Broken Top and a Broken Ski: An Overnight Wilderness Ski Trip

Unemployment certainly has its perks. Other than being able to avoid small talk about jobs and taxes and such, the chief benefit is being able to jump on every passing weather window. This December, my friend Zach and I took advantage of two days of glorious midweek weather to embark on an overnight ski mission. Our target: Broken Top, one of central Oregon's most impressive volcanoes. 


Leaving Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, I felt anything but svelte. My cheap synthetic sleeping bag and three person tent took up about as much room as an 8 year old child in my backpack, forcing me to strap a menagerie of items to the outside. This left me feeling more like a Boy Scout about to leave suburbia for the first time instead of a kick-ass ski mountaineer. My self-image demanded that I dial in my gear selection before the next trip. Maybe if I had a job I could afford some lighter gear...

Thar she blows!

However, the weather was fantastic and there was no one around to see how goofy I looked, so I quickly forgot about my worries and started to focus on the trip ahead. Broken Top looming in the distance made it hard to focus on anything else. Zach and I had set out on this trip with the goal of skiing some steep lines inside the Crater Bowl of Broken Top. In the past, we'd gazed longingly into the crater while smoking joints in the meadow below, but neither of us had ever set ski inside. Specifically, we wanted to attempt a line called Pucker Up. Even though this beast ended up on the cutting room floor when 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America was being written, it is one of the proudest lines in the area and an absolute local favorite. As the slope angle surpasses 50° in the exposed upper section, every description that I had ever read confirmed that Pucker Up lives up to its name. I felt my sphincter flutter a bit even as we skinned in. 

The line in pink is Pucker Up, the line in blue is the one that we would ski and dub "Mini Pucker." The pink line shown is a 1,300" vertical drop.

Zach and I hurriedly set up camp at mouth of the crater and started hustling towards the west rim. I was feeling nervous about my ability to safely ski something as steep as Pucker Up. I voiced my concern to Zach and we decided to ski an easier line that we had scoped out, directly down the ridge from Pucker. This would allow us to get a better feel for the approach and see Pucker Up up close, and then hopefully ski it the next day. Despite a crew ahead of us committing the unspeakable crime of boot packing in the skin track, we made it up to the top of the line in no time at all. 

The customary selfie at the top of the climb.

A quick snow pit confirmed that we wouldn't have to worry about the forecasted wind slabs. Although we already knew that the snow would be, uh, less than ideal (is there ever powder above tree line in Oregon?), we were both fired up to finally point our skis downhill. We resisted the urge to get right to the descent and took a few minutes to appreciate where we were (not at work) and scout some incredible-looking terrain on the other side of the crater. 

Zach tearing up Mini Pucker.

Zach dropped in first and made short work of the crusty, variable snow. It was my turn next. I knew that even this relatively tame line would be one of the more challenging things I had skied. Once I got moving, it all felt manageable and surprisingly fun despite the thigh-burning conditions. Even better, Pucker Up looked doable from the bottom and we resolved to make an attempt on it the next day. We skied all the way back into our camp and enjoyed the last few hours of sunlight. 

Early evening in December (3:00 PM).

As I worked through my winter camping chores of sorting gear, shoveling snow, and melting water, I discovered that tragedy had snuck up on us: one of my skis was toast. Somehow, my tail had bent upwards, most likely while skiing Mini Pucker. There was a noticeable inflection point being right under my heel piece. This, combined with the fact that there was a bump in the top sheet and the base at that point, made me worried that there was serious structural damage to the wooden core of the ski. Not wanting my ski to spontaneously disassemble mid-line the next day, we made the tough decision to skin out the next morning without heading back into the crater. [editors note: my ski was later pronounced dead by Billy at Eco Lounge in Boise, ID] Despite the bad news, we resolved to make the most out of the rest of our time in the backcountry. Wind, cold, and a struggle to keep the fire going couldn't stop us from having fun. Or at least, the winter camping definition of fun. Sure, I may have knocked over a pot of water just as it finished melting as well as tore a hole in the fly of Zach's tent by tripping into it with a shovel, but somehow he avoided strangling me. Dinner and strong Hot Toddys cooked on the stove sent us off to an absurdly early bedtime. 

Photo credit: Zach Smith

The next morning, we realized that our brilliant campsite location, which allowed us to soak in the late-day sun, left us completely in the shade in the morning. We got a slow start but eventually started moving toward the trailhead. A breakfast Hot Toddy probably would have helped, but we were fresh out. It was hard to leave with so much unfinished business, but there was little we could do about the ski situation. We'll be back!


Popular Posts