First Ascent snowboarder Wyatt Caldwell recently checked in from sunny Idaho, where his season started late but came back strong with sled-accessed splitboard missions and deep immersion into Smith’s Prospecting Idaho project. In the post below, Wyatt gives us the update on stocking the yurt, ripping Baldy’s Banked Slalom and building backcountry booters at an abandoned mine site. -EB Editor
Words by Wyatt Caldwell, photos by Yancy Caldwell
Winter arrived late this year in Idaho and the Northwest and this year was the latest I have ever had to wait to make some deep Idaho pow turns. But, better late than never. When the conditions finally lined up with a few much-needed big dumps, it was game on to search out the stable powder.
The backcountry riding this year more than ever has reminded us all how much we enjoy recreating in the vast Idaho mountain ranges and how lucky we are to be able to explore them on a daily basis. The snowpack has remained stable on most aspects, even steep slopes, for the past few weeks making for great turns.
Yet, the first three feet of fresh snow made traveling into the woods with gear and splitboard strapped to the sleds a chore. With all the air and hollowness in the snow, we’ve had some good laughs watching each other sink and get stuck on the snowmobiles just trying to get to our touring spot to park the sleds. With the mining road access, we’ve been able to shuttle into a higher drop off point, allowing three times the vertical of powder turns than what we’d otherwise have to skin up. Some days it is not evident, until climbing up to 9,000 feet from 7,000, that it snowed three inches of cornflakes and the top layer of snow is now twice as photogenic as it blows off the trees floating around in the morning sunlight sparkling.
Avalanche conditions were high at first but the new snow locked up and bonded well with the old surface hoar layer of facets and the snowpack became more sable. Sunny blue skies have been few and far between, but we have made the best of what we’ve been given, getting out in the woods and getting good turns in good light.
My brother Yancy and I have also been helping Smith Optics get their 900-acre backcountry laboratory up and running for the season by cutting roads with the sleds and snowcat as well as making sure the new 26-foot-wide yurt is functional with lanterns, propane, BBQ, firewood, and stocked with food and bedding.
Smith athletes have been passing through and I have been guiding them out on splitboards and snowmobiles to show them the lay of the land in our backyard playground. I have over 10 years of exploring experience in this particular zone, so I help point out where the mining shaft hazards are and where the good lines and steep landings can be found. I also help the crew coordinate getting some killer shots launching off cliffs, pillows, or the many hand-built kickers we have dug using abandoned mine tailing piles for landings.
This past month has also been full of splitboard missions to find new long powder runs, some even under the light of a full moon as we break in the yurt. I have been testing the new batch of MTN Approach skis for added strength in the hinges, and building and hitting a few massive booters filming for Prospecting Idaho and this year’s YES snowboards film.
February also brought a few memorable deep days riding in Sun Valley resort, 3,000 vertical foot powder runs with good friends and family as well as building and participating in the first annual Baldy Banked Slalom event. It has been great to be out in the mountains this cold time of year, dialing in my kit of camping gear and tools for safe backcountry travel in preparation for a long journey north to Alaska to search out some new untouched lines on our planned snow camping trip on the glacier outside of Haines. With all the training missions we’ve completed this season, we’ll be ready.
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