It's not every day that the phone rings and we are given the chance to support a cadre of hard charging skiers and boarders in a totally fresh fashion. Well, maybe not entirely fresh, but certainly a way of embracing the winter that has all but died on the vine of how we look to get it done when the goods fall on the mountain towns that winter blesses with each changing season.
Armed with one rattletrap truck, a handcrafted tiny house on the trailer behind it, and who knows how many CLIF Bars, changes of gear, and pairs of gloves and goggles to get the job done, these professional ski bums spent the past 2 months chasing storms, making the most of some of America's most iconic mountain towns, and mixed and mingled amongst the locals all along the way.
Brought to us by our friends at Outdoor Research, the Sidecountry Sessions inspires a new way of seeing and being in the mountain towns that so many of us call home while honoring the heroes that make each of these places so uniquely their own.
*You might have seen these along the journey on our Facebook page, but we thought it would be fun to put it all together in one big (reads like a ski bum's diary) blog post. Check out the goods below and don't hesitate to hop on over to the Sidecountry Sessions site at Outdoor Research to see it there as well. Read up, get inspired, and go make some greatness of your own!
Session: noun \sesh-uh’n\ Any period of time devoted to a specific activity, such as slaying pow
“The opportunity to explore the accessible powder stashes with the most passionate locals is the mission. Getting it the best we can is our objective,” says Neil.
This winter, we’re subscribing to the gypsy life and taking off on a two-month tiny house road trip in celebration of a passion-driven, low impact, ski bum lifestyle. “We are refining the entire process of living as ski bums. It is really about figuring out what you do and don’t need. For me, I want to ski and there isn’t much else that I need,” says Zack. Over the next 6 weeks, OR ambassadors Molly Baker, Zack Giffin and Neil Provo, along with videographers Sam Giffin and Andy Walbon will be road tripping to North America’s most respected sidecountry areas in search of deep powder and influential snow loving locals.
Unlike any previous skiing road trip, the Sidecountry Sessions crew is on a mission to find the best snow and greatest communities in prominent powder territory while living out of a ski bum’s dream-home-on-wheels. Along the way, the team will be on the search for the most esteemed, enthusiastic and talented individuals to bring on as members of OR’s Grassroots Athlete Team. Could you or one of your friends be the next team member?
Based on recommendations of local skiers via Facebook (no, you can’t nominate yourself), Molly, Zack and Neil will ski, climb and adventure with chosen nominees in order to select the newest members of OR’s athlete team. “Being a part of Outdoor Research is really about being genuine with an honest devotion to a life in the mountains. It makes it really easy for the right people because they essentially continue doing whatever it is that they do and that embodies the mission of the company as a whole,” says Molly. To nominate someone you know? Post their photo to the Outdoor Research Facebook page. In the comments section, reference hash tag #SCSessions and include a brief description of why your person would be a great OR Athlete. If we come to their hill, Molly, Zack and Neil want to get in touch with them for a session of slaying pow.
Find out what it’s like to spend the season searching for new ski talent while living in 112 square feet of unconventional living space. Showcasing local talent, communities and mountains, watch video episodes of the Sidecountry Sessions releasing each week and find out what happens when these gypsy shredders occupy your parking lot.
No stranger to ski history, Sun Valley, Idaho is a living, breathing museum of the North American ski timeline, dating back to the 1930’s. On the other hand, it is an ageless place. While hosting the birthplace of some of skiing’s favorite young pros (such as Picabo Street, Lynsey Dyer and the Crist Brothers), this little Idaho hide-out still maintains the interest of mainstay figures like Warren Miller and Mike Hattrup and is the main office for companies like Smith Optics.
It all began in 1939, when the first chairlifts were installed at Bald Mountain in Sun Valley. The same year Ernest Hemingway finished “For Whom the Bell Tolls” while staying in suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge that fall. Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and the Kennedy Family followed. Sun Valley was becoming a Hollywood haven. It wasn’t just for skiers.
Then in 1946 the most classic of all ski bums arrived. Warren Miller made his movies from 1946 to 1949 living out of the River Run parking lot at the base of Bald Mountain. First staging out of his car and eventually in an upgraded trailer, Miller made his mark on Sun Valley as a promised land for the occasional post World War II ski bum.
