Turns All Year: A Personal Look at Backcountry Skiing

Our Marketing Director is one of the those crazy people participating in Turns All Year, the quest to ski one day every single month of the year. When she wrote this article for our magazine she had strung together just 24 months. As of this republication, she's at 54.
Kristina Ciari Kristina Ciari
April 27, 2016

I consider myself one of the ‘lucky ones’. I learned to ski shortly after learning to walk, and remember a childhood of white Montana winters racing after my parents down the ski slopes. Winters get cold in Big Sky Country, but fueled on a steady stream of hot cocoa and M&Ms, my dad managed to teach not only me, but my younger twin-sisters, to be pretty darn good skiers.

I skied hard in middle school and even dabbled in racing, but fear of injuries and the expensive equipment ended my short race career. Sadly, I fell out of love with skiing for a while and even took up snowboarding as some sort of cruel, teenage rebellion. Then, I moved to Seattle and focused on schoolwork, leaving little time for mountain pursuits.

But this story does have a happy ending, for just when rockered, fat-boy skis went into mass production, I discovered backcountry skiing. I have never looked back.

For me, backcountry (BC) skiing is like the awesome love-child of snowshoeing and downhill skiing. It offers the quiet, blissful experience of walking through fresh, snowy tracks far from the beaten path, with the sheer exhilaration of swift, snowy  descents.

Nov/Dec 2013 Mag Centerfold

I’m not alone in my love for backcountry skiing either. Its explosive growth is causing gear companies everywhere to create newer and better equipment every year. And the people attracted to backcountry bliss are numerous and diverse. Take Jeanette Morrison, a volunteer with The Mountaineers Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue courses and a co-leader for M1 trips, and, an avid BC skier. Morrison got involved with BC skiing when she was 40, and is still making turns at 63-years young. She remembers the time long-before shaped skis when women’s-specific backcountry ski boots were non-existent. Her first BC setup was absurdly heavy compared to new equipment: a pair of Volkl’s mounted with Silveretta 404 bindings.

Still, Morrison’s love for the outdoors, love for the mountain energy, and love for the ease of finding serenity so close to home motivates her to keep getting after it. “Being on the mountain is energizing,” she says, “If I’m away for a long time, I find the need to get back up there where life is simple for a while.” Together with her ski partner Ron Jarvis, Morrison has an incredible 228 consecutive months of year round turns.

Do that math…that’s a LONG time.

Ski Stashes

Here in the PNW, a crew of local winter enthusiasts participates in Turns-All-Year (TAY): skiing at least one day a month, for as many consecutive months as possible. TAY devotees have different personal credos for what counts as a day of skiing, but the attitude remains consistent – get boards on your feet to slide down white stuff and it counts.

What started as a personal pursuit for individual skiers turned into a passionate BC community in 2001, when Charles Eldridge (retired at 128 months) launched turns-all-year.com, a website dedicated to backcountry travelers. It offers a place to post recent trip reports, find a ski partner, scour weather data, and buy and sell used gear.

One of the early users of TAY.com was Jeanette Morrison, who called herself a “guinea pig” for the website. She and her ski partner Ron Jarvis were some of the first skiers to post trip reports and publically share their love for wild, snowy places. What keeps her going month after month? Morrison, who has been happily married for 43 years to a man who prefers fly-fishing to skiing, credits her ski partner Jarvis with inspiring her by being a steadfast companion in the backcountry. “The main thing about my BC experience is having the best, most reliable ski partner.” She said. “Someone you can count on to always be there. Not saying they will be there, and then not show up, but to be there.”

Ladies Crew on Mt. Hood.

So where does all this skiing happen? For this story, I asked Morrison to share some of her favorite places to ski. We could have talked for days (and days and days) about our favorite spots, but together we narrowed it down to a few well known and not-so-well-known destinations:

  • Mt. Adams: One of Morrison’s favorites, offering several variations of skiing from the summit, including the standard route and the SW chutes.
  • Mt. Hood: Zigzag Canyon, White River Canyon, Illumination Rock, or old-fashioned lift skiing.
  • Paradise at Mt. Rainier: Paradise (proper) has the Mazama Bowl/Ridge, Paradise Glacier, McClure Rock, Edith Basin, Golden Gate, Panorama Point, and the obvious Muir snowfield. For the more adventurous the Van Trump area, Turtle, and Nisqually Chutes to the bridge are excellent. Depending on avalanche conditions and snow stability, you can find very safe, skiable snow on any given weekend in and around Paradise. 
  • The Tatoosh: Foss Peak, Castle Pinnacle area, Denman, Lane, and Unicorn Peak.
  • Echo and Observation Rock (Flett Glacier): It’s a really long way in, and the biting bugs can be terrible, but the skiing is great. 

Morrison wanted to share a few other words of advice as well. “It doesn’t need to be epic – there’s lots of fun to be had just yo-yoing a short slope. You can always nourish your soul by being outside, and you can still get plenty of turns.”

I couldn’t agree more with Morrison. As of October 2013, I am at 24 months of TAY. I’m really just a toddler compared to TAY legends like the Hummel Brothers (168 months), Gordon Garlock (365 months), and Tom Szwedko (394 months). I don’t know if I’ll be able to live up to their legacy, but with the support from Morrison and others in the amazing BC community, I’m going to try. And I’ll be sure to have plenty of hot cocoa and M&M’s on hand to fuel my journey.


This article originally appeared in our November/December 2013 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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