MRT Big Mountain Team & Athletes realized a dream in early March, making a pilgrimage to Oregon’s Wallowa mountains for snowmobile-assisted ski touring. 3 groups made the journey to Northeastern Oregon, each getting a day to experience a guided trip into the Catherine Creek area just outside of La Grande with Eagle Cap Mountain Guides (https://eaglecapmountainguides.com ), as well as a day of shredding Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort. For most of these young athletes, and the parents who were lucky enough to accompany them, this was the skiing experience of a lifetime.
Coach Ben McKinley spent many hours coordinating 3 separate groups of athletes and their parents (and a coach) to ski with Eagle Cap Mountain Guides, a team he has skied with for years. Each day started with a 7:30 meet at the Catherine Creek Trailhead near La Grande. From there the group drove snowmobiles about 6 miles up a snow-covered road until the trail became steep enough to start skinning. ECMG’s unequaled knowledge of the terrain and snowpack enabled all the groups to find the GOODS! Powder, steeps, trees, and open bowls were on the menu, and the eating was all-time. After ascending and skiing up to 5,000’ in a day, each group came back to the cars with tired legs and a new level of stoke for skiing. “Best ski day of my life”, was a common theme.
Touring has become an important component of MRT’s Big Mountain team. It encompasses backcountry travel awareness, avalanche safety protocol, group planning and dynamics, and an awareness of how to find suitable terrain for any given weather and snow condition. But perhaps most importantly, touring is a way to ski untracked powder in places where most skiers never get the chance. “We’ve been talking about getting young athletes to experience backcountry travel for a few years, and this year marked a turning point in that evolution,” explains head coach Ben. “Since (coach) Ted Wardlaw and I began coaching together, this has been one of our main goals, and seeing young athletes embrace the skills, education, and hard work is beyond gratifying.”
Earlier in the season, several groups got to experience touring for the first time, cruising up the Vista Trail just to the south boundary of Meadows. The focus was to build the skills of skinning uphill, transitioning from uphill to downhill modes, terrain selection, and the essential awareness of layering, hydration, and nutrition. After a few practice sessions, the stage was set for a bigger adventure. And while Covid restrictions limited the numbers for this season, it was a great opportunity to test the concept and get feedback with an eye toward the future.
In the coming seasons, backcountry touring will go hand in hand with Big Mountain Competition preparation. The skills are complimentary, and will help us build our athletes into the ultimate all-mountain skiers with skills that translate beyond the resort. We look forward to offering more opportunities like the Wallowa trip in coming seasons, as well as expanded touring in the Mt Hood zone, and even multi-day experiences. The sky is the limit, and the best is yet to come!