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Telemark Skiing on the Muir Snowfield (9000ft)

Paradise, Mt Rainier National Park

November 28, 2009


Bryon Free, Loren Miller and I all had Saturday off from work, so we headed down to Paradise at Mt Rainier National Park to do some telemark skiing. We had thought about skiing closer to home, but the high freezing level convinced us to drive south. Bryon and Loren are excellent Tele-skiers so it was fun to get out and learn from these guys!

We made good time leaving Seattle around 6:20am and arriving at the Longmire gate about 8:30am. It was snowing lightly and only 4 inches fell the night before, so we hoped the gate leading up to Paradise would open on time at 9am. There was one SUV with eager skiers already waiting in front of the gate! We decided to stretch our legs and waited inside the National Park Inn admiring all the great pictures on the wall and smelling the great food coming from the dining room. Kim and I stayed here a few times before with my sister and brother-in-law, which is always a good time!

Our wait wasn't long as the gate was opened about 10 minutes til, so we headed back to the car and continued up to Paradise. We were the fifth car in the parking lot and were surprised to see a ranger directing us where to park. Wow, what service! The other cars were filled with other backcountry enthusiasts with skis, snowshoes, snowboards, and sleds! It was still snowing lightly and everyone was excited as we put on our boots.

Loren was sporting his new Scarpa NTN (New Tele Norm) boots to go with his NTN bindings that he mounted on his Volkl Bridge skis. Loren and I were both envious of Bryon with his easy touring Black Diamond O1 bindings on his Atomic Kailas skis. These bindings have a "tour mode" that allows the heel to rise about 60 degrees off the deck of the ski making skinning a breeze! I couldn't feel too bad as I had my sweet G3 Baron skis with G3 Targa bindings that I got from our fellow co-worker, Dan Zittel!

There was a good boot track, but we put on our skins anyway and headed up from the parking lot. It was around 9:20am. We took a casual pace and made our way up to Alta Vista and continued on to the ridge below Glacier Vista. Most people were boot packing it straight up the faceb below Panarama Point, but we decided to put in a ski track up the summer trail route to the left. The snow was pretty consolidated for the most part, but there were a few spots where our skis sloughed off the top 8 inches or so down to a rain/wind crust.

Soon we were at Pebble Creek, 7200', and making good progress. A few openings in the clouds provided views of the upper mountain and even teased us with blue skies and sunshine! We took a break around 7400' and ate some food and drank some water. This was my first ski tour of the season and my legs and lungs were telling me so. It was about 11:30am and we were averaging a little under 1000' per hour. Not too bad!

We ran into a few thin spots were the rocks were poking through around 7400-7500' but above that the coverage and conditions were excellent! We stopped around 8500' and took another break and enjoyed Loren's bacon shortbread cookies. I know, it sounds kinda freaky but they were actually really good! After the break, Bryon took the lead again and continued to cruise up the track. Loren and I could blame our bindings which don't tour as well as Bryon's, but in the end we admitted we were just out of shape! But I kept telling Loren that we were in the right place: in the mountains, with our skis, working hard!

Around moon rocks the snow got pretty crusty and two snowboarders came down making a lot of noise as their boards scraped across the hard, windpacked, snow. They had made it to Camp Muir and said it was like this all the way up. That information made us feel better about making this our highpoint and just skiing down. We took one last break enjoying a can of Fat Tire courtesy of Dan Zittel!

We had some nice turns down to around 7000' then took off our skis and made our way through the rocks to the face below Panarama Point. Two snowshoers caught up to us as we made our way through the rocks and joked that we had better look out or they would beat us back down to the parking lot. We laughed at this and said it wouldn't be the first time we were passed! Loren gave me some good tips earlier on keeping weight over my pinky toe of my back foot during turns. This made a huge difference in my ability to make consistent turns.

We followed the ridge down to the right of Alta Vista and then continued down the drainage above where the old Jackson Vistor center was. The snow was good here and we found some stashes of untracked snow as cut back to the main parking lot. There were many people playing in the snow as we arrived at the car. When we left in the morning there were only 10 cars, now there were 50. We took off our boots loaded up the car with our gear then went in to the new Visitor Center to take a look. This was my first time in the new building and I would have liked to explore it more, but my left foot suddenly started to ache and we had promised ourselves a stop at Sonic for a burger in South Hill/Spanaway.

Thanks guys for a great day out in the mountains and for giving me good tips to improve my telemark skiing!