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7 Steps for a Successful Dawn Patrol

There are few things that make you feel better about your day than starting off with a dawn patrol. Getting up at 5 a.m., skinning in the cold dark of early morning, watching the sun rise from high in the mountains, and skiing fresh powder with your friends really makes those hours at work go a little more smoothly. I’ve only been skiing in the backcountry for about five years now, but close to half of my total days have been morning tours. During that time I’ve made just about every mistake in the book. Sometimes the only way to figure out how to do something is to first learn how not to do it. Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Live near the mountains

In order to ski before work, you have to live close to the mountains. Aside from resort towns where the only available jobs are bartenders and lifties, the options are pretty slim. Salt Lake City is pretty unique in its closeness to the mountains, but it’s not the only place. If you live in a mountain state and plan to do a lot of dawn patrols, you might want to look for a place with easy access to the goods (rather than, say, something downtown). If you don’t live in a mountain state, then you’re out of luck. Sorry.

Pack the night before

Put your skins on your skis, load up your pack (make sure your headlamp is in there), grab your poles, and throw it all in your car or truck at night so you don’t have to mess with any of that before your coffee has a chance to kick in. Then put all of your clothes in a pile along with your ski boots and beacon so you’re ready to roll when the alarm goes off.

Have the morning routine down

Wake up, get dressed in your ski clothes and put on your beacon. Make your coffee, and drink it while you eat breakfast and check the early-morning avalanche report. Take a quick peek at your rig to see if you’re going to be scraping off snow or if you can chill for a bit. Then hop in and start driving at the time you’d calculated the night before.


Keep your boots warm

Don’t leave your boots in the car overnight. Carry them out with you in the morning and let them ride up front. You don’t want to leave them in the back of a truck or in the trunk of a car and put on freezing cold boots at the trailhead.

Be on time

This should go without saying, but don’t be late. Your friends all have to be at work, too, so they’re not going to be too stoked to wait around for an extra 15 minutes after waking up at 5 in the morning.

Remain aware

It’s easy to go into auto-pilot when you’re skinning by headlamp at 6:05 a.m., but you still need to keep in mind that you’re in the backcountry. Try to do morning tours in places you’ve seen in the daylight so you know you’re not skinning under a big slope that you can’t ski in the dark. Keep in mind everything you heard in the avalanche forecast and discuss conditions with your friends as you ski. Just because you’re banging out a pre-work quickie doesn’t mean you get to slack on the fundamentals.

Stay awake at work

The only real drawback to this whole thing is that you’re generally pretty thrashed when you walk into the office. I recommend a constant influx of caffeine. Good luck.

For tips on packing for a dawn patrol, check out Andrew Mclean’s Dawn Patrol Essentials.

Above Photos: Adam Riser