“My Mom taught skiing and started dragging me along when I was four. My early memories of skiing at Mohawk Mountain in Connecticut involve getting dragged up steep rope-tows, lots of ice and a frozen water fountain which was at least as interesting as the skiing. When I was about ten we moved to Seattle and I started skiing at Alpental, which I would still consider my ‘home’ mountain.”
Ski Mountaineering is hard to explain to non-skiers. Why hike for hours or days, then risk avalanches and fatal falls to ski something miles from civilization when there are perfectly good ski resorts all over the country? It’s a tough sell to the uninitiated, but to those who do it, there is no doubt that floating over wild terrain on a surface of snow is one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed on mankind. With Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America the problem of explaining the sport has been solved. Open the pages and see for yourself. • Twenty years ago many of the lines in this book were only skied in people’s dreams. In 2010, the time has come. Skiers have long since had the technical ability to ski big, steep lines, but it took a change in perspective to make it happen. Up until 1990, ski mountaineering in North America was focused on travel from Point A to B, and avalanche safety meant avoiding steep slopes. The bulk of the people getting into the sport came from a Nordic skiing background and fiddly ultra-light gear meant travel trumped turning. That has all changed with the advent of new materials, ultralight high performance boots and skis that double as rapid uphill transit and sure skiing machines on the down.
“I prefer perfectly straight, splitter couloirs that run all the way from the summit to the valley floor; clock in at 3,000-plus feet and somewhere above forty-five degrees. Being lined with towering rock walls is a bonus as well.”
“With peak skiing, I love the transformation that occurs when you reach the summit. After slowly working your way up, worrying about route finding, breaking trail and generally wondering if all of the effort is worth it, you make it to the top. Standing there, with skis, all the hardships are suddenly forgotten and I’m excited about the descent. I love the shift between slowly climbing up and then being able to almost fly down, and think that the way these aspects compliment each other is a big part of what makes it so fun.”
“On a trip to Baffin Island in 2002 with Brad Barlage, we had researched the skiing potential, but realistically had no idea what to expect. On one of the first couloirs we skied, we each guessed how long it was going to be before starting up it. Our estimates were wildly off. The line ended be being almost twice as tall as we originally thought. Hiking up, as we passed our original estimates of 1,800 feet, we realized that we still had a long ways to go and, considering the perfect snow conditions and towering rock walls on each side, it dawned on us that we were about to have one of the best runs of our lives. Rather than being overwhelmed at the immensity of it all, we picked up our pace and made it to the top, which was the only spot on the entire line that had any sun. Sitting there in the sunlight and looking down at 3,600 feet of perfect couloir below us, it made a lifetime of sacrifices to skiing all worthwhile.” _Andrew
Andrew contemplates his immediate future.
Polar Star Couloir on Baffin photo courtesy of Summit Post
Andrew holds a number of unique distinctions, yet here we will only mention those related to skiing. McLean has skied the ‘Big Three’ in Alaska—Denali, Foraker and Hunter—and has scribed descents on all seven continents.
He also literally wrote the guidebook for the Wasatch, The Chuting Gallery. In his years designing climbing and skiing products at Black Diamond Equipment in Salt Lake City, Andrew, along with ski partner Alex Lowe, started ‘Dawn Patrol’ tours before work—a name and activity that is now common vernacular for skiers and alpinists.