BACKCOUNTRY HORSEPOWER: Stoecklein, Welgos and Crabtree seek out the goods on a ski mission to Idaho
In March 2009, Drew Stoecklein rallied together fellow BD skiers Brett Crabtree and Mark Welgos, photographer Will Wissman and snow safety tech Tyler Jones and headed into the Lost River Range of central Idaho. The objective: ride horses deep into the backcountry to score first descents on the isolated region’s mind-blowing terrain. The problem: some of the worst snow pack imaginable. The solution: have fun and deal with it. The result: an epic adventure, random craziness and even some skiing. Below are the thoughts of Stoecklein, Crabtree, Welgos, Wissman and Jones on their trip into the Lost River Range.
Deep, dark and dangerous was the plan of attack for the ranch trip and accessing it by horses was the game plan. The idea behind riding horses came about when I was scouting this zone behind my ranch this fall. The approach was very lengthy, and the terrain that had to be covered was extremely versatile. The vast amount of terrain that had to be covered was too diverse for a snowmobile or any other land machine. The horses really enabled us to access terrain that would have taken us weeks on foot to get, too.
Definitely an experience I will never forget. I knew right from the start that it would be an adventure with a five-horse trailer, a van and three trucks pinning it through a blizzard to get to our destination. The snow was coming down sideways, making it next to impossible to see what was ahead. Letting off of the gas was not an option if we wanted to get anywhere. Close to the end of the road every single truck became buried to the doors in snow. I really didn’t think we were going to make it out that day!
This thought never crossed the mind of Dave Stoecklein (Drew’s dad), who somehow was accomplishing some of the most amassing driving I have ever seen with a five-horse trailer on the back of a Chevy 250. The narrow roads made it next to impossible to turn around. Dave went whipping over the burm with the trailer tagging close behind wheels, spitting smoke and turbo screaming as he attempted to turn the truck around. At one point the trailer was kissing the back of the truck about to snap the truck and trailer in half! He corrected the wheels at the last moment, landing the truck three feet from the road. We unloaded the horses and towed the gigantic truck and trailer back on the snow-covered road with the little Toyota. The first day was quite the experience not to mention the rest of the trip.
Tromping around the woods with horses was one of the most amassing experiences I have ever had. I was teamed up with Jack who trenched his way up the hill to drop me off at the top with my skis. It was incredible how the horses could climb through the snow. It was a wild experience holding on for dear life with a pair of skis on my lap as the horse tromped to the top of the mountain. It was just as exhilarating as sled or heli skiing but with a whole different type of horse power. The trip really would have not been accomplished with out the help of the horses. No machine would have been able to cross the amount of diverse terrain that we did to get to the top. Not to mention not having to fill up with gas. I look forward to going back to Idaho to ski the lines that we set out for!
The adventure started this fall when Drew had the crazy idea of accessing some remote terrain in eastern Idaho by horseback to go skiing. We did a week of reconosince missions in the fall to see if the trip was actually possible.
Looking at the range from a photography standpoint I was extremely inspired by the incredible peaks and the epic backcountry skiing possibilities that the terrain had to offer. The range really has everything a skier can dream of: big AK style ramps, 4000-foot couloirs, spines, and tree skiing. The aesthetic scenery and gnarly ski terrain made this location a photographers dream.
This dream quickly turned into a nightmare once the actual trip started and we found out that the avalanche danger was so bad that it was ripping to the ground with nothing left to ski. Tiptoeing around the woods on the egg shell-like snowpack, we were at least able to see the vast amount of potential the range has to offer later on in the spring. Seeing all this potential has wrangled all of us up to come back in the spring to saddle up the horses up again to get the goods that have been so close but yet so far away.
Drew offered me the opportunity to come in support of his ski trip to the ranch and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My role on this trip was snow safety, risk management and “guide guy.”
The snow pack sucked; the facets were laser cut and big as PBR cans. The deepest snow totals we found were not much more than 120cm in depth with, 50+ cm ski penetration making for an arduous or just ridiculous trail breaking. Major shooting cracks under our skis and sudden woooph settlements where regular, with just a skeleton of layers of angular crystals being the worst case of dehydrated snow, a result of a winter filled with raging temperature gradients. The pack must have lost half its original moisture and resurrected it to the atmosphere and all that was left was a fragile shell of what looks to be good, safe, fun skiing.
This is the land of lost couloirs but the conditions and avalanche hazard will not become reasonable until spring. In the end we got a few rock laced turns and a load of good times living Idaho ranch style!