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 breakfast, that small, unassuming sub-peak, turns out to be the spot that finally feels like home.

Crested Butte, Colo. [Photo] Chris Segal

Crested Butte, Colo. [Photo] Chris Segal

Last Sunday, my girlfriend Crista and I walked out of the house, hopped on the local bus and rode it to the base of a nearby peak. The parking lot was filled with skiers clicking into bindings and starting to skin up our mountain, but as they headed right, we skinned left, away from the chopped-up powder and beaten-down skintrack, away from the great tree skiing and open powder fields. We set our own skintrack through untracked powder across meadows, around a small bowl, up a draw and into the pines.

The boughs hung heavy with snow, and as we skinned, snow fell from the pines with loud whoomphs—the only sound we heard other than the wind and our skis working through powder. I worked my way through the pine forest, trying to set a comfortable skintrack by following the contours of the forest. As we neared the summit, the angle eased and the trees grew thicker. We skinned to where pines met aspens and then we reached the top.

From that small summit, blue skies and mountains were all we could see. We gazed out over the Crested Butte valley and saw the ragged peaks of Paradise Divide, the ski runs on Crested Butte Mountain Resort and even my house, down in the upper valley, little more than a speck from that distance. I could see where I have spent a large portion of my life, chasing powder, enjoying après and remodeling my home. I could see my jobsites and the trails I had biked, ran and hiked. My backyard.

I reflected on my years of complicated backcountry ski trips and difficult mountaineering adventures, then breathed in deeply and felt lucky to just be there, on that little peak so close to home. I suddenly realized that, without ever consciously making it a point to find a spot that would define my life, I had just found it. A place where I could get away but still feel as if I was home. A place that I was comfortable with but that still offered plenty of excitement. A place that offered challenges and options but was not complicated. My backcountry home.

Crista and I took off our skins, had a quick bite to eat. As I dropped into my first turns, I felt the powder under my skis and the occasional blast of snow hitting my face. With each turn, I felt more connected to the snow and less to the rest of the world. At the bottom of the clearing, I waited inside a grove of aspens and watched Crista float down toward me.

Once we were both safe at the bottom of our hidden glade, we skied smooth powder back to the nearby road, route finding through each section and enjoying every turn. At the bottom, both smiling, we took a few moments to enjoy the sun setting to the west in bright oranges and yellows. Once back on my road, aptly named Paradise, we clicked out of our skis. A quick walk and we were home, drinking beers. As we sat in the dining room, I gazed out the window and saw my little peak.

Two sets of tracks etched into its face.

This reader essay was first published in the November 2013 issue of Backcountry Magazine. For a chance to have your essay published in Backcountry, e-mail it to, subject titled “Backstory.”


  1. Love it, Jay!

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