Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.


The 4 Most Deadly Backcountry Ski Slopes


This winter, skiers and snowboarders will populate the alpine wilderness looking to skip the chairlift lines for untouched backcountry slopes.

However, some of the most tasty slices of backcountry carving and shredding in America can also be the most deadly; annual avalanche fatality reports show the sad truth that even the most accomplished skiers and snowboarders can fall prey to the mountain's many hazards. 

Avalanche danger constantly presents itself in the unstable snowpack, and it's paramount to not only know how to avoid avalanche situations, but also be aware of the backcountry regions that have historically posed the worst backcountry avalanche activity. Based on summary reports of previous avalanche activity, forecasts, and data compiled by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, here's a list of backcountry ski spots prone to avalanche activity. 

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4 Action-Packed Dream Jobs for Winter

IStock_000003169393XSmallEarlier this year, we highlighted some of the most adventurous jobs out there that coupled exploration with environmental advocacy. Now, as the snowpack grows by the foot and the temperature gauge on the thermometer drops, winter gigs are in season and on the rise, attracting winter lovers seeking the season's coolest jobs.  

Want to make a living off of skiing, snowshoeing, teaching survival skills, promoting naturalism, or working at the front desk of a frozen hotel? Check out our choices of some of the best winter seasonal jobs out there, tailor-made for the adventure-minded job seeker.  

Ski Patrol Imagine putting in 40 hours a week on boots and bindings, skis or a snowboard, on the slopes of a Tahoe, Park City, or Aspen ski resort, carving through the most lucious powder in North America. For ski patrolers at commercial resorts, this skier's fantasy is a daily reality.  Although skiing as a full time job demands plenty of physical fitness and a dedicated love for skiing, the downsides to the job might include blistered feet and a raspy voice (undoubtedly from yelling at kids to slow down on the bunnyhills). However, nothing beats carving through fresh powder and patroling the slopes--all the while keeping skiers and snowboarders safe on the slopes.

    Requirements: EMS certification, physical fitness, competence in skiing or snowboarding

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Avalanche Safety: The Do's and Don'ts

Avalanche territoryVacant slopes, fresh pow, and untouched winter wilderness: If you're a skier, snowboarder, snowshoer, or climber, chances are your boots may be treading on avalanche-prone territory this winter season. 

Avalanches are a sobering reality. More than any other natural hazard in the backcountry, they bury dozens of outdoor recreationists every season. Last winter experienced a high number in avalanche-related deaths, in which 24 people died in the US: 8 were skiers, 7 were snowboarders, and the rest were snowshoers, climbers, and trekkers.

Learning about the mountain's snowpack habits can be be a life-saver for you and other adventure aficionados. Based on a checklist published in mountaineering Bible Freedom of the Hills, along with some anecdotal wisdom from avalanche forecaster Brandon Schwartz at Sierra Avalanche Center, we encourage our readers to follow these essential DO's and DON'Ts, keeping in mind the four main elements that cause avalanches: terrain, snowpack, weather, and people. After all, what's more fun than keeping yourself and others from getting buried alive in several feet of snow?

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Comet ISON and the 1st Meteor Shower of Winter

December 2013 Tree and star trails Suszter Balázs SXC

UPDATE: Comet ISON was largely swallowed by the sun as it passed our star on Thanksgiving. The debris that emerged at first has dissipated and the comet is no more. R.I.P. ISON.

The first days of December will reveal just how Comet ISON survived its close encounter with the sun. As you look for it in the west after sunset, the first thing you will spot is a light so bright that you think it must be a plane. Yet it’s not. That bright light in the southwest is Venus, shining at its peak brilliancy, magnitude -4.9.  On December 5, the moon is just to the upper right of Venus. On December 6, Venus is 26-percent illuminated with a 41 arcsecond disk.

Comet ISON will be to the lower right of Venus in early December. The comet’s motion will be to the northwest, taking it toward the North Star, Polaris, which it will reach in January. As the comet rises higher in the sky it will grow dimmer as it leaves the sun. On December 20 both Venus and Comet ISON are about the same height above the horizon.

The comet may have had its closest approach to the sun on November 28, but its closest pass of Earth will be on December 26 when it gets within some 39 million miles from us.

Jupiter has been rising a bit earlier every evening in Gemini in the east. Watch Jupiter and the moon rise together on December 18. The moon has a couple notable dates before its meeting with Jupiter. On December 14 the moon and the Pleiades star cluster get close, on December 15 the moon enters the head of Taurus the Bull, and on December 17 the skies are lit by the full moon.

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Muir Slept Here: 5 Legendary Wilderness Treks

Glacier PointWhat do Theodore Roosevelt, U2, and Willa Cather all have in common?

The answer lies hidden in the American wilderness. These iconic personalities are linked to places — some easy to look up, others darn-near impossible to find — with legends, stories, and little-known facts that bring history back to life. Here are five destinations for hiking, backpacking — or just plain old looking — that might stir feelings of intrigue, inspiration, and awe.

Overhanging Rock, Glacier Point, Yosemite, CA For history buffs, this perch of granite (left) has a storied past. In 1903, rough-riding president Teddy Roosevelt met with Sierra Club patriarch John Muir at this very rock in Yosemite, where the two camped out for four days and (along with posing in this very famous picture) talked conservation, environmental protection, and better park management for Yosemite. And they couldn't have picked a better spot than Glacier Point — a lookout high above the Yosemite Valley that beholds a condensed paradise resplendent with Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Yosemite's high country.

