The Pied Pipers of Pow Sustainable Play

I SKI BECAUSE Allan Bard and Tom Carter told me to.

Anyone who banked a telemark turn in the Sierra Nevada in the go-go 80’s knows those names and their legacy; Bard and Carter were climbing and skiing partners, business partners, fellow guides, co-conspirators, and the masterminds of gobsmacking tours across the Range of Light, the latter of which they did on cross-country skis, rat trap three-pin bindings, and mid-ankle leather boots. Amazing athletes they were, but they were perhaps even better ambassadors of backcountry skiing: like Pied Pipers of Powder, Right Reverends of the First Church of the Open Slope, and Svengalis of Slide, they spread the gospel of the winter backcountry to those of us who lived in the mean flatlands along the California coast, and coaxed many to trade street shoes for duck-billed telemark boots.

Each spring from 1983 through 1993, after the Sierra corn crop had turned to mush, Bard and Carter – otherwise known as the Great Bardini and Tom Cartelucci — descended from the Sierra Crest, and returned to their homes and Bishop-based guiding service, Alpine Expeditions. There they painstakingly produced a slide show from the past season’s photographs. So evocative were these two-projector shows, with music cued to grand images of high bowls and crenellated ridges – the terrain they referred to as “the back of beyond” — they found themselves choking back tears when viewing the final cut. They’d take the show on the road each fall.

I WAS IN MY early 20s, living in San Diego, and I had already made a few tentative ventures into the backcountry. I was spending all of my spare time at the backpacking store, Adventure-16, mooning over gear, perusing climbing magazines, and milking the sales staff for backcountry beta. One October afternoon I stumbled into the shop in the midst of one of Bard and Carter’s tours de force. My life changed for the better that evening.

Way better.

The lads had star quality and charisma in spades. They called themselves fun hogs, and it was obvious they were having plenty of it. They laughed, punned, completed each other’s sentences, and traded verbal fours. Carter was the more disarming of the two, sporting a low-slung baseball cap and a wicked fast wit. Bard was the poetic one, preacherly even, John Muir’s doppelganger; he fell into iambic pentameter, his voice hypnotizing, mesmerizing.

They told us our lives would improve if we went high on skis, with our heels untethered from topsheets, Nordic style. I followed their advice. I am the skier – and person – that I am, because I did.

Tom still guides, but Allan’s gone, tragically killed in a climbing accident on the Grand Teton in 1997. His spirit lives on through the Bardini Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to turning people onto the mountains, which Allan viewed as his mission. You can find Allan’s complete writings on the Foundation’s website; just click on the newsletters. I re-read them for inspiration, and his prose can still make me pine for winter in the depths of it.

Wrote the Bard:

You are on the backside of beyond when you feel the crisp bite of winter in your lungs, and the sting of wind-driven snow on your face, and when you realize how insignificant you are in the face of such harsh adversity. That relativity, which comes from knowing the wild places, is essential to our well-being, and yet we so often stay home, stay inside, and insulate ourselves from it. I say, resist the urge to be complacent about experiencing the brutally beautiful joys of the backcountry skiing life. Go my friends. Don’t delay. Lose yourself, and maybe you’ll find the backside of beyond.

May these marriages of skiers and mountain ranges, of skis and snow, be as long and fruitful and passionate as my own. Mine is a mating for life.