“Adventure is a way of life, but you will never know unless you go.”
For those of us who love our snow sports, dreams of fresh powder and epic lines through untouched landscapes are what inspire us. Backcountry skiing has mythical status, yet so few of us ever take the jump because we don't have the knowledge, training or confidence to tackle true backcountry slopes.
Enter Dustin Schaad, humble proprietor of Tahoe Larry's Backcountry Ski Tours. A 15 year guru of Lake Tahoe backcountry skiing and boarding, Dustin has found that perfect concoction of technical expertise, safety know-how, and passion for the untamed outdoors that is paramount as an Embark.org adventure host. Consider his level III Avalanche Certification, AMGA Ski Guide training, and the hundreds of hours he's spent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it starts to sound like a no-brainer for any amateur enthusiast looking for a real adventure experience within a few hours of both San Francisco and Las Vegas. I recently caught up with Dustin between outings (no joke, if you check him out at @dsschaad on Instagram, you'll see that he's basically out skiing and snowmobiling every day!) and I took the opportunity to get to know him as more than a list of credentials or certifications, but a guy who just loves to get outside and have fun!
How long have you been skiing? What got you started?
I've been skiing for over 20 years and BC (backcountry) skiing for over 15 years. I got started in high school when a friend at the time took me skiing at Snowshoe Ski Resort, WV. It was the greatest thing going – we'd drive 3 hrs to the hill, sleep in the car, and ski mad groomers bell-to-bell. It was a time of being slammed to the ground and learning the hard way of how to make proper turns and get off the hard pack and transition to the soft snow (POW).
How does someone go from hitting the well-traveled slopes and lifts of a ski resort to finding their own path in the snow? Is it as easy as driving into the mountains and strapping skis on your feet?
The transition from the ski slopes to the backcountry happens in one of two ways:
1. A personal decision to get educated on the risks, hazards, plus rewards that are associated with traveling in the backcountry. Purchasing all the ski gear (skis/splitboard, pack, beacon, shovel, probe), enrolling in an avalanche class, taking a first aid or wilderness first responder course, finding fellow backcountry enthusiast to explore with. This is all imperative to safely traveling and enjoying the backcountry skiing experience.
2. Hiring an experienced and educated guide in your area that understands the risks and rewards of providing a great day of backcountry skiing. This route will allow you to experience what it's like to not only go "backcountry skiing", but will also give you the correct knowledge of what direction is best suited for you for your future backcountry endeavors.
What led you to pursue your current certifications in guiding and avalanche? Why is it important for someone who is new to backcountry skiing to go with an experienced, Avalanche-certified guide? What are some dangers of backcountry skiing and what sort of precautions should be taken as you prepare for a day in the snow?
Passion is what led me to pursue my current certifications in guiding and avalanche education. I had an amazing mentor (Bela Vadasz). He was patient and provided me with the resources and tools that I needed to safely enjoy my passion for the backcountry.
Hiring a guide is the easy part. Finding a guide that is not only certified, but mostly experienced in their territory, snowpack, and weather is the challenge. For example – I've been backcountry skiing, climbing and biking in the Sierra for over 20yrs. This has nothing to do with education or certifications – it's all about life experience, which you cannot teach.
Preparing - Having the correct equipment will prove to be the greatest asset to a person trying to enjoy the Backcountry experience.
Precautions - There are many dangers associated with skiing in the BC. The number one suggestion I can give is to ALWAYS go with an experienced guide or take the time to learn before you go.
Why is the Tahoe area great for doing the things that you love?
Lake Tahoe is a magical place. It provides the most amazing terrain and stable snowpack to enjoy a day in the mountains. Most all, of the locals who call Tahoe home year around have a serious passion for the outdoors. Lake Tahoe is a hub for world class adventure – from mountain biking, skiing, climbing, kayaking, sailing, fishing, surfing, parasailing and many more. You pick the adventure, Tahoe will provide the landscape!
Where's your favorite place to ski?
Squaw/Alpine is my home mountain, but 90% of my time is spent backcountry skiing. Choosing a favorite is tough, but the west shore of Lake Tahoe is one of the best places in the world for backcountry skiing. It never gets old skiing powder down 40 degree slopes, through the most perfectly spaced trees, skiing straight down on the beautiful shores of Lake Tahoe; can't be beat!
What do you find yourself doing when you're not tearing up fresh powder?
You can find me tearing up any and all trails on one of my many mountain bikes. Lake Tahoe is a hub for big mountain freeriding and has one of the largest networks of trails in the country. I provide a mountain biking guide experience in the summer months that compares to the backcountry experience that I provide in the winter months. Keep this in mind if you're traveling through Tahoe in the summer months and are looking for an experienced mountain bike guide.
What advice would you give someone looking to bring more adventure into their lives?
Adventure is a way of life, but you will never know unless you go. Finding adventure can be as easy as just walking out the door with ZERO plans and see where it takes you. Having a plan is not always the best option. Now don't get me wrong, if a person is planning on traveling through hazardous terrain that is difficult and dangerous to navigate, then YES, you always make a plan. For me personally, passion is a driving force for all my adventures in life - I believe searching for your passion will help facilitate finding what adventure means to you.
If you'd like to head out for a day in the backcountry with Dustin, feel free to message him here on Embark.org. He's always looking to show off the incredible slopes around Lake Tahoe and he has both the local and technical knowledge to ensure that you have a good time and stay safe!