Ski Sauvage in the wild West

Cover shot @Jason Hummel.

Michael “Bird” Shaffer, the jubilant skier and cheerful Black Crows ambassador from the early days, gives us his account of the first Ski Sauvage in Tahoe, California. Between mountain mysticism and fraternal exuberance, join Bird for an inhabited flight over the Sierra Nevada.

Since he took the Chamonix blue pill, there was no going back, but had he forgotten the mountain connections in the US? Here’s a story of remembering which confirms, that if one follows his heart, doors begin to open and with the right kind of mountain love, the connection remains for many years to come.

All these years I told myself why would I go back to Tahoe when the BC border is right here with wild mountains spreading for miles, and Chamonix, forever kaw kaw calling, a continual spring migration pattern.

Thankfully,the Black Crows Ski Sauvage Program was in need of a boost. The HQs flight plan for me was to bring the bird energy and help stoke our program in North America, with the stop in Tahoe, California. A ski tour was first on the list at the Mountain of Rose. A magical place still full of wild animals, with easy access to a self empowering human powered way of skiing. A Freebird kawnnection was made, not only with nature, but to each other. Low and behold, the power of this high energy zone held all of us like minded mountain souls, by simply opening that magic connective door.

The universe provided our guide, Tim Dobbins, a dear friend long lost friend I met in Chamonix 20 years before. Now, Dobbin is the man around these parts and lead guide for Alpenglow Expeditions. He has honed his craft, and provides that open window for all of us to slide on through, to a panorama of 350 degrees, full of powder filled little gullies and an incredible sense of freedom. This day we made an historical memory, as this was the first ever ski touring event for Black Crows in North America.

Tim and fellow guide Pete did a heck of a job sharing their expertise on the skin track, while I could focus on how people were feeling, and keep the energy juicing when it seemed someone was falling behind. Taking a crew of 13 skiers with all different levels of ski ability to the top of the ridge at the same time is an incredible skill that allowed us to not only share in the success of making it up to enjoy storybook vistas surrounding us. Like wild crows we descended on the charcuterie board snacking on sharp cheese, crunchy crackers and some filthy high fat slices of salami.

With this blue bird day, new friendships were made and for a few of the younger crew, fledgling crows, a foundational impression was made. I have no doubt the knowledge gained will take them and their skiing to new heights.  What it means to be connected by the freedom of the mountains and sharing in ski touring is of course one that must be experienced first hand, and I encourage anyone with a good base in skiing to grow some wings in and explore what it means to go towards fullwingspan in the mountains. The smiles and hugs at the end of the day say everything.

Plugged back into flow, my preconceived notions of a competitive Tahoe got thrown right out the window, and in its place, like mountains grace, I connected with my ski tribe dating back to 1995. That was when the Cali brothers first brought me to Chamonix. Then there was Ski Sauvage at Alpine Meadows where 2 of the boys, Zack and Kai, who ski toured with us showed up giving a blast of good energy and helped stoke our afternoon! This re-confrimed deep within that the spirit of the mountain was still very much alive in the younger generation. Goodness prevails as long as we can say thank you, not just for being alive, but grateful for the opportunity to be an ambassador of ski, or what once was called, a love instructor.

After the intensity of skiing with all the people on the first day, we had a day off before the next event. There was new snow and I wanted to go for another ski touring mission. As it turned out, the snowpack was actually sketchy, old layers, dragons lurking, and the news of an inbound avalanche at the Pallisades Ski Resort put the brakes on my desires for the day.

My partners backed out, and I started to have doubt, but I knew that Tim Dobbins would be taking a client up where we had been the day before and could possibly meet me for an afternoon run. I woke early the next morning and fired up “Will shred Betty” my trusty loaner van, and was greeted by the sun rise over beautiful Lake Tahoe. Back at the summit, I enjoyed a few solo tree runs, amazed at the ease of access to safe pow skiing, where I danced down through the low angled trees. The snowcovered peaks jutting from a flat desert floor gave new meaning to a beautiful transition and immense vertical relief.

Then like clockwork, Tim gave me a buzz as he said he would.  He was done with his client, a baby heart doctor, and was ready to take me for a special one. Skinning up was such a joy, recounting old times in Cham and how fortunate we both were to have had those times and still be alive, doing what we most love. I learned that Tim had a wife from Cameroon and 2 happy children. Some things had changed, like Tim putting his family first, and me, well, hopefully a little wiser. While we ripped skins on top, and prepared for the drop, love radiated with the understanding and appreciation for what our chosen life continually offers.

Thank you, my Tahoe friends, old and new. You guys might have been called Squally World once upon a time, but your place is thriving. Keep up that good work on cultivating skiing for generations to come.

Special thanks to Mikey Hovey who organized and managed the trip, Casey Jillson who added her magic touch making it that much warmer, and our black crows Tahoe rep who absolutely slayed our events and helped make it down homey.

Also, a big thanks to all of you who signed up and enjoyed skiing with us on black crows skis.

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