There’s a certain indescribable feeling that comes with standing on the edge of a really steep drop. It’s the feeling that draws men and women to climb mountains and walls of rock, to cliff dive and to ski and snowboard. Looking down, it’s fear, exhilaration and pride.
On Stevens Peak this feeling is easy to find. From the top, the main chute slides down the north face in an abrupt pitch, cutting through several sections of jagged rocks. Throughout the area, similarly alarming terrain taunts backcountry skiers and riders.
As I stood on the slope’s apex, I tried to see the entire line, but a slight convex blocked the view of the steepest part. I walked down the ridge and tiptoed onto a ledge to try and understand exactly what it was I would be riding. With a tight stomach, I wondered how this strange feeling could become so addictive.
At more than 10,000 feet, Stevens is one of the most prominent mountains in the Hope Valley area, just south of South Lake Tahoe. The climb is mellow, much of it along an old mining road. From the southern ridge, a short bootpack through the scree will leave you on top. The view alone is worth the hike.
The popular backcountry zone offers more than steeps. Many of the bowl’s low-angle slopes are free of trees, wide open like a fresh canvas. To the north, another ridge is cut with chutes and palace-like towers of the funky conglomerate rock. Below tree line, the skiing isn’t bad either, when there’s plenty of coverage.
Exploring this area requires utmost caution. Avalanches in the exposed terrain are common and can be huge. Earlier this year, a deep slide sent snow boulders the size of elephants into the lower basins of the mountain. Beacons, probes and shovels are a must, as is avalanche training and awareness.
Before rolling over the edge, I scoped every inch of the chute and checked out the stability of the snow. I strapped in and traversed to the entrance. Through the first few turns spray exploded from beneath my board. Towards the bottom transition, the snow turned chalky and firm. I stopped and turned around to check out my run.
If the feeling on the top is addictive, the feeling after a safe run is enslaving euphoria. I bobbled through the trees and bumps to the highway. Do I always feel like this after a run? That’s unclear. All I know is I’ll be riding Stevens a lot more in the future.
— Dylan Silver is a freelance writer and photographer in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at www.facebook.com/dylansilvermedia, www.instagram.com/dylan_silver or firstname.lastname@example.org.