State of the Backcountry 2017: Greenland and Spring in the Sierra Nevada

State of the Backcountry 2017: Greenland and Spring in the Sierra Nevada


State of the Backcountry 2017: Greenland and Spring in the Sierra Nevada


All roads lead to incredible ski touring in Sisimiut, Greenland.

From polar powder to the best corn skiing on planet earth, this report comes to you from Arctic Greenland and the Sierra Nevada.

Related: Mt. Bachelor Will Reopen For 4th of July

It’s been a crazy winter in the Sierra and skiing in the home range is nothing short of all-time with several weeks of high quality skiing still on tap. But for the ski traveler– Greenland is like being a kid in a candy store.

Mike, Dimitri, and Frank ski tour through polar powder en route to a memorable descent. And your inspiration for the day? Frank is 71 years old and beyond being a great guy, completely crushed it day-in and day-out of our trip. Thanks for sharing your stoke, Frank!


Situated on the edge of the ocean in West Greenland, Sisimiut is home to around 5500 residents, the second largest settlement on the entire landmass.

Picture mountains as far as the eye can see, bowls, ramps, and couloirs, many of which have never seen an ascent or descent. You can slap your skins on right outside your hotel room door and start skinning for a plethora of various ski objectives. Or, as the locals commonly do-and we like to do with them, employ snow machines to access the depth of the Greenlandic backcountry.

We venture to far off places to experience new mountain ranges and global ski culture, but the people you spend time with while traveling are crucial to a celebrated trip. Here’s our 2017 Ice Axe crew having breakfast in the hut before another standout day of ski touring.

This past April was the third Ice Axe Expeditions trip to visit Sisimiut. We had a great crew of eight join Glen Poulsen and myself for this years expedition. Ski touring took place right out-of-town as well as from a hut about 45 kilometers away. Skiing above the Arctic Circle presents a host of challenges, not to mention the travel can be pretty tricky as well. Arriving at Sisimiut is like a dream come true for the intrepid ski traveler. It’s worth every ounce of effort as this special ski trip is unlike any other. The skiing is fantastic, but the cultural experience is priceless.

Our guests enjoyed powder day after powder day during our time in Sisimiut, skied several new lines, and enjoyed working with our Greenlandic hosts who make this trip so unique. We even made a boat trip to Saranguit in between skiing, a traditional Inuit village that welcomed us for a visit to celebrate their community and traditional way of life.

A few kilometers outside of Sisimiut, past all the inquisitive sled-dogs , Mike Sahlman gets walled in waist-deep blower.

Ice Axe Expeditions will be back in Sisimiut next April, and we look forward to continuing to build a relationship with our hosts, and share this special place. Having been fortunate to ski in many places around the world, the combination of ski terrain, location, and people are what makes this trip standout. Be in touch if you have interest in joining us next year, and if you’d like to check out past stories from our travels to Greenland, here are a few links from Unofficial, Backcountry, and Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal. We’re also prepping for a trip to the Amazon this fall, our annual Antarctica trip this October/November, and Kamchatka next spring. An updated list of all our trips can be found here.   


Toby Schwindt glides his way to a few thousand feet of spring perfection off Carson Pass.

The skiing in Tahoe is everything a corn addict could ask for right now. Seeing as we haven’t had a stellar May of skiing like this in several years, we’ll take all we can get. As one might expect, the access from our higher elevation passes is your best bet for ski touring this May, but even classic objectives such as those found on the West Shore are still boasting great coverage.

A group and I walked for maybe 5-7 minutes this past weekend before we were skinning on Mt. Tallac. It’s the middle of May and that says something about our incredible winter! Desolation Wilderness is still fat and the Mt. Rose area will continue holding snow well into June. The corn harvested this past week off Carson Pass was nothing short of five-star quality.

While Tahoe will continue to deliver the goods throughout the month, the major spotlight remains pointed on the Eastern Sierra where ski touring has quite literally been going off all season long.