Naturally the 40th Anniversary Party for Powder Magazine took place in Sun Valley. And we wanted to be there in the Outdoor Research tiny house as a tribute to forty years of darn impressive magazine making and a passion about skiing we can only hope to convey with the Sidecountry Sessions tour. None of us had ever been to this iconic place. It was time to hit the ski history books.
We pulled into the River Run parking lot at 4 a.m. in the morning. Surely the Powder 40thAnniversary prom was over (although stories from others told us otherwise that morning at a relaxed 11:00 a.m. breakfast). The sun peaked into the tiny house around 7 a.m. An hour later, as skiers started to arrive, we looked out to see many curious faces peering in or at the tiny house. All ages and all types of boards were interested. The twenty-year-old snowboarder and his friends showed up right next to the seventy-year-old with groomer skis.
The group missed the Powder party and we never got to show Warren Miller the tiny house, but we were able to kick off the tour with many personalities, contributors, and fanatics of the ski community.
With the south faces nearly bare and an itch for powder turns, we left Sun Valley in search of the season’s storms.
Silverton, Colorado is exactly the kind of place you want to spend the Yuletide season. Especially if you are a group of five ski bums living within 112 square feet—no shower and ski gear avalanching from every nook of space. The locals are blushingly generous, the streets caked white with snow, and the surrounding mountains a gift unlike anything that comes wrapped in waxy paper covered with Santas.
“People tour for miles and miles to get views like this,” said new friend and Silverton local Steve Mead. “Here in Silverton we get to walk to the grocery store with these sights.”
Surrounded by peaks like The Grand Turk at 13,160 feet and Sultan Mountain at 13, 368 feet, mountains towering thousands of feet above the town are the standard canvas. It’s precisely the kind of wall art we needed for the tiny house. Looking out of any of the teensy windows, snow-covered goliaths fill every inch of glass.
Two weeks ago the Outdoor Research crew graced the San Juan Mountain town of Silverton and parked the tiny house at a secluded 9,138 feet after an intense drive over Southern Colorado’s Molas Pass (intensified by a melted accelerator cable in a truck pulling a 5,000 pound trailer/house on wheels). The winding, icy mountain road ended abruptly in Silverton. Our planned five-day trip turned into over fourteen. At this point, we still don’t know our departure date. But, it has been apparent, there are worse places to get beached.
Built in the late 1800’s, Silverton never experienced a devastating fire like many mining towns in the West during that time. Many of the original buildings in the town are still standing (along with the secret underground tunnels from Main Street to the original Red Light District). There are two streets in the “business” district: Main and Blair Street. These days there isn’t much taking place. But, during the town’s glory days, Blair Street was the home to over forty saloons and brothels. Today only a few shops are open. Blair is where the tiny house has lived for the past two weeks, just down from the town’s hostel and the Avalanche Café.
With a year-round population of 500 people, the mornings are quiet albeit the occasional snow machine or dog sled drive by. Waiting for the sun to turn-up the valley furnace, we’ve woken up to many negative temperature days. But the tiny house has been toasty.
A few days up at Silverton Mountain and even more out in the San Juan backcountry, we’ve found rocks, the deepest facets we’ve ever skied, and challenging avalanche conditions with no patience for skier complacency. Every line feels like your running from the bank with bags of money only to evade the cops by chance. Maybe it’s just because we hail from places like Washington and Utah, but the snowpack makes you feel like you are getting away with something everyday.
Eventually we are going to need to escape Silverton, although being on a first name basis with the owners of the cafes, the guides at the mountain, and the ripping mountain folk that thrive in this place, is going to make that a difficult move. All we need is a biblical storm to hit Jackson, Tahoe, SLC, Whistler—Somewhere. At this point it’s the Jet Stream, or the mechanic’s decision, if the tiny house ever leaves the San Juans.
Whitewater is a mythical place for an American skier. Not too distant, but yet so far out of reach. As we drove north, I heard the boys talking of finding a Canadian girl to marry. There’s that option and then there’s ex-pat status. How does an American stay in Canada, land of epic powder for the winter? Or even a lifetime?
As we drove further north, our question went from how we could stay in BC to how we were getting into the country. With a house on wheels and amounts of ski gear that could outfit the entire town of Nelson, our odds seemed low. The border patrol was sure to find something wrong with our situation. But without even a mention of Ullr and his presence in the lower 48, we went north to the border anyways. It would be worth trying and getting turned around. At least we’d have tried.
