Uphill Zen

Uphill Zen
-John Cameronthecameroncontemporary.

There was no wind above tree line. It is rare to see the continental divide in central Colorado so silent and still. To reach the top of the divide we used my favorite method, skiing uphill on backcountry ski gear. The motion is repetitive but at times meditative.

Choosing a route uphill is arguably more important than the route you will be taking downhill since more time is spent traveling uphill than down. Maximizing an efficient route that gains the
right elevation over the right distance is an art that takes practice and can have long lasting benefits to others who follow. It is also a skill that can be perfected over time.

Through trial and error, wondering up the side of a mountain becomes more than just a means to reach the top. The side of the mountain is where the forest grows. During a mid-season ski tour I traveled with a group of friends toward the top of our objective knowing that the route we were to take is where to find the meaning.

A big storm had set down several inches of fresh snow onto the high peaks of Colorado. As we traveled deeper into the mountains it was apparent that no one else had been there since the snow had fallen. Our tracks were like the first brush strokes painted on a canvas.

We took turns breaking in a new uphill track and choosing a path of least resistance.

Skiing uphill is not as arduous as some might think. Touring or skinning as it is also called requires a type of binding that allows the heel to move freely while traveling uphill and climbing skins affixed to the bases of the skis to capture forward progress. The rhythm of each step becomes contemplative, and meditative as the binding hinges and the ski glides forward.

For the leader, choosing a route that is too steep, like hiking straight up hill, is exhausting. Likewise, a route along something like a railroad grade will cover several miles without any significant elevation gain. An ideal route would follow contours in the terrain that strike the perfect balance between elevation gain and distance traveled to maximize uphill efficiency.

A thoughtful uphill track will have few switchback and minimize the need for kickturns. The route instead should lace through changes in topography curving to meet the shape of the mountain as it unfolds.

A thoughtful uphill track also travels through areas that minimize a skier’s exposure to avalanche risk. It should avoid crossing below, through or on top of areas where avalanche hazard is suspect.

While a route across the snow is ephemeral a good uptrack can last an entire season. Even with passing snow storms an existing uptrack can be spotted faintly hidden in the snow. The narrow compression left by passing skis indicates a path of least resistance.

Re-establishing an existing uptrack saves time and each passing skier contributes by compressing and compacting the snow and leaving a firm surface for the next skier behind them. Over time the track begins to take shape like a small trail at least until the spring temperatures turn it back into water.

A thoughtful uphill track makes better use of skiable terrain with fewer tracks crossing the slopes where the downhill turns will be made.

A thoughtful uphill track is aesthetic.

While touring, the ski up is not just a means to an end. It shouldn’t be rushed but instead should be planned. It is an opportunity to be present in the moment because like the winter season itself, it will be over before you know it.
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