Sawtooth Recreation Area, ID Report: Mellow Laps in the Crossroads of 5 Different Mountain Ranges

Martin Kuprianowicz | BackcountryBackcountry

Brought to you by Visit Idaho and Ski Idaho

Report from Monday, March 1, 2021

“There’s a lifetime of skiing out here,” Doug Bernard told me on the skin track, my guide for the day with Sawtooth Mountain Guides, Idaho’s best backcountry skiing outfitters.

Doug and I went for a walk yesterday in the Sawtooth Recreation Area, right in the heart of five separate Idaho mountain ranges—the Pioneers, the White Clouds, the Boulders, the Smokys, and the Sawtooths.

At 9:15 in the morning, we climbed up the snowbank directly adjacent to Highway 75 and started walking.

We skied four laps and kept it mellow—deep, persistent weak layer problems are real out here and are not worth the risk.

The avalanche danger yesterday was rated as ‘considerable‘ at upper elevations and ‘moderate‘ at mid to lower elevations. 

Idaho is so underrated. | Photo courtesy Doug Bernard

The snow was super: soft, smooth, sometimes chunky powder that you could really have a lot of fun with, even on the lower-angle aspects we stuck to.

We were touring in a remote setting and can honestly say that we didn’t run into a single other party the entire day, and barely even crossed any old tracks.

It felt like nowhere—no man’s land, except outer-worldly beautiful.

The views from the tops of the mid-elevation ridgelines we skinned up to are some of the most captivating I’ve ever seen in the Lower 48.

Looking in one direction you could see the sharp, jagged Sawtooth Mountains.

Looking another way you could see the smooth, rounded White Cloud Mountains.

And another you could see the ever-powerful Boulder and Pioneer Mountains.

Doug on the ridge with the Sawtooths in the distance. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains

The mountains here never end.

Idaho is so underrated.

Wind was minimal yesterday and it was often silent as we walked through the forest.

The ancient, painted-looking whitebark pines covered in snow added a psychedelic effect to this already wild place—especially when you were zipping past them.

Doug even pointed out cat prints on the skin track, likely from a bobcat.

Wolves, cougars, bears, bobcats, and other dangerous beasts still roam these primordial lands.

Cat print. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains

At one point, we were below a peak named ‘9130’ in a wide-open bowl surrounded by pillowed cliffs that shined brilliantly in the alpine sun.

We arc’d smooth, satisfying turns down it.

Every lap we got a little more fatigued but also a little more stoked.

On the final lap back to the highway I sent a little powder knoll and got some air.

Pow-pow. | Photo courtesy Doug Bernard

Doug was an excellent guide and I learned a lot from conversating with him on the skin track.

One thing he said which really stuck with me was a mindset he framed when thinking about the avalanche danger rating:

“It’s like going into a bar in a bad part of town: If there was a ‘considerable’ chance that you would get beaten up or killed walking into that bar—would you still go?”

I’ll remember that one.

The vibe of the entire day, as for the area we were skiing, was peaceful.

Lots of sunshine and lots of great turns.

Desolate, untracked powder turns. | Photo courtesy Doug Bernard

Everywhere you went huge, big mountain lines stared at you in the distance, asking you to be skied—but when the conditions are right.

Spring will be an incredible time in these mountains.

We skied back to our cars and when we got there I could only think about when I might be able to return to this special place.

Hopefully soon.

Doug skinning towards Peak 9130. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains

Avalanche Forecast

Courtesy Sawtooth Avalanche Center 3/2/21

Weather Forecast

Courtesy NOAA 3/2/21


We started the tour from the side of Highway 75. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains
Surface hoar. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains
More surface hoar. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains
Photo courtesy SnowBrains
Photo courtesy SnowBrains
Doug doing a kick turn. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains
Whitepark pine tree. | Photo courtesy SnowBrains
Photo courtesy SnowBrains
Photo courtesy SnowBrains

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