


It’s 5:37 a.m., and I’m in a gas station. The woman behind the counter has tiny feet and an underbite. Small wrinkles fracture her shadowed face in ways only years of cheap tobacco and regret can form. I look into the copper stillness of her eyes while placing food on the scratched glass surface. Memories […]

Backstory: The Elegant Path


My eyes open, and it’s dark. I guess the time at 6 a.m., but it’s winter and hard to tell for sure. What I do know is that today is Saturday, and I’m here by myself in my mountain cabin on the edge of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Most importantly, I know that today, I will go skiing.

Backstory: Backyard Backcountry


It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived in Crested Butte for so long that I can point to all the high peaks—Gothic, Axtel, Emmons and Whetstone—and say that I have been there. Same with most of the chutes, gullies, couloirs and bowls. But then the one spot I see right out the kitchen window every […]

Backstory: Winter Lost and Found


This winter I am going to ski the monster, the beast that created all those scary stories that skiers would tell when I was a kid. Tuckerman Ravine. Other skiers would brag of death-defying runs they survived down Tuckerman’s steeps. But despite always seeking steeper runs in my youth, I never got to cross it off of my list. So this season, I’m going to ski that boogieman.

Backstory: Adventurers Anonymous


I watched Maria and Bob pore over a map of the Icefields Parkway on the hostel wall at Lake Louise with some trepidation. They were committing the topography of the Rocky Mountains to “memory” and I was right to be nervous. Once they memorized the map off we went to the pub for a few […]