TheBigOutside Blog

Michael Lanza, creator of and Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine, writes about hiking, backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing, paddling and other self-powered outdoor adventures

Snowstorms, skinny skis, yurts, and tradition

Fat, perfect snowflakes pour down in a silent, frozen torrent from a blank white page of sky, as if the mountains are inside a Christmas snow globe that someone just shook vigorously. Powder lays several feet deep on the ground and smothers the tall ponderosa pines, looking like dozens of clean, white mittens on their boughs. No wind stirs the still air, and it’s not too cold. The quiet could drown outany negative thoughts.

It’s the kind of day that can make you wish winter lasted all year.

Banner Ridge yurt, Boise National Forest

I ask four of my skiing partners what they think of the storm. My question triggers a blizzard of opinions.

“It’s pretty snowy.”

“It’s great!”

“I’m getting snow in my face. I love it!”

“I say it’s perfect.”

They’re strikingly casual about skiing into a snowstorm, but not entirely out of ignorance. They’ve all skied into the backcountry in these conditions before—four years in a row in these same mountains on almost exactly the same dates, in fact. So they’ve come to expect this.

The four are my son Nate, 10, and daughter Alex, seven, and family friends Lili and Sofi, 10-year-old twins. Also with us on this cross-country ski trail are my wife, Penny, and Lili and Sofi’s parents, Vince and Cat. It’s just after Christmas, and we’re on our way to the Skyline yurt, two miles and several hundred vertical feet uphill from ID 21 in Idaho’s Boise National Forest.

To read the full story and see a photo gallery and video, please visit


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