The terms “physically fit” and “expert ski mountaineers” don’t even begin to describe the Dorais brothers – some would say they’re possibly beyond human. Climbing and skiing higher, faster and harder than many mountaineers, Andy and Jason are consistently raising the bar. Most recently, the duo has been all over newsfeeds and media outlets for climbing and skiing down Mt. Rainier in under four hours. But, that’s not the only monumental adventure the brothers embarked on this season. We caught up with these SCARPA athletes to hear about their ascent of Rainier and skiing the Grand Teton’s Otter Body (both on SCARPA Aliens and Ski Trab skis), and what it’s like to set a speed record on racing gear.
This year, we were blessed to spend many amazing days skiing in the backcountry but two stand out most vividly in our minds. In late April, with our friend Tom, we were able to summit the Grand Teton and then descend the Otter Body route. It was a glorious, strange, terrifying, remarkable, tiring and joyous day. Then just last week, we donned our race gear, braced ourselves, and spent just under four hours climbing and skiing Mount Rainier from Paradise via the Disappointment Cleaver route. As of now, this is a new all comers record for Rainier and we’re thrilled to have lowered the standard no matter how transient the “record” may be.
Surviving the Otter Body:
On the Grand, we took off with a true alpine start and climbed in the brilliant moonlight. The weather was perfect and once we felt the irresistible pull of the Otter Body, we committed. Serious, steep and exposed, the game was now to stay alive and get down safely. We were concerned about the icy conditions but the warming temperatures alarmed us even more, so down we went.
The upper East Face skied well but as we approached the ever-steepening choke above the Otter Body Snowfield, the snow became firmer and eventually forced us out of our skis. We rappelled through the rocky choke and then enjoyed tentative turns on the icy Otter Body. As we approached the tail and entered the shade, the pitch became quite steep and we began to look for the established rap stations. After adding a pin to a shady anchor we performed two double rope rappels to freedom. On the Teepee, we screamed in relief and joy, thrilled to have visited such a wild place.
Breaking the Speed Limit on Mt. Rainier:
On Rainier, the goal was speed. We were motivated by a couple of Canadians who had just lowered the speed record to four hours and 19 minutes. We had their splits, knew the route (after a debacle the year before in which we got lost just minutes from Paradise), and just needed a weather window. In the end, we balanced warming conditions with lingering avy danger and settled on June 5th. At 6 am, under clear but warm skies, we took off after an unceremonious, “three, two, one, GO!”
From the “gun” we were fighting sloppy conditions and my heart rate monitor told me I was pushing too hard. Ignoring it, I focused on relaxing and staying with Jason. Halfway up the snowfield, conditions improved and the pace quickened. Moving through Camp Muir in an hour and 22 minutes, we were greeted by a dozen fellow climbers cheering us on. Their positivity energized us as we moved toward the Cleaver.
Around the corner, the Ingraham Glacier was beautifully broken up and I could see a couple parties high above the Cleaver. Everything was coming together perfectly.
Except, it was becoming harder to move fast in the thinning air. Jason screamed, “This is supposed to hurt!” and on we climbed.
Above the Cleaver, we were forced out of our skis to cross a ladder bridging a large crevasse. In my mind, I thought I would just walk right across but Jason dropped to his knees and began to crawl. While waiting for my turn, crawling began to seem like a much better idea and to my knees I went. Laughing, Jason tried to take a picture but missed it. Here we were trying to go faster than anyone before on this mountain and we were literally crawling. Ironic, I know.
The upper mountain was a blur, both mentally and visually as there was a small cloud lingering over the summit. As we topped out, my watch read three hours and 15 minutes. Sub four hours would be hard, especially as the upper mountain was in less than ideal condition for fast skiing.
At the Cleaver, we found amazing corn and started to ski. We slashed turns to the side of multiple parties who openly cheered us on. We were psyched by their support and glad to be able to get by quickly without interfering with their adventures.
Arcing big turns on the upper Muir, we joyfully found perfect corn and mostly smooth snow. This effortless skiing didn’t last and as we descended along the lower reaches of the snowfield, sticky isothermic glop made for more challenging conditions.
Just above Paradise we reunited after a short separation on the descent. We pointed ’em for home and started screaming out of joy, relief and the satisfaction of giving our best effort on that day.
Now, back in Salt Lake, we are psyched that we were lucky enough to be able to enjoy Rainier in the style we hoped for and in a time that represented a solid effort for the given conditions. While we believe our time of 3:57:55 to be the fastest round trip known to date, it would be foolish to think it will hold up. Faster people will come along but we’re just glad to play a part in the progression of the speed game on this classic North American mountain.
Although each of these days presented different challenges, some things were the same. We had great weather, a long-standing partnership (we started out by sharing a bedroom in the 80s), and incredible scenery. We also had great gear with which we trust our lives and which was instrumental in finding success.
Skiing big mountains on ski mountaineering race gear is not for everyone. The gear can be squirrely and there’s always an adjustment period. But once you gain a certain proficiency the rewards are immense. It’s easier to climb technical terrain with lighter boots that have a short, rockered sole. When swinging an ice tool, the short light skis are barely noticeable and their light weight is appreciated. We can ski more and faster which means we’re able to travel more efficiently in the mountains. Some could argue that the gift of speed increases the margin of safety while others argue the opposite.
Simply put: ski mountaineering on light gear is enlightening. It’s freedom.
For those starting out and interested in speeding up, we recommend finding a mentor, think about your personal goals, and individualize your gear. For us, we use Ski Trab skis, the Maestro for general mountaineering (171 cm and 950 gms), and the Race Aero (164 cm and 720 gms) for speed.
The SCARPA Alien is our go to boot for most endeavors. We put Ski Trab race bindings on all of our skis and use mohair skins since the glide outweighs the small decrease in climbing ability. Other adjuncts are ski crampons, lightweight packs, 6 mm cord for raps, breathable clothes, etc.
Put it all together and the difference is incredible. Enjoy the freedom!
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDY AND JASON DORAIS