West Wind Collective

Snowflurries are coming down pretty good. It’s 7:45AM and I’m the first one at the trailhead. The forcast called for sun but a little fresh snow is always welcomed. The temperature is hovering just below freezing. Should be a good day for some backcountry split-boarding. A few minutes later I see a white 7.3 Ford Flatbed roll into the parking lot, the bright orange 1979 snowcat in tow. Max, one of the owners of West Wind Collective pulls up behind my Dodge and jumps out of his truck. I jump out of mine and get the homie hug. No handshakes or fancy high fives, just the solid embrace of two dudes that like to travel in the back country.

I found West Wind Collective on instagram a few years prior offering an Avalanche 1 class. I’ve been taking these courses through AIARE for years with different companies in Truckee. They were always very class room oriented, and difficult to put lessons learned into real world application. West Wind offered an entirely different Avalanche course experience with more field time than class room time. Hazardous terrain avoidance is shown in person, not on pictures, and the small intimate class becomes a day on the mountain with friends touring, learning, and staying safe.

I try and do a refresher or some type of tour with West Wind every year. Unfortunately I missed last season and this season wasn’t looking good either. The February 2024 snow storms dumped just enough to re-engage my powder lust so I decided to check-in and see what West Wind was offering. Snowcat accessed split-board touring. A unique backcountry experience utalizing 3 different trailhead locations in Truckee, Bassetts, and Greaeagle. Having just turned 40 and trying to avoid the circus show that Lake Tahoe ski areas have become, this tour resonated with me. I signed up for the 3 peaks pass to get a little action of each unique location. Two days later Max emailed me to get on the mountain that Friday. I was available.

It took me about an hour and a half to drive up to Truckee from my house. I hadn’t really prepped properly the night before so I ended up running out the door in my Rainbow sandals. It was warm at my house and I felt like a bit of a kook jumping out of my truck in Truckee in flip flops. Max explained to me that this was the first “real trip” for the vintage snowcat which has been a passion project in the making for the past 3 years. I geared up while we waited for the other owner Jason Champion, and the rest of the other clients to show up. A total of 8 people would be going on this tour.

As everyone showed up, and introductions made we felt out group dynamics and exstablished who was riding with who. We jumped in the snowcat for an hour ride to the base of the peak we planned on skinning and snowboarding down. Something about old machines brings the senses to life; the smell of the exhaust, the rumbling sound of engine. I rode shot gun, Max driving, the other guests in the back. Jason was on a snow machine blasting back and forth checking snow conditions and probably just having fun. As we headed out we told stories of amazing pow days, and got the froth flowing for the day ahead of us. The snow cat rumbled down the trail like a vintage tank. The interior paint old and cracked, the slide back window openings reminded me of my 83’ CJ5 windows. It wasn’t modern comfort, or fast. It was loud, and you almost had to yell to converse over the engine, music and other conversations. As we forged down the trail we didn’t see anyone which is rare now in the Tahoe basin.

Snow covered trees lined the trail. As we exited the tree canopy low clouds blocked the view of the peak we were going to climb. Now in a large open meadow we parked the bright orange snowcat and pulled our boards from the racks disassembling them for tour mode. My shoulders strained as I pulled my sticky skins apart. It had been a while and my technique was off. Karakoram bindings latched in, trekking poles stretched to 130mm, back pack sorted, lunch ready, water is handy. The clouds break up and give us a  look at where we are going. We start the 1500’ climb.

The snow is heavy and wet already down at the bottom.  As we traverse across the meadow and start ascending the mountain the snow slowly starts to lighten up after about 500 feet in elevation gain. Criss crossing back and forth up the mountain small young pine trees start to fade and are replaced with giant beautiful old growth. I always forget how peaceful the skin up is. Some of the guys are talking, others are just trying to catch their breath and get up the mountain. I was somewhere in-between conversing which I found helped me catch my breath and avoid focusing on the muscle strains in my legs. About half way up the mountain I realized I still had my shell on and was overheating, thankfully a few others did the same thing and we stropped to change layers, and get a drink of water. I forgot my hat so I rolled my beanie up and ditched my goggles. I put on my Julbo Vermont Glacier sunglasses, which instantly fogged and I couldn’t see anything. I ditch the shades and continued on without anything. The snow had stopped falling and the cloud cover had made the briteness bearable.

The snow was feeling good as we approached the top and I was getting antsy to ride. I could tell the day was warming up as mounds of snow started falling off tree limbs like giant snow bombs. Once at the top we took a quick 10 minute break to transition from touring to shredding mode, quick bite of burrito, water break, conditions/safety check, and we dropped in one by one. The snow was a little sticky on the initial roll-in, but got buttery soft back in the trees. Gliding quickly through the trees, drawing a single line of sweeping turns to mid-moutain before stopping; it was sick. Continuing further down the mountain the snow changed quickly and was getting wet, sticky, and slow.

We transitioned back into touring mode to get another lap in. About 500 feet up the hill Max decided to do some snow science and see what was up with the snow pack. As he dug a snow pit I gladly took the time to rest my legs. The peace and quite of the mountain was calming. After another run we decided to call it. The snow was getting heavy and tiring. We smashed down the hill, out of the tree’s with the knowledge that well earned beers waited for us at the snowcat.

West Wind offered a unique experience exploring the great Sierra Nevada’s. The day was a success.

Mat Crossan
Mat Crossan