WHAP, WHAP, WHAP…

A fa­mil­iar sound rouses me awake early in the morn­ing. Kicker, a vi­brant Golden Re­triever, smacks his tail against the bed­side, yearn­ing for morn­ing cud­dles. The sound echoes through­out the open bunkroom of the Win­ter­tux Chalet, nes­tled deep within Idaho’

SKI - - CLINIC -

It’s still dark, but his stir­ring awak­ens my hes­i­tant urge to voy­age out­side and visit the out­house. My predica­ment isn’t new for hut trips: long days on the skin track fol­lowed by après brews and guz­zling wa­ter be­fore bed so that you can do it again the next day, leads to this. How­ever, this time I find my­self do­ing the pee-pee dance be­side my bed, try­ing not to wake any­one else up, scram­bling to find my hut shoes.

“Kicker took your slip­pers,” mum­bles Keri Bascetta, our trip pho­tog­ra­pher, co­zied up in her sleep­ing bag.

I stum­ble down­stairs to find Kicker curled up with my slip­per at the door. His tail is still wag­ging as I re­claim the lost slip­per. I give him a pet on the fore­head and clamor out­side.

ABOUT 50 MILES NORTH OF SUN VAL­LEY, the Win­ter­tux Chalet is a spa­cious 1,200-square-foot cabin. Ac­cess to this quin­tes­sen­tial log cabin is via a six-mile snow­mo­bile ride or back­coun­try slog through the rolling bumpy trail that par­al­lels Beaver Creek off Idaho’s Route 75. The lo­ca­tion is nearly per­fect for back­coun­try ski­ing. The com­bi­na­tion of el­e­va­tion (8,000 feet), abun­dance of ac­ces­si­ble ski ter­rain, and back­coun­try skier traf­fic in Idaho be­ing mostly (and sur­pris­ingly) hy­po­thet­i­cal, re­sults in a pow­der ski­ing hide­away far from the hus­tle and bus­tle of ev­ery­day life and lifts.

The aroma of ba­con drifts from the kitchen as we stand around the crack­ling wood stove, wait­ing for our cof­fee to brew. Climb­ing skins, gloves, and jack­ets hang along the posts and

beams nearby. Billed as a back­coun­try cabin, Win­ter­tux is a fully func­tional log home that sits on two pri­vate min­ing claims, to­tal­ing 40 acres. It’s pow­ered by so­lar pan­els, with all the ameni­ties of daily moun­tain-town liv­ing—other than hav­ing to fetch wa­ter and use an out­house. Our crew is a col­lec­tion from the Wasatch Moun­tains and the Rocky Moun­tains. In­ter­est­ingly, it turns out to be a Utah v. Colorado gang. Among the group are An­drew Muse and his en­er­getic Golden Re­triever, Kicker, and Rob Asel­tine with his mis­chievous Black Lab, Gru.

With ru­mors of a back­coun­try snow­pack not seen this deep since 1922, our group ar­rived to Win­ter­tux only to en­dure a weather hic­cup. The snow­line crept above the cabin’s el­e­va­tion overnight, though as we skinned up the steeper south-fac­ing slopes ad­ja­cent to the creek, only a few inches of fresh snow awaited our ar­rival.

Muse and Asel­tine wait pa­tiently along the ridge with their pups in tow. The in­tense March sun is a stark con­trast from the sea­son’s long pow­der-drunk slum­ber; its rays so strong that it sends roller­balls tum­bling down nearby slopes in a mat­ter of sec­onds. The pups are get­ting anx­ious to drop. Gru’s whim­per­ing ex­cite­ment is re­lieved as he chases Asel­tine down­hill. Kicker sto­ically stands above, wait­ing for the cue that it's his turn. With the chuck of a snow­ball and an en­er­getic call­ing of his name—“Kicker!”—Muse pushes off and Kicker speeds out ahead of him. They even­tu­ally re­unite mid-slope, arc­ing and gal­lop­ing down the hill­side with Kicker’s bronze face caked in spring pow­der.

