California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada boasts more than a dozen 14,000-foot peaks, some of the longest lines in the country from high alpine to sagebrush, and a ski history dating to the 1800s. Yet, very few skiers ply its slopes when winter brings a deep, often stable snowpack. Indeed, the Eastern Sierra Nevada is the wild west of American skiing–an oasis of untraveled lines in an increasingly-crowded ski mountaineering landscape.
We’re in four-low, breaking trail, red-lining the old Landcruiser through virgin, hub-deep snow like some overloaded pirate tug angling for a beach upon which to run aground. The tires throw chunks of slush into the air. Sagebrush claws at the doors. We’ve got skis up top, and full packs. We’ve got store-bought firewood, ropes, ice axes and crampons, a pair of two-burner Colemans, and furnishings enough for a first-class safari base camp. We’ve got the windows down and elbows toasting in the sun. We’ve got the country station on the radio, because it’s all we can get.
“This is some real American shit right here,” says Ben, thereby establishing a kind of mantra, and at the same time opening a complex and endlessly bifurcating line of inquiry into what exactly “real American shit” might mean and where we and our skis and all this gear — and this place of big, upended topography — might fit into it…
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