The Ultimate Day of Backcountry Boarding, via Vail Pass

A long day of cat skiing, splitboarding, and sled-towing deep in the Colorado backcountry, captured on 35mm film

The Ultimate Day of Backcountry Boarding, via Vail Pass

Author

Graham Hiemstra

Photographer

Graham Hiemstra

Camera

Contax T2

Film

Kodak Portra 100

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Field Mag's benevolent overlord, formerly of the PNW and now residing in NYC. We apologize in advance for his many mispellings.

You've heard of Vail. But Minturn? Not likely. And many locals there would prefer it stay that way (sorry!). The quiet former-mining town has long been home to service workers and ski bums priced out by their fancy neighbors to the northeast—just a few miles over the looming ridge line sits Vail Resort.

During our brief stay over a recent weekend we heard more than one grumbling of Vailification of the tiny one-road town. Being smack dab in the middle of some of Colorado’s most legendary terrain will do that to ya. But for now things seem stable—you can still grill your own steak at the Minturn Country Club, and the historic Minturn Saloon still churns out cheap beer and its signature qual platters—and snow is falling, so the vibe is still right.

We lucked out with a weather window, and our local guides from Minturn-based snowboard maker Weston Backcountry were eager to show us one hell of an authentic time. The community-focused brand is all about getting outdoor enthusiasts into the backcountry, and respecting both Mother Nature and other outdoorists in the process. (Weston provides scholarships for local female riders in getting avy certified, raise funds for public lands, and support veterans by giving 10% of profits from specific collab boards to the National Forest Foundation, American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), and the 10th Mountain Division Foundation.)

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Though our one day trip was brief, it was long, with a nonstop combination of human- and machine-powered backcountry exploration. We made the trek into the Vail Pass backcountry by way of suped up 1970s-era Tucker snowcats, then ripped laps on open face bowls via snowmobile tow-rope, and ended the day with a bit of mellow splitboarding. No complaints were heard, that’s for sure.

Throughout the morning we rode the Weston x NFF Backwood, a pow-centric, directional board with a rad graphic designed by local artist John fellows and a camber profile that effortlessly keeps your nose afloat in deep snow. It worked as advertised, carving effortlessly in all conditions faced, from light, cold powder to wind blown chunder to sun baked hot pow.

The afternoon splitboard mission offered the most technical opportunity for testing, as we set out to summit (lol) a nearby peak and reap the untouched rewards on the way down. For this we got on the much acclaimed 2019/2020 Japow Splitboard, a carbon-reinforced swallowtail powder board. Though my split board experience is relatively limited, the Japow rode smoother and felt more cohesive than any other I’ve been on. I'll put it this way, it would be insane for me to own a powder-exclusive board like this in NYC, yet I really want one.

Also along for the ride were folks from Portland, Oregon-based Airblaster, who provided us with the world’s best base layer, aka the merino Ninjasuit, and fellow Coloradans Zeal Optics. All in all, the gear, the people, the snow, and the vibes were all on point. Being based in New York City, it’s a rare opportunity to get out into the real backcountry, earn a few turns, and crack a cold one with friends new and old. It’d say we all made the most of it that day.

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Published 02-14-2019

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