Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Spooning your tracks

A backcountry ethic espoused in some circles is the notion of “spooning your tracks.” What this means, in a nutshell, is that you ski down essentially in adjacent (think parallel, even though they’re not really parallel since you’re not going straight unless you’re Ben) lines so as to minimize the amount of snow disturbed on the descent and to maximize the amount of “virgin” snow available to subsequent skiers.


To those advocating this position, I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

Seriously, you want me to spoon my tracks? I got up at 4:30 in the morning and hiked for these turns in the dark. As often as not my group broke the trail. And you, who apparently don’t have a real job, want to sleep in until nine, use the skin track I put in, and have me leave the snow as pristine as possible for your benefit?

That. Ain’t. Happening. I’m going to ski down where I feel like skiing down. If the tracks get spooned, lucky you. If they don’t, that’s my prerogative.

For one, I don’t see the need. Most of my skiing is done in what locals lovingly refer to as the sheep pen, the tri-canyons of Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood, and Millcreek. For what it’s worth, most of my time is in Little Cottonwood, the most crowded of them all. The one where the most popular backcountry runs have actually become bumped out on occasion. I’ve never even skied Millcreek.

And yet I rarely if ever feel crowded. I might cross over someone’s tracks now and again, but that really doesn’t ruin the experience for me. If it does for you, get up earlier, or go somewhere else. We have thousands of acres with approaches that would be considered negligible in Colorado or Idaho that hardly ever get skied because they take five minutes longer to get to.

Besides, most of the time in the Wasatch if it snowed today, there’s a good chance it’ll snow tomorrow. My tracks will be hidden. I may put new tracks down the following day since I’ve been known to get up early for consecutive powder days. But yesterday’s tracks will be a faded memory. You’re more than welcome to get up early and put in your own. With 500 inches annually, we don’t have a shortage of fresh snow.

The place where spooning tracks actually makes sense is in the resorts. Resort skiing concentrates thousands of skiers in one tiny spot where they have the ability to get back up the hill incredibly quickly and with zero effort. Unless you consider eating a PBJ or a handful of M&Ms effort. Yet nobody ever considers spooning their tracks at the resort. It’s every man for himself, get the freshies as fast as you can. And it’s usually gone by noon.

The Wizard, on the other hand, rarely skis anything but powder, no matter how long it’s been since the last snowfall. It’s out there. It’s almost always out there if you know how to find it. But please don’t ask me to save some for you if you’re home in bed while I’m skinning.


  1. We call it "stack your tracks". And when I lived in Crested Butte it almost went to fists many times when I decided to slash the mountain my own way instead of "preserving the powder". Kinda funny that all those hippies in that town would get so aggro about their powder 8 turns. (Its also something they force you to do at Targhee Cat Skiing too, hence why I have no desire to go cat skiing there) I dont follow this rule at all. Can you get any less creative in your skiing if all your tracks look like this? I mean at least bust out some GS turns, have some fun out there. And yes I snowboard (insert insults here) but I also find tons of powder, just look at all my pictures on my blog and go through the archives. This is Utah, we usually get a storm every week to cover up the old tracks. I bet I find fresher lines sometimes on Baldy at Snowbird than some people do off their skin tracks too.

  2. For a minute I thought you were going to tell me to spoon tracks. I was going to puke. What if the jack rabbit that went down first was like a buddy of mine that does not believe in turning? Then what? I have to scorch down the powder and make 3 turns. You climb the mountain you earned your turn on the hill and should do what makes you happy. Even if it does not snow for a week.

    By the way I watched the Holy Grail again the other night. The whole hamster and elderberries quote kills me every time.

  3. Have you ever tried spooning with a knuckle-dragger? It's worse than trying to spoon with a porcupine. Damn knuckle-draggers...

  4. Excellent graphic. I love blogs with graphics.

  5. Forrest, when I say "ski," I mean that as a catch-all that includes snowboarders. Because I hate the verb "ride" in this context just as much as I hate the use of "they" as a non-gender-specific singular pronoun. Skiers do not have a monopoly on finding powder. Anyone who's been skiing more than ten years knows that it's only been in the last ten years that we had equipment that was anywhere near as good as a snowboard in powder. Not that I'm a snowboard apologist or anything.

    Blackdog, your buddy should ski with Ben. Ben doesn't believe in making turns either. 40 minutes to skin up, 15 seconds to ski down.

    Aaron, don't get me started on porcupine mating rituals. Alex told me what he wouldn't publish in his blog. It's disturbing.

    Watcher, I love blogs with graphics too. Your swinging a dead cat graphic reminds me of a story that I may include in my blog someday. Maybe.

  6. Looking forward to the first snow pics of the year. Was hoping to see one today when your commentary begun. Maybe tomorrow?

  7. Come down to the UC. Nobody leaves any tracks to spoon.

  8. the only track etiquette that applies to hikers (i say, being an admitted beater)is don't poach the line of the guy who broke trail. trail breakers go first.

    your actual line is your own business.

  9. MOCougFan, still waiting for more snow. The Wizard and the Samurai have been out, but they have a higher tolerance for equipment damage and injury risk than I do. Check their sites for pics.

    Adam, Looking forward to it.

    Dug, agreed. Although the opportunities to descend ahead of the guy who broke trail are rare. Given that he broke trail and is by definition in front of you.

  10. "Given that he broke trail and is by definition in front of you."

    except followers can move about twice as fast as trailbreakers, so it's not uncommon to catch a trailbreaker just as he reaches the top. he might need a minute to catch his breath.

    during said minute, one should not poach his line. that's all i'm sayin.

  11. Once when I was 15 or 16 years old we were hiking up near Alta to do a little snowboarding (back in the day when the only way up for boarders was on foot). We were thrilled to find this nice compacted zig zagging track up to the top of the bowl. For some reason the backcountry skiers skiing the same bowl were not very happy with us. Jerks!

  12. Dug, no argument here.

    JZ, been there, done that. I was on snowshoes. The guy who passed me said "this is a nice skintrack, isn't it."

    "Sure is," I naively responded.

    "Why don't you quit ruining it then," he said as he skinned past, having broken new trail until he caught us.

  13. like blackdog, i initially thought your post was going to encourage this behavior. i had picked up my phone to text you and let you know that someone had hacked into your blogger account and was making ridiculous posts. it didn't take long for your voice to come through and i was able to calmly put my phone down.

  14. This is very good news for someone (like myself perhaps) that lacks the coordination necessary to form spooned tracks.

    Skiers and their high-horses drive me nuts. My dad has managed a ski patrol (of an unnamed resort) for many years. I grew up with those dudes having rules for everything. Rules, rules, rules.

    Can't we just go out, play in the snow and have fun? Geez.

    And speaking of rules, it's not "ski patrol" anymore. It's "mountain patrol." If you say "ski", the boarders get angry and threaten to call PITA or the NAACP or whatever the crap they use these days.

    See? Rules.