Test pieces donít have to be testosterone pieces. On the contrary, they can be enjoyable, safe and even mellow. The basic idea is to take some aspect of skiing and push it past your comfort zone. Just the process of learning how to ski is an endless series of test pieces Ė you start out on mellow hills, move to something steeper to hone your skills, then graduate to steeper yet to get your thrills. Yet tragically often, this is the end of the line and boredom sets in. Where do you go when Muskrat Hills just doesnít do it for you anymore? A time-honored remedy is to try some new gear, but what you really need is a change of scenery and something that inspires. You need a Quest. A raison díetre. A test piece for the soul.
Part of the allure of backcountry skiing is that there are no set rules. For better or worse, you are on your own when it comes to finding the New New Thing with sticks attached to your feet. This isnít really as hard as it might seem as test pieces come in all sorts of colors and flavors, and fun is where you find it. For the geographically challenged, try stacking as many runs into a day as you can, and suddenly you have the 24 Hours of Tuckermans. Skiing every peak over 500 meters in your home state over the course of a season yields the Michigan 500.
For powder and corn connoisseurs, thereís always bigger, deeper and more. Powder is nice, but lots of powder is even nicer and skiing it nonstop is better yet. British Columbia offers some exquisite terrain for that elusive 500 turn, nonstop, thigh-burning, lung searing white orgy of joy. You may not make it, but the melt down process will never be forgotten. The hunt for the ultimate corn run would most likely end up in a California chute-out. Just you, your weapons of choice and the golden harvest of Avalanche Gulch on Mt. Shasta. May the best man grin.
These are a few of my favorite things, but there are many more. Test pieces can be short, dark and ugly, or long, tall and lean. The important thing is rise to the occasion and challenge yourself. You never know until you go, and sometimes you end up surprising yourself with what you can do.