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Alta States

Beyond the lifts – Finding a little soul at Sol



"Are you ready for some powder skiing?"

Aaron Cooperman's daily morning greeting.


The silence is near total. All I can hear is the soft swish of my ski skins against the snow. Every now and then the faint beep-beep of my transceiver imposes its electronic pulse on the local soundscape. But nothing else intrudes on my solitude.

I stop and take a deep breath. Let the view entrance my eyes. Up ahead a fairytale peak, almost perfect in its pyramidal geometry. Beyond that, in the distance, a miasma of un-named summits, steep, snow-pasted and remote. Nearer, a scrum of balsam, hunkered together against the forces of winter. And on and on and on and on. It's beautiful.

I can feel my heart beating solidly against my chest. Feel the good ache of legitimate effort in my muscles. Another half hour of climbing, I remind myself, and I'll be standing on my first summit of the day. My face slowly spreads into a smile of pleasure. I've arrived. Peace descends upon me.

Backcountry skiing. Earning your own turns. Climbing for your powder. For some, those words evoke a fate worse than death. What? Ski without a chairlift? No way! Climb all day just to get the vertical you might get in two full-mountain runs at Whistler? Never! Break into a sweat before you even descend? You gotta be crazy...

But for a growing subset of snoweaters, the self-propelled ski-trip model is the only responsible way to go. And it's a no-brainer for most. Featuring a more balanced cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline - and a contemplative aspect that is hard to resist once you've experienced it - 21 st century ski touring offers one of the most fun ways to explore a mountain place in winter without leaving a huge ecological footprint behind.

And its appeal is definitely spreading. From baby boomers to millennials, from casual bike racers to hardcore triathletes, the list of backcountry skiers is expanding faster right now than any other segment of the ski and snowboard industry.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Ski touring is real, man. You can't fake it. At the end of the day, you've either climbed enough to soothe your downhill habit - or you haven't. It's all about self-empowerment. And desire. And curiosity of course. But mostly it's about fitness... the mental and physical fitness it takes to step up and take responsibility for your own upward journey.

But modern ski touring has more going for it than just its return-to-basics philosophy. And with the proliferation of commercial mountain operations springing up across the province in recent times, the range of self-propelled adventures available out there has never been more diverse - or enchanting.

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