We negotiated the border an hour before the crossing in rural eastern Washington closed, hoping the officer wouldn’t want to bother with questioning at the end of his shift. Of course, they pulled us out of our trusty old truck, Rusty Deluxe, and asked us to step inside while they inspected the tiny house and our bags of gear. The two solemn, but friendly (dare I say friendly? Canadians, it’s a stereotype to be proud of…) gentlemen threw our names in a Google search, watched the Sidecountry Sessions videos, laughed and treasured the spectacle of the tiny house, and sent us through to the land of “Neldor”.
Nelson, British Columbia serves up a fruitful combination of new age yoga/hippy culture, fresh prideful food, and Canadian quaintness. The Outer Clove, Baba’s, Oso Negro Coffee, and the two natural grocers in town could feed our crew for a lifetime without dispute. A vanilla chai from the town’s hobbit hole eatery, a.k.a. The Preserved Seed, could satiate our palette after every shred day. Life is easy in a ski town like Nelson. No desire goes unsatisfied.
More importantly than the food, is what quenched our skiing appetite. According to one local gent, “Whitewater gets more fresh centimeters than any resort in BC, eh?” Although this particular winter has been drier than last year’s strong La Nina, centimeters of fresh were common. The skies didn’t clear for our first week in the Whitewater parking lot. Every morning we peered out hoping to see Ymir Peak from the tiny house, but a low ceiling of clouds obscured any such view. We stuck to the trees and enjoyed the BC powder.
Our original schemes of staying in Canada for as long as possible panned out in an inevitable issue with Rusty D. After parking the tiny house in the first row at the ski area, we drove Rusty into Nelson, only to have the 1991 brown Ford catch on fire. Two extinguishers later, plus an appearance by the local fire department and police squad, and Rusty was totaled. We learned we weren’t just “stuck” to the trees. We also happened to be stranded in Canada, just fifty feet from the lift at Whitewater.
This kind of occurrence had happened once already in Silverton—a tiny house near epic skiing, with no vehicle to tow it away. Luckily, this time we’d fallen down the rabbit hole to Whitewater, a wonderland of sidecountry lines and charming characters—people who smile from ear to ear, yelp, and scream to their friends to come check out the little cabin on wheels.
The tiny house has made it home.
When you find a place that’s good, stay there. The ski dream tells you that traveling from snowy destination to winter wonderland is the guaranteed way to find powder. Yes, you may see the world of ski areas and communities. Just make sure you’re there long enough to enjoy a few storm cycles. Once you’re out of the pattern it becomes more and more effortless to miss this storm or that one. For the tiny house and crew, driving away from Whitewater before a 70-centimeter cycle was our pattern mistake.
We may have not skied the best day in five years at Whitewater, but we did meet all the folks who would once we left. One of those folks was local patroller, Orry Grant, otherwise known as OG. A blonde hair, blue-eyed, hiking-machine, and unassuming bad-ass, Mr. Grant is without a doubt skiing powder at this very moment, regardless of what moment you are reading this. As a patroller and member of the avalanche control crew for Kootenay Pass, the Nelson native breathes ski-lifer.
Orry Grant embodies Kootenay mountain culture being born in Nelson, living in Revelstoke for years, and knowing the nooks and crannies of the best ski zones in the Koots. Coincidentally, one of our first impressions of the OG was in Kootenay Mountain Culture, a beautifully designed magazine that pays homage to the people, places, and centimeters that make BC a skier’s heaven. The Kootenays are a blessed place. For people like Orry Grant, that place is home.
Choosing Orry was really just another gift for the tiny house crew. We missed the major, epic storm, but we got to feel like we were helping make things happen for the Whitewater local. With a recent G3 sponsorship and a spot on the ambassador program for OR, Orry’s life just became that much more entrenched in the world of skiing. And for that, the skiing community should feel grateful.
A smile goes a long way. Orry’s kind demeanor and smiles (plus his assistance as a patroller) will undoubtedly keep many people out there skiing. It will definitely bring us back to Whitewater. That and the hopes of hitting the storm we missed.
The tiny house crew leaves Whitewater in the midst of the storm headed for the promise of big snow at Roger’s Pass. A lesson in car mechanics, pass closures, negative degree temperatures and skiing eyeball deep snow gets the group through a few days of hiking and skiing the Selkirks. Destined for cowboy country, the tiny house leaves BC and moves down to Jackson Hole for a few days of Teton gold.
Episode 6 - The Final Tiny - All great things must come to an end....at least unitl next year!
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- B Cole