Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mores Creek Summit a great jump off point for backcountry skiing, snowshoeing

Steve, Randy and Mark on top of the ridge

Mark Anderson, a super human who loves to break trail
(Map courtesy Mores Creek Summit backcountry blog)

Hi all,

This week's tip is for the more adventurous souls who seek to find readily accessible good-quality virgin powder close to Boise. But not at a ski resort.

Your trailhead is Mores Creek Summit, 15 miles northeast of Idaho City. This is the jump-off point for accessing a trio of peaks, Pilot Peak, Freeman Peak or Sunset Mountain -- all peaks in the 8,000-foot range that offer multiple aspects for great powder skiing.

When it snows hard at Bogus Basin, smart and experienced backcountry skiers know that the powder skiing and riding at Pilot, Freeman and Sunset is going to be fantastic.
Check out this video from a group of guys who were skiing Freeman Peak last spring (courtesy Ande1717 on YouTube). Yeow!
A group of six of us went up to ski some east-facing shots at Pilot Peak last weekend, and we had a great time. We climbed the mountain three times, and had untracked snow the whole way. By the end of the day, we were tired and chilled to the bone from all of the sweating, but it's nothing that a nice, soothing soak in a hot tub won't fix in a matter of seconds.

Before you go, you need to gear up with backcountry equipment, brush up on your avalanche know-how and study some maps. Ideally, you should go with someone who has been there before. After several trips, you'll get familiar with natural landmarks and learn where the best turns can be had. It's a good idea to dig a snowpit and gauge the avalanche danger before your first run.

Thanks to Chago and a group of guys who have created a great blog about skiing out of the Mores Creek Summit area. Check it out for photos, snowpit information and maps.

From a gear perspective, backcountry folks ski with either telemark gear or alpine touring (randonee) gear. Both have a free heel for climbing. You bring climbing skins to put on your skis for the way up the mountain, and then stow them for the way down. Snowboarders either bring a split board with climbing skins or they climb with snowshoes and stow them for the ride down.

Check with Idaho Mountain Touring, Boise REI or Greenwoods in Boise for obtaining the gear.

Be aware that the Mores Creek Summit area is a mixed-use zone, meaning that snowmobile riders use the area as well as backcountry skiers. Several years ago, we all worked together to delineate some areas that are best for skiing close to the road, and snowmobile riders have agreed to leave those powder slopes for skiers. But the main haul road up to Pilot Peak and Sunset Peak often have snowmobile traffic. Try to be courteous and step off to the side of the trail when snowmobiles approach.

If you want to avoid snowmobiles, Freeman Peak is the best place to get away from them. You'll need to park in the large pullout on Idaho 21 before you get to Mores Creek Summit, and watch for the ski trail heading up the gulch.

Backcountry skiing isn't for everyone. But one of the beauties of the sport is that it's hard enough that you can always find a great powder stache to enjoy. If it were easy, the whole mountain would be carved up in seconds. So get out there and try it sometime.

- SS