Before ski season had even begun, we challenged you to "Show Us How You Ski Skyward." Today we’re stoked to share the adventures that our contest winners had with their Skyward Kit over the winter—and to stoke your inspiration for trying out your very own set next season.
For a weekend warrior, it’s always easy to come up with excuses: “conditions weren’t perfect,” “avalanche danger was too high,” or a personal favorite: “I found a new bakery that I need to evaluate again, more thoroughly.”
In any event, I haven’t ventured out into the backcountry as many times this winter as I would have liked. Yet of the trips I've made it on, the Skyward II Kit I’ve been testing has performed better than I ever would have expected.
For three awesome weekends, the weather, and avalanche considerations lined up perfectly and made for everything that I love about backcountry skiing. Here are some memories from those times, and general gratitude for the landscape of my home state of Washington.
November 2018 Mount Baker: Heliotrope
Not a whole lot could have lined up better than this day in the Mount Baker area. The trailhead and bulk of the approach trail were snow free, which made for fast travel to the snowline. Light and fresh snow greeted us as we gained Heliotrope Ridge itself. Conditions were stable on the western aspects we picked for the day, and this allowed us to take multiple laps in the fresh, cold November snow. Over the last couple years, I have been fortunate enough to have several prime November days in the backcountry, and this was certainly one of them.
The day was characterized by brilliant sun and a biting wind. The cold temps kept us moving and I was thankful for the shell properties of the Skyward II kit. It seemed like the right tool for the job that day! Layering under the Skyward jacket is made easy by the relaxed fit. I can comfortably fit the Ascendant Hoody or a light down jacket as a mid-layer. I tend to run warm, so I appreciate a touring system that keeps it simple and doesn’t go above two layers.
November 2018 Mount Rainier: Golden Gate Bowls and Edith Creek
Another early season sunny day in Washington! Snow levels began at higher elevations at this point in November, so we decided to start out as high as we could, which meant taking advantage of the elevation of Paradise, Mount Rainier. There are several drawbacks to touring around Paradise; gate closures/management, often heavily wind impacted snow and crowds. But, year after year, I seem to find myself there often in the winter.
For this trip we were content to spend the day taking laps near Paradise and see what coverage we could find. The snowpack itself was indeed low, with lots of brush, creeks and rocks making travel (both up and down) often difficult. Views were stellar as always—maybe this is why I keep coming back to Rainier’s south side! Bright sun, clear skies and a south-facing aspect for much of the terrain meant that the fresh snow got saturated and heavy quite quickly. We enjoyed several runs, some wallowing and a brief creek portage before gate closure forced us back toward our car.
Much of this trip was spent touring in the sun rather than skiing, so I opted for a lighter layering system. While touring I wore the Skyward Pants and Deviator Hoody, which worked well in the warmer temperatures. When transitioning and on the downhill I threw on the Skyward Jacket over top. The jacket has great stretch and allows for comfortable maneuverability. I would say a favorite feature of the Skyward kit is the stretchy element of the material. It may not be the formidable water barrier of a heavy-duty, 3-layer Goretex, but the Skyward seems to far exceed the heavier shells in terms of comfort and maneuverability. It even accommodates the ‘Beacon Bump’ quite nicely!
January 2019 Snoqualmie Backcountry: Pineapple Pass and Source Lake
Avalanche danger had been elevated for several weeks making backcountry ski planning hard in the Cascades. One window did seem to open in the third week of the month as a fresh rain crust looked to be holding the weaker layers in place. Weather itself was cloudy, but visibility was good enough to encourage my fiancé and I to head out for some time in the backyard: Snoqualmie!
Dealing with a potentially icy rain crust would make for less than ideal skinning in heavy trees—you tell yourself it’s fun until you slip straight into a tree. Taking this into consideration we settled on a shorter trip to Pineapple Pass via Source Lake. Open slopes and snow-filled gullies characterize much of the terrain above the lake and with several inches of fresh snow overnight, skinning and skiing the crust was expected to be fast and smooth.
By the time we reached Pineapple Pass there were quite a few parties visible in the Source Lake valley making their way in the direction of Chair Peak. Clouds and flat light came and went, but we ended up with a solid 15 minutes of clear conditions to take the run down from the pass to the boulder field and exit gullies. Shallow wind deposited snow at the top of the pass made for the best turns of the day, but surprisingly the fresh snow on top of the crust skied better than we expected; quick and smooth with only a little bit of scraping. Once below the gullies it was a focus-obliging descent out the slick, forested valley up-track—more like a roller coaster than anything else, as you are equally in no control of your speed and direction.
Access to the backcountry around Alpental is incredible and truly a treat to have so close to home. Overall it was fun day made excellent by the company and in a place I love to call home.