Backcountry Stoke- Miek Deuninck

Miek’s article in NZ Skier Mag 2013


Back in the 1990’s as a teenager, those Motatapu chutes out the back of Treble
Cone were my Shangri-La. A couple of my equally ignorant friends and I lapped
those things out any chance we got. Closed? Closed schmosed, more pow for us.
Yep we were completely and blissfully ignorant of the potential dangers posed
by avalanches. I remember those days of lapping the chutes as some of the best I
had skiing. I loved the pristine silence. I felt like I was in the mountains in a way I
never did within the boundaries of TC.
Last season I realised that skiing and I were stuck in a rut: there was no passion
anymore. There’s always a few options when a skier gets to this point: start
jibbing, take up snowboarding, go live in the northern hemisphere, or give skitouring a shot. Jibbing’s not really me, unless there’s a pillow of powder to land
in, and if there is, I’m generally not spending much time jibbing; snowboarding
hurts, and the northern hemisphere’s logistically challenging.
So ski touring it was. Fortunately, I’d learnt a thing or two about snow since
being a teenager. I was aware that ignoring CLOSED signs, and striking out on my
own for a casual jaunt up the nearest snow laden hill would not be the most
intelligent approach. I tried going out a few times with my far more experienced
partner: this was helpful, but didn’t satisfy my need for control. As in most male /
female relationships, my tolerance for, and approach to risk are quite different to
his; and at some stage he was going to get real over being asked “why?”
constantly. As a novice I didn’t feel comfortable going out with a group of
experienced backcountry fiends: like many women, I tend to underestimate my
ability, and I hate feeling like I’m holding people up.
Luckily for me (and my partner) there were some female specific backcountry
skills clinics running last season.Amongst a lot of other essential things – such as
reading weather, snow conditions, and terrain; knowing what equipment I
needed and how to use it – I learnt the following: 1)learning about snow is not
like learning about sharks, where the more you know the less scary it becomes
2) I love skiing the backcountry and I must do more.
Apparently I’m not the only one whose relationship with skiing was lacking
lustre. I met around 30 or so women at last season’s backcountry sessions. Going
touring with that many women did put a bit of a damper on the “pristine silence”
of the mountains, but if hey if I can’t have the silence, I’ll settle for witty banter
and laughter.
On our touring sojourns we learnt that we were all there for similar reasons –
obviously there’s the vast areas of terrain and powder you’ll only have to share
with your crew; and then there’s the feeling of that first beer creeping into heavy
muscles after a day spent gaining altitude the honest way. But there’s also the
less obvious reasons; touring expands horizons both literally and
metaphorically, it involves a level of risk and challenge not found within bounds.
Going beyond the realm of the comfortable is not as expected of women in
adventure sport settings as it is of men: that’s a shame because women are far more capable then we often think we are. That’s why I was so stoked to see so
many new female backcountry fiends; not only do I have heaps more touring
buddies, but there’s more role models out there for those ladies who still
mistakenly assume that they can’t.
For the first time in years I’m really amped for winter. I find myself scanning the
mountains, looking for potential lines. I look at maps with my partner, trying to
suss out access. The Metservice site is a new favourite; those pretty maps are
starting to make some sense. I also got to buy new toys; touring boots are a
revelation!I’ve got touring to thank for giving me back my skiing addiction, and
I’m not the only one; when I ask my fellow touring newbs if they’ll be back out
there this season, the answer all round is yep!

Words by Miek Deuninck


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