Headlamp beams push back the early morning darkness, frozen breath hangs in the air, the steady swish-swish of mohair in the skin track promises untouched snow and freedom from the crowds and lines of the resort. Sounds like paradise, right?
One of the greatest feelings for a skier is stepping into your bindings at the top of an untouched face with the early morning sun glistening on freshly fallen snow. Just you and a few friends, the mountain all to yourselves. There's no doubt that backcountry skiing opens up a whole world of untracked snow to those willing to put in the work to earn their turns.
But what about the grind uphill? All that work and sweat, to get only a few thousand feet of actual skiing? Why not just go to the resort? Catch up with your friends in comfort as the chair whisks you straight to the top. The convenience of a motorized chair that gets you lap after lap- hours of skiing without all the work- is pretty hard to look down your nose at. Skiers across the country make a pilgrimage to the mountains every weekend to get first chair and a shot at the first run down perfectly groomed corduroy. It doesn't hurt that there's a hot meal and cold beverage waiting for you in the lodge whenever your legs are starting to tell you they're ready for a break, too.
So my question is: which do you think is more fun? The solitude, adventure and accomplishment of hiking yourself to that untouched powder stash? Or maximizing your vertical and cruising runs on and off piste at the resort?
At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
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Ever since moving to California I am drifting away from resort downhill skiing due to primarily large crowds, exorbitant rates (one cane nearly completely gear-up at the cost of three years worth of season passes, not even mentioning regularly purchased lift tickets), and the fact that the resorts are closed at 4pm, which is ridiculous during the most of the season.
As far as the backcountry goes I probably even more interested in exploring new terrain than chasing powder. XC skiing has limited use in Sierras (although there are plenty of routes to explore, too), hence AT. Sure, in backcountry you need more expensive gear, be substantially more physically fit and learn a lot more tricks and skills than in inbound recreation, but it all ultimately pays off.
As you pointed out, there are pros and cons in both types of activity, but I cannot help but slowly drift away from resort skiing.