Fol­low­ing a quick snack and climb back to­wards the ridge, the fluc­tu­at­ing weather briefly re­turns to win­ter. Puffy flakes squall into the af­ter­noon as we be­gan to work the mini-golf zone of rolling pitches, end­ing the day by schussing the south-fac­ing slopes we had skinned up in the morn­ing. The mix of steeper open faces and dead pines is sur­pris­ingly good. We skate back to the hut under an alpen­glow for après beers and après doggy bis­cuits, an odd mix that quickly seems per­fectly nat­u­ral. The peaks glow in white as the sun’s re­flec­tion casts hues of or­ange while the sky turns from blue to pur­ple.

AC­CORD­ING TO A History of Dogs in the Early Amer­i­cas by Mar­ion Schwartz, “dogs were the first an­i­mals to take up res­i­dence with peo­ple and the only an­i­mals found in hu­man so­ci­eties all over the world.” Pri­mar­ily de­scend­ing from wolves, they were the only do­mes­tic an­i­mal present among Na­tive Amer­i­cans, and were seen as both part­ners and pro­tec­tion. Schwartz fur­ther notes that our ca­nine com­pan­ions are “uniquely sen­si­tive to the cul­tural at­tributes of the peo­ple with whom they live, and par­tic­i­pate in the cul­tures of hu­mans.”

These days ski­ing with your dog is sim­ple plea­sure, but it was borne of util­ity. History has shown that hu­mans tracked into the wilder­ness with dogs as com­pan­ions and guardians. They kept preda­tors away and alerted their own­ers, but also pro­vided a kin­ship and link to the wild. To bring a prop­erly trained dog along for back­coun­try ski­ing is only nat­u­ral, a pri­mal hap­pi­ness that only oc­curs when slid­ing down the moun­tains with friends. Or put an­other way, ski­ing with friends, whether two-legged or four-pawed, is the sweet cen­ter of ski­ing’s Toot­sie Pop.

How­ever, it takes time to train your dog to not step on your skis and watch out for sharp edges, as well as to stay in the skin track on the way up to con­serve en­ergy, and most im­por­tantly to be obe­di­ent at the top of a ridge. Chas­ing you down, well that’s the easy part for them, and the ul­ti­mate re­ward for the slog up.

It took my Ber­nese Moun­tain Dog—an equal lover of fresh pow as the other dogs (and who un­for­tu­nately missed this trip due to my travel sched­ule) a cou­ple times to re­ally get a han­dle on it. Dogs’ pure joy as they shame­lessly roll in the snow and romp around like kids tends to bring life into per­spec­tive— there’s noth­ing else go­ing on ex­cept ski­ing and be­ing in the moun­tains, and maybe that peanut but­ter bis­cuit in your pocket.

THE FOL­LOW­ING MORN­ING, Gru and Kicker are loung­ing around the cabin floor. Tuck­ered out from the full sched­ule of ski­ing yes­ter­day, it's a rest day for them. The shal­low re­freeze overnight was met with a warm morn­ing sun, and after win­dow-shop­ping a line from the cabin’s back porch it is time to gain some el­e­va­tion be­fore it soft­ens into mush. Pho­tog­ra­pher Bascetta and I set our sights on the broad and steep faces a cou­ple ridges be­hind the cabin while Muse and Asel­tine keep the pups close to home in an ef­fort to con­serve their en­ergy for the next day’s ad­ven­ture.

Bright green lichen clings to the trees on our route from the Beaver Creek val­ley. Per­fectly spaced glades spill away to­wards our right as we gain a sub-ridge. Below us the Smoky Moun­tains open up across the hori­zon and the cabin slowly be­comes a speck in the dis­tance. Birds chirp and a red squir­rel squeals, warn­ing oth­ers of our pres­ence.

Cor­nices the size of school buses crown the ridge that I vaguely saw from the cabin’s win­dow. The hut’s po­ten­tial is in

Above: The Win­ter­tux crew en­joys a break from the clouds after a day blaz­ing trail in Sawtooth National For­est. Right: Rob Asel­tine sends it off a cor­nice. Op­po­site: An­drew Muse and Kicker, fol­lowed by Asel­tine and Gru, set out for a ski.

Golden Re­triever Kicker romps in the pow­der after a skin to the sum­mit, then chases Muse down a mel­low slope.

Bright green lichen coats the branches dur­ing the skin up from the Beaver Creek val­ley. Once at the hut, Gru claims a spot by the fire.

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