Photo’s by Ryan Salm
Words by Ryan Salm and Brennan Lagasse
Skier Brennan Lagasse
We all love face shots. We all love getting on top of that dream line in perfect conditions, tapping our poles and dropping in. Swoosh, swoosh, yeah baby! Regardless of all the planning and thought that goes into a ski project, mother nature is still the queen. We must get on our knees and take whatever she gives.
Being Squaw skiers, National Geographic Bowl has always been one of those areas you want to ski, you should be able to ski, but can’t. There’s no skier or rider who’s hiked to the top of Granite Chief Peak and not thought about the fun lines to be had over in “Nat Geo”: big cliffs, double stagers, a steep entry. There’s a ton of options just a few feet out-of-bounds from the top of the Peak. A few years ago it seemed Squaw’s archaic mindset on boundary policies was set to be lifted and the resort was actually going to offer backcountry tours to places like Nat Geo and open their boundaries for good. Imagine skiing into Alpine or off the back of the Peak legally!
Regardless of these concrete boundary lines certain things outside the boundaries get skied, and some are willing to trudge long ways, if necessary, to bag the goods. The snow fell, we skinned and booted the long slog to get out there trying to beat an impending Lake Wind Advisory. We figured that we could ski the line and get out of there before the conditions got ugly. By the time we reached the ridge, we knew we were wrong.
Standing atop the Nat Geo zone, we were greeted by some of fiercest winds we’ve ever experienced. It was a northeast wind just like NOAA had mentioned and that was exactly the direction Nat Geo was facing. The winds were blowing up the bowl, crashing into the colossal cornice and blasting snow up and over the ridge. We weren’t in the Alaska Range or even the High Sierra. We were in the Basin and almost thought we had to bag the mission just based on the intensity of the wind. Within seconds we had ice cream headaches and bundled up.
Once we spotted about the only “clean” way through on this day Brennan began booting up the ridge and had to be totally on it to not get blown away straight into Granite Chief Wilderness. I pulled out my trusty 5d and began to snap shots when an enormous sustained gust blasted my face, “Face Shot!”. For a bluebird day, my camera had ice on the lens, I got covered in snow and instantly had a frozen snow beard.
“The cornices are unreal on Nat Geo indicating the intense way the wind shapes the steeper parts of the top of the bowl throughout the winter. It wasn’t easy, nor was it all that smooth, but dropping into the bowl was both exhilarating and gripping due to the wind scouring that was taking place. It was still a great place to lay some tracks and a fun way to test the nerves against a backdrop of heavy wind and steep, firm snow. After the initial pucker factor of dropping in and making that first tight turn over exposure things opened up a bit and the rest of the bowl was soft and manageable. As the story goes at Squaw, most skiers and riders will say you can only stare at something for so long before you just have to go ski it. You’ll hear stories of this shot over here, and that shot over there but the access is never all that straight forward. Nat Geo Bowl is a line that falls into this category for all of us Squaw skiers as you can only hike the Peak so many times before feeling the pull, putting in the backcountry miles and finally leaving a few tracks of your own.” – Brennan Lagasse