You know what I’m talking about: it’s the best powder day to date and you spend it digging your car out from the road you had no business driving up in the first place without chains or much clearance to speak of. It’s digging your sled out of a tree well—or crashing it somewhere more creative, requiring elaborate pulley systems and the rest of your daylight hours to rescue it.
Those days when you hike around with your skis on for hours in search of the snow you know has fallen, but you never find it—in fact, you never even get to rip your skins. When one of your party realizes they forgot an essential item—skins, poles, boots—after you’ve driven for two hours to the trailhead.
Those days when you dig a pit at the top of your dream line to find a yellow light snowpack, make the tough decision and end up skiing back down your skin track, second-guessing yourself the whole way.
Mission fail days usually end in consolation beers at 11:00am, someone despondently smoking a joint in the backseat on the long drive home, and lots of wistful “If we’d only been able to…” and “It would have been SO good if…”
But the worst part of mission fail is coming back to town and meeting up with your friends who skied knee-deep powder all day at the resort, or opening Facebook and Instagram to smug photos of cold smoke turns on all the other missions that succeeded.
The only comfort here is that mission fail happens to all of us who are determined to get into the backcountry. It happened to me just last weekend, after one of the biggest early-season storms of the year. And no, I didn’t take a single turn, and yes, we ended up at the brewery drinking beers we didn’t really earn.
The thing is that ski films need to show mission fail, because it’s part and parcel of backcountry skiing. To pretend it never happens is a disservice to how hard we work for those glorious powder turns when we do get them. Ski touring isn’t all dream lines and straightforward skinning—when it is, we love it more than anything else because it makes us heroes. But the backcountry is also route-finding and combat skinning, long discussions and second-guessed decisions, survival skiing through questionable coverage, and unromantic conversations involving snowpack analysis.
The reason we keep going back at risk of mission fail is to search out those dream lines, the feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day, the simplicity of being in the mountains. And because sometimes, miserable experiences make for good stories.
Which is why the greatest ski film ever made will be about mission fail, as soon as someone finds the humility to tell that story.