How to Turn a Good Trip Into a Great One

There are just three steps. Even we can remember three steps.

In the outdoor community, we commonly talk about trips in terms of the Fun Scale. As a refresher, here’s the scale according to climber, writer, and self-proclaimed margarita specialist Kelly Cordes:

Type I Fun – true fun, enjoyable while it’s happening. Good food, good sex, 5.8 hand cracks, sport climbing, powder skiing. Margaritas.

Type II Fun – fun only in retrospect, hateful while it’s happening. Things like working out ’till you puke, and usually ice and alpine climbing. (Think a bad hangover that makes you swear you’ll never drink again)

Type III Fun – not fun at all, not even in retrospect. As in, “What the hell was I thinking? If I ever even consider doing that again, somebody slap some sense into me.”

Recently, I went on a trip I’d call Type 1.5 Fun. Not terribly fun while it was happening, but not terribly terrible either. I’d compare it to drinking a flat, warm Rainier beer on a rainy day.

Only, we were climbing Mt. St. Helens in sub-optimal conditions – far worse than the weather report had led us to expect – then skiing down breakable crust in the driving wind, only to discover the breakable crust did NOT eventually turn into fun spring corn as anticipated and instead turned immediately into grabby schmoo, meaning we had encountered two out of three of the worst skiing conditions imaginable (the third, of course, being bulletproof ice).

But you know what? I had fun anyway, because I had followed the Three Rules of Good to Great in the backcountry:

Set Really, Really Low Expectations
When you ski 40+ days a year in the Pacific Northwest you learn to deal with all kinds of weather and ski conditions: wind, rain, fog, graupel, schmoo, rime, sleet, crust, sugar…. you name it, we play in it. The best advice I’ve ever heard is to dial up your layering program and dial down your expectations so that, when you find yourself at 11,000′ in the middle of a grapple-launching windstorm while perched precariously on your crampons and ice axe, your friend can look at you with a wry smile and say “A little windy!” and you can return your evil smirk and say, “Yeah, just a bit.”

Go Out With Fun People
I’ve written a bunch about what it takes to get into backcountry skiing and how to be a good adventure buddy, so I won’t go on ad-nauseam here, but really the formula is simple: make a plan + invite good people = have a good time.

When In Doubt, Add Beer
Or chocolate or chips or something that will make you feel better in the moment of awfulness. We stood on the summit of St. Helens for approximately three minutes, scooted down 100 feet to the party zone where someone had built a snow wall for wind protection where we made a hasty transition and shared a beer with our ten new best friends, then skied to a spot out of the wind and drank a cold, not-flat can of Holiday Rainier while looking south to Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. The view did not suck. The beer made it better.

Follow these rules on your next trip to make every adventure a solid Type 1.5 on the Fun Scale.


Showing 5 comments
  • Kevin

    Amazing how hateful poor snow conditions are and how awesome corn and powder are in comparison. I’m in Colorado so it’s much easier for finding both powder and corn in the proper season, I would guess that probably 80% of my trips pay off with mostly those two kinds of snow, but you really can’t know until you go, and sometimes that means crust or the sun didn’t come out in spring so it’s icy. Part of the fun of it is being surprised by good snow, and I guess you have to take the bad along with the good.

    • robert

      any day skiing is better than sitting at home! that said, totally agree about the let down in expectations when you find out the snow is more like elmers glue

  • Levi

    *Graupel. I’m not correcting you to be a smartass. I’m just a big fan of cool words that describe snow. Unless you’re wrestling in the snow, in which case, grapple and carry on!

    • Steve Casimiro


  • DanO

    Fly fishing the Gros Ventres one August, a buddy and I were hit by a sudden microburst storm that ripped down the river, followed by a steady hour of heavy cold rain. Having taken shelter under an old bridge, I dug through my pack and found a space blanket, steel cup and some via pouches. My buddy found he still had a full flask of Jamesons from a past trip. PARTY ON! Windbreak/reflector in place, the fire warmed us and the river water to a boil for some Irished-up Christmas Blend. By the time the rest of the party came back with the car to pick us up, the rain had stopped and we were toasty and toasted.

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