Finding Community at the Altai Skis Backcountry Festival
Yep, another story about Hok skiing! But gosh darn it, Hok skis are just so darn fun!
Asking yourself, “what in the heck are Hok skis?” Altai Hok skis are often called skishoes and their name and design is inspired by the skis used by native Tuwa people in the Altai Mountains of Asia. The Hok’s short length, wide size, and integrated skins make them highly versatile for exploring all kinds of terrain in all kinds of conditions. Their small size and light weight also makes them extremely packable.
Since buying my Hoks in the winter of 2018 they’ve opened up a whole new world of winter adventure for me and I barely even snowboard or cross country ski these days. The Hoks go everywhere with such simplicity, ease, and fun that it’s hard not to rave about them. I also love that they’re locally owned here in Washington, headquartered in a very small town called Curlew in the northeast part of the state near the beautiful Kettle River Range.
Back in January one of the owners of Altai Skis, Nils Larsen, reached out to me online about some photos I had taken on my Hok ski trip through the Blue Mountains. Thanks to his message, I checked out Altai Ski’s skishoeing.com blog and saw they were having a backcountry festival at Boulder Pass just east of Curlew on President’s Day weekend.
I inquired to Nils about conditions and he told me the skiing was excellent. With no idea what to expect other than Nils’ assurance of excellent skiing, I packed up Hudson and my Hoks and last weekend, we made a very long drive waaaay over to Ferry County in northeast Washington for the Altai Skis Backcountry Festival.
Some friends thought I was crazy. “You’re driving how far!?” Yep, I drove about 12-13 hours roundtrip, but I never tire of going to eastern Washington. It was also an excuse to break in my new truck camping setup. After 11 years, I finally retired my trusty old Jeep Cherokee with 270k miles back in December and purchased a “new” used Toyota Tacoma. My Leer cap was just two days installed and eager to be camping tested.
The weekend ended up being one of the most fun I’ve ever had on the snow! The low-angle slopes around Boulder Pass were ideal for Hok skiing and filled with cold, dry, perfect eastern Washington snow.
Though the Kettle Complex fire of 2015 scorched much of the area, what remains makes for incredible tree skiing. I should admit that I’m not a skier at all and I suck at tree skiing. You won’t find me bombing steep descents. I’m a snowboarder turned cross country skier who dabbled with splitboarding until I realized I much prefer the versatility of skiing and really, I just love to tour.
My downhill ski skills need a lot of practice, but during the festival I learned how to ski with a tiak (“tie-ack“), a single pole that acts as a tripod, and well, once I got the hang of it, it considerably improved my downhill skiing and my ability to tree ski! I was able to achieve balance with the tiak I’ve never had skiing with poles. If you’re a Hok skier and you’re not using a tiak, you have to try it! It’s so much fun!
The event was a wonderful way to get acquainted with skiing in the Kettle Range and I was greeted by a very warm, welcoming, local community of Hoksters. Everyone stopped to say hi and I chatted with folks in the parking lot, around the campfire, and while out skiing. The festival was full of good people having good fun.
Afterwards, I headed into Curlew for a tour of the Altai Ski headquarters and I picked out my very own tiak! I joined Nils, his wife Lisa, and a few other Hok enthusiasts at the saloon in Curlew for continued conversation and laughs. Nils and his wife graciously offered me a free place to stay at their guest house and I normally would have happily obliged, but I was eager for some truck camping time, so Hudson and I headed back to the Deer Creek Summit Sno-Park near Boulder Pass. We enjoyed a beautiful night camped under brilliant stars from the plushy comfort of the Tacoma.
I awoke early on Sunday to blue skies and sunshine and didn’t waste any time grabbing my skis and taking more turns at Boulder Pass. Just about every weekend a contingent of Hoksters ski the area, so as I returned to the Sno-Park after about 4 hours of skiing I bumped into Nils and a few others heading out for Sunday afternoon touring. I would have joined them but I had a long drive back to Seattle and my legs were a little tired after 8-9 hours of skiing in two days.
The Hoks are a brilliant, fun ski and even better, they’re surrounded by a fantastic community. With so much negative press lately about mega passes and the commercialization of skiing, it was really refreshing to meet a group of people with no agenda other than to simply be outside and have fun in the snow.
It was a real pleasure meeting everyone at the event and I offer my biggest thanks to Nils, his wife Lisa, and the entire local community for their hospitality, friendliness, and courtesy. Hudson and I enjoyed every second! No doubt I’ll be back soon to Curlew and who knows? Just maybe I’ll make it over again this winter!
More photos from my weekend of skiing at Boulder Pass.
Click to enlarge photos.
Still with me and curious how the Tacoma camping worked out? It was amazing! Hudson was obviously right at home 😉