My First Day in the Backcountry

Submitted by:

Maria Kissel, who at the time was a UVM junior and intern for the Bolton Valley Marketing Department. For the 2019-20 school year, Maria has been elected President of the UVM Ski & Snowboard Club.

I’ve always been drawn to the backcountry.

The solitude. The promise of deep powder. The sense of accomplishment after an uphill battle.

I’ve been waiting to get into the backcountry for years. I started snowboarding six years ago in the small hills of the Poconos. Most of my riding consisted of 45-second runs and the occasional trip to Vermont. My only knowledge of the backcountry was what I had seen in ski films.

The backcountry was something that I had reserved in my mind for professional skiers, and it wasn’t until I came to the University of Vermont that I realized it was as normal as taking a hike in the woods.  

Then, one day, I discovered Bolton Valley. A mountain that had a killer local atmosphere but featured access to some awesome terrain. It felt like home - it made me feel comfortable enough to push myself. First, into the trees and then finally, the backcountry.

I arrived this past Saturday to my internship with the Marketing Department at Bolton Valley, expecting to spend the day in the office helping out with events and taking a few laps on the groomers. But to my surprise, the Director of Marketing, Scott Pellegrini, had a different idea for the day.

After the recent snowfall, he proposed that we head out to the backcountry and do an intro to splitboarding day. The stars had aligned! An immense feeling of excitement and nerves came over me. Before I knew it, we were on our way to the rental shop getting me fitted with a rental for the day.

Let me tell you, the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry center HOOKED it up! I was fortunate enough to ride on a Weston Backcountry splitboard - specifically, the Riva. The Riva is Weston Backcountry’s first women-specific board and features a rocker-camber-rocker profile. It was equipped with Spark bindings and Pomoca skins. It was a BEAUTIFUL set-up. Scott took the time to teach me how to properly set-up my board and bindings, so I was starting to get familiar with the gear and understanding how it worked.

After making it out onto the snow, Scott showed me the importance of having your “curved-edges facing in” and I took this time to admire my set-up. This was really happening. I was about to take my snowboarding ability to the next level.

We spent the next few minutes talking about the route that we were planning on taking. It was just a short uphill to Wilderness through the trees - the perfect intro to splitboarding.

The first few steps were rocky. It was a different sensation that I had previously not experienced, but as we made our way into the woods, the only sensation that mattered was how I felt being in those woods.  

It was a whole new world - seeing the immense amount of untouched snow wrapping the trees like a warm blanket. There was only silence and the trees to keep us company as we made our ascent.

As we got further up the mountain, we decided to take a longer route.

This new route would feature an ascent up Gardiner’s Lane to Bryant Camp and then up Heavenly Highway to Wilderness. I don’t think either of us were expecting it to be as long as it was, but we were both excited to be in the woods.

The route featured a series of uphill battles as we traversed further up the mountain. Luckily, I was with a trusty guide who was determined to get us up and down in one piece. As we made our way up, the change in elevation was becoming more and more apparent.

We were no longer traversing along a defined flat track. At times, we would be on narrow route cross cutting the mountain. It was not only physically challenging but also mentally. In situations like these, it is so important to trust who you are with and also the gear you are riding. I had confidence in both and was able to push through even when the going got tough.

Once we made it to the top, I couldn’t believe it. I was proud of myself for keeping my morale high even when it was not the easiest thing I could’ve been doing on a Saturday afternoon. I’m so glad I had this opportunity as it has opened up this whole new world for me! I can’t wait to get back out there and dive deeper into the backcountry and continue to progress as a rider.