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Idaho on a Splitboard

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My legs burned as I trudged uphill. It was a Thursday morning in mid-April, and my group — a guided crew of five — was deep in the Bench Lake area of Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest. I was slogging uphill on a Burton splitboard, my vehicle for ascent on the first day of my first real backcountry snowboarding trip.

Though I’ve been a climber for years, bike competitively, and generally stay fit, I was a little out of my element in this snowy, alpine setting. I’d come to Idaho looking for a guided backcountry adventure. From rescue beacons to skins on my board, I was starting at ground zero.

Skinning across Bench Lake

The trip was organized by Sawtooth Mountain Guides, a company out of Stanley, Idaho. A storm earlier in the week had dropped about two feet of springtime powder. Being a North Carolina boy, and having not grown up near big snow, I initially had hesitations about skinning into “avalanche country.” But I was in capable hands, I soon realized. Before we left the horizontal terrain, guide Eric Leidecker probed the snow and dug into the slope to get a read on the day’s conditions and snow stability.

From a primitive hut in the backcountry where we’d slept, the group skinned uphill for several hours. Up and over hills, across frozen lakes and through forests we climbed until finally pushing above the treeline. Bench Lake was all that stood between my group and the trackless powder ahead.

Leidecker scanned the mountain for avalanche fall lines, then he began the last climb. By the time I had skinned my way to the top of the first run, any anxiety I carried was gone. My guides had seen me safely this far and all I had to do now was convert my splitboard from skis back to a board, push off into my first backcountry descent, and lose my powder virginity!

Hut with Idaho’s Sawtooth Range in the distance

Dropping into those first slow turns was pure bliss. Even cartwheeling head-over-heels when I leaned too far forward was a blast. Gone were all the things I’d come to accept as normal while boarding at resorts — chattering over ice, areas of uneven snow, and dodging other skier/boarders. It took several runs for me to really feel like I was riding the powder and not merely surviving it, but the endorphins were pumping and I was hooked.

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