LAKE PLACID - For the last several years, Lake Placid High School senior Dean Ridenour has spent about 60 days each winter skiing at Whiteface Mountain.
This January, however, he decided to do something a little different. With the encouragement of his parents, Ridenour took a two-week-long backcountry ski and avalanche safety course in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming through the National Outdoor Leadership School.
It was right up Ridenour's alley. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys activities such as hiking, mountain biking and fly fishing.
During this trip, he said the group spent a few days skiing at the Grand Tracheae Resort, working on their skiing skills and then 10 days living in the backcountry.
Ridenour said the small group of students and two instructors spent two days making their way to camp at an altitude of 8,000 feet. To get there, they used climbing skins attached to the bottom of their skis. Many of the students wore telemark gear, which meant their heels were loose the entire time, while Ridenour used alpine touring skis, which can be made loose while going uphill but lock down for the descents.
It took two days to reach the camp. The trip included pulling sleds with 90-pound bags full of supplies and food. Each skier also wore a 30-pound backpack.
The skiers tented on the way up but made their own snow shelters once they reached camp. It took one day for the group to make three snow shelters: a four-person, three-person and a two-person. They also made a counter and kitchen and living area.
Ridenour said there was so much snow that he had to dig himself out of the shelter each morning. He stayed in the three-person shelter, although he spent plenty of time in the four-person one, which was large enough to serve as a hangout during downtime.
While staying at the 8,000-foot camp, Ridenour said the group spent most of the day skiing.
While on the slopes, the students were in charge of assessing conditioning and determining safe routes for descending. Ridenour said the experience took him leadership skills, independence and general outdoors skills.
"It really teaches you how to get along with people in a difficult situation," he said.
The terrain was steep, the snow was deep, and the winds were close to 60 mph in the higher elevations.
"The days we could see, it was scenic," Ridenour said.
Most days there wasn't much visibility because of the heavy snowfall and strong winds. Still, it was some of the best skiing the 17-year-old Lake Placidian has ever done. The powder was often waist deep, and that meant the group had to look out for avalanches.
One day they had to move to a different, less steep ridge to ski because of avalanche danger. A shovel test had found at least one loose layer of snow.
"That would have cause a big avalanche, and it wouldn't have taken that big a trigger," he said.
In addition to skiing open slopes, the group also skied in the trees. He said the glades were more open than he's seen here. However, this was actually Ridenour's first time ever skiing in the backcountry.
Now Ridenour plans to spend a lot more time backcountry skiing. He is scheduled to graduate high school this spring and hopes to move to Utah in the fall and pursue a job as a skiing guide during a break between high school and college.
He hopes this experience will help him achieve his goals. It was definitely one he won't forget.
"It was life-changing," he said.