Eastern Sierra

You never know what you’re going to find in the Eastern Sierra, every drainage is an adventure waiting to happen. Here, Jeremey Frumkin surveys golden granite and thin ribbons of exciting snow in the Mt. Muir region.

My ski season has been marked by lots of travel as a ski guide. While the operators I work with are some of the best in the business, and our trips have been incredible, my most memorable turns of the year have been in the home range of the Sierra, and that continues to be the case this May.

Skiing at home and in the Eastern Sierra is always my first choice but to see how the snow has stacked up all season, reap the rewards, and hear about how many people have been fired up to experience a “real season” in the Sierra– that to me is the real story of the 2016-2017 ski season.

Even into the middle of May, the Eastside is continuing to ski at a world-class level with weeks to go until all is said and done. Having toured from the far south via Lone Pine up to the more northerly reaches of Bridgeport and Sonora, the only question is how one wishes to access their objectives.

The snow line has crept up quite a bit from the end of April until present, but up high, especially over 9-10k feet coverage continues to be phenomenal. However, if you’re not using high elevation access points expect to walk on dirt for at least a portion of your tour.

My partner and I walked for roughly 1.5 hours recently from the Whitney Portal before we started skinning. But the walk was more than worth it for what we saw, skinned, and skied that day. 

The season has been so good in the Sierra, ski tourers from all over the world have been coming for a visit. Here, Jackson Hole Air Force royalty Wild Bill takes in the views before a stellar 5k+ foot run back to the desert.

As road work continues on some of the classic access points such as Tioga and Sonora Passes, other areas have been open for some time and give entry to 8-9k foot starting points. Check the Caltrans page for current road closures, or Inyo and Mono country Facebook pages as they’ve been trying to keep snow removal operations updated. Right now the road up to the  Whitney Portal is open along with Onion Valley and Glacier Lodge.

The roads to South Lake and North Lake out of Bishop were both just short of their full trailheads last week. This Inyo update was from May 10th, but gives a good idea of how the information is being shared for people inquiring about access. Virginia Lakes Road is open almost to road’s end.  

Can you see the sparkle? The corn is ripe and ready to be harvested. Skier: Andrew Eisenstark

Ski wise I can say that everyday I’ve gone out, from the Whitney area to Bishop and areas north, there has been phenomenal corn.

The corn is so good it’s almost the same feeling as a prime powder day only instead of floating on a fluffy cloud of frozen water, it’s an insanely smooth surface of “corned snow.” Nothing is like it when your edges dig into a firm, but surfy surface as the roster tails start to fly, and gravity locks you into the flow state.

Lines are filled in at present that haven’t held snow in a long time. Options are seemingly endless in the range from south to north, and dropping over the Sierra Crest the coverage on the West Slope is even fatter in the heart of the range. Weather can be tricky this time of year as winds and continued precipitation throw off the corn cycle. We have a bit of that going on this week but the long-term forecast is looking good for the corn window to open back up by the weekend.

It’s been another great backcountry ski season, and there are plenty of turns left for those who aren’t looking to transition to summer mode anytime soon.  As always I’m grateful to share reports and stories from my backyard in the Sierra, to the far reaches of the globe in search of the inspiration gleaned from time spent in the mountains as a snow slider. I look forward to skiing well into the summer here in the Sierra, and preparing for the first Himalaya Alpine Guides Camp in Leh, India this June.

*It’s been a season to remember, keep making good decisions out there and enjoy it everyone!   

Unofficial Networks State of the Backcountry Reports from the 2016-2017 Ski Season:

Antarctica and Tahoe (Nov)

Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra (Dec)

Tahoe Storm Edition (Jan)

Sierra Storm Edition (Feb)

Eastern Sierra Edition (Mar)

Chugach Mountain, Alaska (April)

State of the Backcountry Shares Stoke Through: 




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