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Hut based backcountry skiing n the Cascades

Alpine Lakes High Camp ski adventures!

Nes­tled in the trees in the high coun­try of the east­ern slopes of the Cas­cades you can find cozy cab­ins wait­ing for you to set out and explore the ski diverse ter­rain, far removed from the resort crowds and mayhem.

Writ­ten by MM guide Arthur Herlitzka

On an ear­ly week­day morn­ing in late Jan­u­ary of 2021 Jose from King 5 News pro­gram Evening Mag­a­zine, Mark Gun­log­son and a group of Moun­tain Mad­ness guides met up with Justin Dono­hue and Cedric from Alpine Lakes High Camp. We met with our ski gear and enough food for two nights and three days of back­coun­try ski­ing. We had a short brief­ing about the plan for the day, and soon com­menced load­ing up the snow cat, snow­mo­biles, and epic 4×4 land rover snow machines for some trail break­ing.

The team was set — enough of us found sched­ule align­ment to war­rant a trip up to the Alpine Lakes High Camp. The high camp con­sists of var­i­ous A‑Frame style off-grid wood­en cab­ins and bunkhous­es, a main lodge with dialed com­mer­cial kitchen com­mu­nal space and board games, util­i­ty shed, and did I men­tion wood fired sauna and ice plunge?

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Where’s it at? — the Alpine Lakes High Camp is sit­u­at­ed on pri­vate land bor­der­ing the wilder­ness bound­ary of Alpine Lakes Wilder­ness, 8+ miles deep and the only way to get out there in the win­ter is via hik­ing or a snow cat ride. A few min­utes hik­ing out the cab­in door and you are step­ping foot into Wilder­ness and Nation­al For­est. We met the crew about 30 min­utes west of Leav­en­worth toward Stevens Pass at the garage facil­i­ty where the snow machines are kept.

As we would dis­cov­er, the place is great for all lev­els of skiers and snow board­ers and a great rea­son to take a back­coun­try ski course to get pre­pared for this unique Cas­ca­di­an experience.

Our goal for this trip — to famil­iar­ize our­selves with the oper­a­tion, the logis­tics, the lodg­ing, and most impor­tant­ly the sur­round­ing ski ter­rain. Jose came equipped with cam­era gear and mics to make a King 5 news sto­ry about the MM col­lab­o­ra­tion with Alpine Lakes High Camp.

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Our first day after trav­el and unpack­ing con­sist­ed of shred­ding down Wild Bill Hill’ right out the door of our love­ly cab­ins. The hill pro­vides 700ft of low angle tree ski­ing to lap on a whim, so we Jose took advan­tage of the acces­si­bil­i­ty to coor­di­nate some inter­views and a few cam­era shots of pow­der turns. We turned in ear­ly to cook some nour­ish­ing food and prep for a scout­ing mis­sion the next day. 

A good nights sleep and overnight tem­per­a­tures of 14 degrees F accom­pa­nied by 18 inch­es of new low den­si­ty snow meant it was game on for trail break­ing and an adven­tur­ous day. Even with our close prox­im­i­ty to Stevens Pass, the overnight new snow for Stevens was only 5 inch­es com­pared to the 18 inch­es we got. Not complaining…

So much new snow in such lit­tle time con­tributed to us dial­ing back our ter­rain selec­tion for ski­ing as the snow­pack was show­ing us signs of insta­bil­i­ty. Best not to push it too far when the new snow hasn’t yet bond­ed well to the pre­ex­ist­ing snow­pack. We stuck to low angle ter­rain and made sure our ascent tracks didn’t expose us to any avalanche terrain. 

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For­tu­nate­ly with skill­ful ter­rain selec­tion, a high avalanche dan­ger day doesn’t mean you cant ski pow­der safe­ly. We head­ed west of the high camp toward Mt. Baldy and the Alpine lakes to get a view of future ski objec­tives and get the approach dialed in for our next trip. Not to men­tion some deep pow­der turns.

Although human pow­ered ski­ing is enjoy­able, we were keen on expe­ri­enc­ing the ben­e­fits of hav­ing some machine assis­tance as well. After scout­ing the Baldy zone we returned to camp to refu­el and fin­ish our after­noon with a snow machine taxi ride to go ski some fall line pow­der and pil­lows. Nice!

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On our final day we con­tin­ued famil­iar­iz­ing our­selves with the land­scape and of course scored a few machine pow­ered laps on a clas­sic run in the zone named Heart Stop­per. All in all, a suc­cess­ful trip pro­vid­ing our Moun­tain Mad­ness guides with the tools and knowl­edge to facil­i­tate epic adven­tures for our future guests in the area. 

We all agree that Alpine Lakes High Camp is a great venue for both begin­ners and advanced skiers alike. Whether it be guid­ed cat ski­ing, human pow­ered adven­tures into the alpine, overnight AIARE Avalanche cours­es, or Back­coun­try Ski­ing Fun­da­men­tals cours­es, the high camp is a prime place to bring fam­i­ly and friends, skiers and non-skiers for a remote rus­tic out­door expe­ri­ence close to home. 

Until next time.