Dexter Burke has a simple answer when asked what draws him to backcountry skiing. “Expensive lift tickets,” he said. For that reason, and certainly many others, backcountry skiing has become increasingly popular over the last few years in Oregon and throughout the West. Burke, born and raised in Bend and a backcountry skier for more than 20 years, hopes his new book, “Oregon Ski Atlas,” will encourage more skiers and snowboarders to venture out on some of the more remote Cascade peaks in Oregon.
Basically a photographic guide, and marketed as a “coffee table paperback book,” Burke’s first book includes route names on several prominent peaks and some limited uphill route information.
“This book was never meant to blow up secret stashes or bring more crowds to already crowded places,” Burke said. “With the exception of Broken Top and Mount Hood, all the volcanoes in the book rarely get skied by more than one or two different groups of people at the same time. My hope is that showing these more remote peaks will lessen the crowds at the more popular areas.”
The book includes 48 pages with aerial photos of Mount Mcloughlin, Mount Thielsen, Diamond Peak, Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood.
These major Oregon volcanoes offer an extremely vast amount of terrain for backcountry skiers throughout the year. But Burke said there is little recorded history in first descents and attempts on these rugged slopes compared with areas such as the Tetons in Wyoming, the North Cascades in Washington, the Wasatch in Utah and the Sierra Nevada in California.
“My hope is that this book will draw out some of the old ski pioneers and they will share their stories so we can start to create a better understanding of who were the first brave skiers in the Oregon Cascades,” Burke said.
He added that while the “Oregon Ski Atlas” highlights certain routes on these mountains, the backcountry skier must still figure out the specifics and the logistics of his or her adventure.
“Part of the fun is exploring, and I feel like this book acts more like a catalyst for what’s possible,” Burke said, “but it’s up to the reader to figure out the details and dangers.”
Snow is already starting to accumulate in the Oregon Cascades and soon backcountry skiers and snowboarders will start planning their trips for this winter and spring. Burke said his favorite season for backcountry skiing is late spring/early summer, when snow still clings to the high Cascades and the weather improves.
He said the most challenging of the peaks in the book depends on the conditions.
“The unpopular truth is some days you go out, and it’s a sheet of ice,” Burke said. “When that happens, even a 15-degree slope can become pretty challenging.”
Avalanche safety should always be at the forefront of backcountry plans, and Burke cautioned that the “Oregon Ski Atlas” does not offer information on how to ski these peaks safely. Rather, skiers and snowboarders should consult the Central Oregon Avalanche Center, Oregon Ski Guides and/or Three Sisters Backcountry for more information on avalanche safety.
“Even then, there is always a risk,” Burke said. “The best thing you can do is team up with someone who has been doing it for a while and have them show you the ropes.”
“Oregon Ski Atlas,” from Alpenglow Publishing Studio, is available for $30 at oregonskiatlas.com and select retailers across the Pacific Northwest, including REI.