The Elusive Glen Poulsen: Traveling the world with a quiet skintrack crusher

The name Poulsen is well know in California’s Lake Tahoe area—in 1938, Wayne Poulsen bought land in the Squaw Valley area upon which he later developed a world-renowned ski area. Glen, Wayne’s son, grew up on the slopes with his family, but from a young age, he ventured deeper into the Eastern Sierra to see what the world beyond ski areas had to offer. Now the 58-year-old guide’s travels take him well beyond his Tahoe City home to places like Antarctica and Asia’s Altai Mountains. Joining him on many of those adventures is ski-mountaineer Andrew McLean, who calls his longtime friend “The Elusive Snow Leopard.” Here’s what McLean had to say about time spent on the skintrack with his secretive friend.

A rare snow leopard sighting—Glen Poulsen enjoys his coffee long enough for photographer Christian Pondella to take a portrait.

I got to know Glen through the Ice Axe Expeditions’ Antarctic ski cruise. He’s a Squaw Valley local, and Doug Stoup, the owner of Ice Axe Expeditions, is also from Squaw Valley. Doug hired Glen to be one of his guides and, since then, Glen and I have been on every trip down there together. I’ve also been up to Svalbard with him with Ice Axe and, a few years ago, we did a trip up to Alaska together, as well as a trip to Kashmir in 2017.

He is very focused on skiing, easy to get along with and always says ‘yes’ to trips, which is great. We share the same outlook on skiing. When we’re trying to figure out what to do on any given day, we have similar ideas and strategies, so it’s fun to ski with him. 

We were skiing together down in Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina this year and started out with a group of five other guides who were all headed to the top of Mt. Martial. We were skinning together, and I was in front, but I wasn’t paying attention to who was following along on my skintrack. At one point, I looked up and see another person way ahead of me, which turned out to be Glen. He had gone his own way, which was far better, and got to the same place but way ahead of me. That’s classic Poulsen; he’s smooth, efficient and always picks the best line. He’s just an incredibly good backcountry skier, and if you’re going somewhere and he has a better idea, he’ll forge his own path. He has a really good eye for lines, is safe and is always willing to break trail. 

Whenever you’re discussing skiing with Glen, he’s reluctant to make his plans public. He keeps his options open and likes to do his own thing if he thinks something might be better. He also likes first tracks and doesn’t like touring with large groups of people. He is very friendly and hosts great parties, but when it comes to skiing, he is elusive, cagey and always on the prowl, which is why I refer to him as the snow leopard. He doesn’t write articles, post photos or talk about where he’s going or what he’s done. He does it all, though: backcountry skiing, Nordic skiing and flying planes. 

We’ve talked about putting together a spring trip to the Altai Mountains in Mongolia, but he’s been there a few times so we were thinking about branching out and trying something else. I’m not sure what he has in mind, though, as of course, he wouldn’t say.

As I’ve gotten to know Glen over the years, I’ve developed an ever-deepening respect for him. He has an infinite passion for skiing, and he loves being in the mountains. He’s a great friend and every time you’re around him, you’re also around other people who are passionate about skiing. 

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