One skier’s easy cruiser is another’s white-knuckle nightmare, but through the eyes of Gig Harbor’s Jason Hummel, everything’s a ski run—especially near-vertical walls of ice. He’s on a quest as adventurous as any Himalayan expedition yet wholly within state borders: to ski every named Washington glacier.
Ten years ago Hummel was just another Northwest weekend warrior, cramming backcountry ski trips between workweeks as a financial advisor. Inspired by the death of a photographer friend, he quit his job and picked up a camera; the Morton-born explorer quickly became one of Washington’s most prolific ski photographers. Hummel and his twin brother have skied at least once a month for 20 years, their streak having begun long before they’d heard of the Turns All Year craze.
Hummel had summited plenty of Cascade peaks, but he was drawn to the untracked bumps and corners in between. He settled on what he calls the Washington Glacier Project in 2014, but quickly realized there’s no official glacier count. He’s tallied 255 named glaciers, but the total is a moving target depending on source maps and melt. And then there’s accessing the remote ice slabs; he describes the project as “bushwhacking, fording rivers, winding through old-growth forests, leaping over yawning crevasses, skiing down beautiful and pristine peaks in the middle of nowhere.”
Hummel’s circumnavigated volcanoes and shot down chutes, snapping mountain vistas you’d swear were from remote Alaska. His photos always capture the stark relief between mighty glaciers and tiny humans; on Rainier’s north Willis Wall he notes, “We are nothing, just ants scurrying about her slopes and fleas biting at her snowy skin.” He blogs about the expeditions at myadventurecrusade.com and plans on a book when the project is complete.
A decade into his life as a full-time outdoorsman, Hummel is reflective about his chosen profession’s inherent physical and financial risks and the toll of losing friends to mountain accidents. He’s already pondered where he’d want his ashes spread; he identifies Glacier Peak Wilderness as one repository—not on the summit, but on the lower slopes that are meadows in one month and ski slopes the next. “Me, I want to be where life and death swing with the seasons.”
Backcountry Boom by the Numbers
Backcountry \ bak-kən-trē \ Terrain outside established ski resorts, an increasingly popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. The pros: untracked powder, no crowds, spectacular scenery. The cons: no lifts, plenty of avalanche danger.
- 1.1 million American backcountry snowboarders in 2016–17, up 60 percent in two years.
- 928,000 American backcountry skiers in 2016–17, up 10 percent in two years.
- 24 Hours of instruction in AIARE 1, an introductory course in how to safely navigate avalanche terrain offered by guide services and nonprofits across the state.
- 11 Total avalanche dogs, trained in finding humans buried under snow, serving Crystal Mountain and Stevens Pass this winter.