Words by Felix Jauvin
So the other day I was skinning up East Col into the Blackcomb Backcountry and it dawned on me: where are all the bootpackers?
Now, a clear distinction must be made before moving forward. There are two types of bootpackers in the backcountry. There’s the inexperienced cotton-wearing, backpack-not-having, avalanche-awareness-lacking straggler who is booting up in the main skin track, and then there’s the war-hardened mountain veteran badass who refuses to get with the times and is ‘packin his way over to Husume with a couple of his/her buddies who’ve seen a thing or two in the mountains throughout their lives. The latter is who I am talking about.
The person who still rocks 18 DIN alpine bindings on their all-metal skis because they refuse to sacrifice an inch of performance. The type of person who has ski mountaineered big lines in the Waddington but prefers the simplicity of a classic wallow in the snow. The type of person who is too in love with the simple art of sliding down snow that they don’t have time for such petty considerations as “tech bindings”. It can be argued that (with an attempt to not sound melodramatic) these people are the heart and soul of skiing.
So what happened to them?
Has the uptrend of volume in the backcountry simply drowned these folks out? Did backcountry gear get so efficient and reliable that even these guys finally switched to skinning? Did they just quit skiing now that the backcountry is so blown out and too mainstream (I say, very sarcastically)?
It seems that in the past 10 years throughout this revolution of the backcountry experience, if you will, it has perhaps led astray many from the initial motivations that led to them pursuing these backcountry endeavours.
My musings on the disappearance of the traditional bootpacker are shallow. It’s fairly obvious that there is simply much better gear available these days compared to ten years ago. However, what the trend represents is a paradigm shift in how the experience of the backcountry is perceived.
I remember in my (not so distant) youth, I cut my teeth in the backcountry attempting to skin up Oboe off Whistler Mountain with Alpine Trekker bindings slotted into my 80mm park skis. Back then, tech bindings were generally reserved for the true mountain woman/man and the clunky touring binding adapters were left for the rest of us dilettantes. Tech bindings were still under exclusive patents so there were no major competitors and everyone was basically on the same gear. What this nurtured was an environment in which no one was out there for self-indulgent reasons but rather to experience the awesome (in the truest sense of the word) power of the mountains.
Before I have everyone clicking away in abhorrence to my elitist, cynical, and crusty ramblings, I argue that it does provide an insight to the shift we’ve seen over this past decade or so.
As a self-described gear addict and perpetrator of this shift in perception, I think it is important for me and for everyone else who is a self-described gear nerd to take a second to reassess why we are out there:
It’s not to flaunt the hottest gear of the year on the skin track.
It’s not to look in disdain at others for not having the latest and greatest gear going.
For me, it’s a sanctuary in which I can escape the daily cycle of life and feel something a bit more real.
For you, it can be whatever you want it to be. But I just hope you find meaningful value in it. If that means bootpacking nearby lines off your local resort, then by all means I encourage it.
Read more from Felix and the guys on Doglotion.com.