‘The Essence of Exploring’ at 10,000 Feet

By Beacon Staff

According to the Kootenai Indian legend, “Kintla,” for which a lake and a mountain in Glacier National Park are named, means “sack.” The story goes that once someone fell into the lake, there was no getting out. The same logic applied to Andy Zimet and the mountain: once he decided he was going to ski down it, there was no turning back.

After waiting 20 years for the perfect moment, crossing two lakes, bushwhacking endless miles and climbing a mountain, Zimet was about to reach his goal of skiing Glacier’s six 10,000-foot peaks.

It was a personal project of his that began in the spring of 1991. Growing up in Colorado, Zimet’s entire family spent most of their winters on the slopes. From those early experiences grew a love for the backcountry.

“For me backcountry skiing combines so many things,” he said. “That’s the essence of great skiing for me – powder and no one else’s tracks but your own.”

Between 1991 and 2009, Zimet skied five of Glacier’s 10,000-foot mountains. More often than not, this required long hikes, steep climbs and even traversing lakes and rivers. Yet one peak eluded him: Mount Kintla. Located in the remote northwest corner of the park, the mountain is separated from civilization by lakes, forest and steep cliffs. His first attempt in the late 1990s ended in frustration when he couldn’t get through the dense forest (which later burned in 2003). During another attempt he couldn’t cross the deep lakes that lay before the mountain. And on another, the weather never cooperated. As Zimet’s friend Jay Shaver said: “That is not a trip for the timid.”

In July 2011, Zimet finally made his way up the mountain and skied down, but unfortunately weather forced him and Shaver to pick an easier route, not the dramatic run down the west face of the mountain that he had seen, and dreamed of, from a distance.

“It was a mix of satisfaction and, underneath that, dissatisfaction,” Zimet said.

But like the old legend suggests, he couldn’t escape. A week later he went back to the mountain, by himself, to finally ski the west face. After a long hike, camping out at the base and then climbing at dawn, he was finally about to finish his “project” the way he wanted. For 45 minutes, he sat at the top and took it all in. Then, when the moment was right, he put on his skies and headed down.

“The essence of adventure is not knowing if you’re going to pull it off in the end,” he said. “(And) it turned out to be the perfect route and everything I had hoped for.”