Cather Prairie, Redcloud, Nebraska Eco-tourists can visit the 608 acres of wild American prairie that were dedicated for a Pulitzer-winning forerunner of modern American literature, Willa Cather, a name deeply rooted in the land. Moving from Virginia when she was 11 years old, Cather trekked with her family across this very expanse of Redcloud's sprawling prairie: a fenceless source of inspiration for Cather that allowed her to pen American classics like Death Came to the Archbishop, O Pioneers! and My Antonia.   

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5 of the World's Most Amazing Tree Species

The Rainbow Eucalyptus has vibrant colored bark

Trees are a lot crazier than you think.

To prove it, we found some of the world's most amazing species of trees to show you just how surprisingly awesome they can be.

These trees were picked for their fascinating qualities, beauty, and overall uniqueness. Let us know if we missed any other amazing species in the comments section.


The Rainbow Eucalyptus - Eucalyptus deglupta

With pastel like colors running up its trunk, the Rainbow Eucalyptus, which grows natively in places like New Guinea, almost looks like a pack of 2nd graders went wild with their crayons.

But, in reality, as the tree's bark ages and flakes, it goes through a spectrum of different colors revealing a psychedelic beauty.

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12,000 ft. Peaks for Beginning Mountaineers

Mt. AdamsBefore setting out to achieve your childhood dream of climbing Everest, you might want to start with something smaller to break in your boots, crampons, and ice axe. We recommend some low-altitude hikes up some of America's most beautiful (and less challenging) peaks, to not only get a taste for thin air but also appreciate what the lower 48 has to offer. Best of all, you don't have to go to the Swiss Alps or Nepal's Himalayas to find phenomenal views, manageable approaches, hanging glaciers, granite faces, stunning aretes, and rewarding alpine views, all for a relatively easy experience in the mountains.

Mount Adams The eastern range of the Cascades in Washington state hosts several active and dormant volcanic peaks, among them Mount Adams (pictured), the third-tallest volcano in the range. This peak has several diverse and rare alpine features for its elevation, like the prominent Mazama Glacier with a ramp-like headwall and plenty of crevasses — a more challenging route to the top that requires at least a rope and a partner. The South Spur, however, makes for a far less challenging approach — most of it an uphill hike through the snow — but an ice axe and crampons (particularly in the winter season) are recommended.  Class 2, 12,276 ft.

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Do High Adventure Apps Belong Outdoors?

AppsFor this writer, as a Boy Scout in the new millennium, one rule reigned supreme. That rule didn't concern knives, fire, or pitching tents — it was the ban on electronics. "You have to enjoy the outdoors," adult leaders would say. "None of this electronic nonsense." True, if you're in the mountains you don't want your eyes glued to the latest Pokemon game. But thanks to smartphones, plenty of applications now exist that can significantly enhance a trip outdoors. In particular, four types of apps stand out.

Would you utilize any of these apps on a camping trip? Let us know in the comments. 


Despite their utility, birdsong apps are slightly controversial. First the pros: You can use nifty apps like Audubon Birds to attract birds, by playing back recordings of species when you hear them in the wild. But critics say the proliferation of these types of apps can negatively influence the mating and survival of rare birds. It's a classic environmental quandary: Single offenses pose little threat, but habitual abuse does. For what it's worth, the American Birding Association encourages use of these types of apps so long as birders limit their use, especially in conjunction with rare birds. Lots of birders now swear by using their phones, and you can too, so long as you use the technology sparingly. National Geographic and Sibley both produce high-quality apps, but they're pricey ($10 and $20, respectively). Go classic with Audubon Birds, currently on sale for $3. Audubon comes packed with information about 820 species, eight hours of bird sounds, and seasonal and migratory maps.

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10 Must-Reads for Active (or Armchair) Alpinists

IStock_000002640423XSmallConsider this your syllabus for Mountaineering 101. Below, we've collected a literary canon with tales of adventure, miraculous survival, spiritual journeys, heart-wrenching losses, and timeless instruction on how best to sneak up on a summit and live to tell the tale. These authors — ranging from beatniks to bestsellers, celebrated climbers to average Joes — take you on an eloquent trek through moraines, into (yes, into) crevasses, up headwalls, all the way to the top and back. These books vary from sobering nonfiction and to vivid yarns; however, they each give glimpses into the zeitgeist of modern-day mountaineering: romance and bleak reality, heroism and cowardice, triumph and failure, death and survival.    

1. Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition, Ed. Ronald C. Eng (The Mountaineers, 2010)

Before even lacing your boots and breaking out the ice axe, read this book! Most of the world's greatest climbers, alpinists, and mountaineers — from Dean Potter to Conrad Anker and Ed Viesturs — all maintain a biblical reverence for this book, having read earlier editions back when they were young, spry climbers. Indeed, in its 600 pages of climbing fundamentals, knot diagrams, belaying techniques, survival tips, and much, much more, Freedom of the Hills contains a scripture-like truth: "The quest of the mountaineer, in simplest terms, is for the freedom of the hills..."

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Sharing "Hatch Day" with a Galapagos Sea Turtle

Sea lions in GalapagosWe travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls. --Anais Nin

May 5, 2013 Galapagos Islands, Ecuador --It's 8:15 a.m. on the first day of my birthday trip to the Galapagos, and I'm a bit out of sorts. This is my first time visiting the equator, and I can already tell I'm not an equatorial type of person. Being of Irish descent doesn't help either: I'm even more paranoid than usual about sunblock. 11 years ago my mother died of melanoma on my birthday, so skin cancer is on my mind. Birthdays seem like solemn affairs since that happened, even in the Galapagos.

I smear on some more SPF 70 sunblock, peer nervously at the relentlessly glowing yellow orb in the sky, and adjust my hat. Though I hate to admit it, I'm not feeling very adventurous.

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