Features, stories, and reported articles written by Julie Brown.

Posts tagged backcountry skiing
The Gateway to the Sierra Nevada

The speed limit drops from 65 to 25 mph at the town limit of Bridgeport, California. But you wouldn’t want to be driving fast, anyway. A one-street town with a population of 575, Bridgeport marks the northern end of the Sierra Nevada’s steep eastern escarpment, where skiers are drawn to 14,000-foot summits that precipitously drop 8,000 vertical feet to vast plains. For skiers driving south from Reno or Tahoe on spring backcountry missions, Bridgeport is their first stop.

“A campfire, a bottle of wine, and a guitar, and you can climb something up to 8,000 vertical feet and ski it and spend the night in the hot spring,” says Glen Poulsen, 57, a Tahoe-based skier who has been skiing lines in the High Sierra since well before he got his driver’s license. In 1998, he and four buddies bought 475 acres just outside of Bridgeport, home to hot springs, sagebrush, wildlife, and stunning views. Poulsen (whose father co-founded Squaw Valley in 1948) and his friends donated 75 acres to the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, and set up camp to launch ski tours into the surrounding backcountry. 

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But I did not come to Alaska to go heli skiing. Nor to eat Alaskan king crab legs in a mountain lodge. I came here to find the real Alaska: isolated, cold, weird, enormous, and, caked with snow, land both extracted for wealth and preserved for enjoyment. People come to the 49th state to chase a dream or run away from something. I fell in with the latter—running from a cubicle in an office park. Alaska became my mantra. I fantasized about the wild beauty and rawness of the state. I dreamed of a chunk of land so big, with so few people, you could slip away into solitude. To find it, I would ride a slow double chair with the locals at Arctic Valley. I would hike for lines with an Anchorage backcountry skier. And I would follow a determined mad man into a white cloud at the top of Thompson Pass in Valdez. Photographer Robin O’Neill and filmer Hennie van Jaarsveld joined me. Barnhill, who grew up in Anchorage, took the wheel. 

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