Story by Katy Shipley
When I drive through Bridgeport, CA, and turn the corner toward the mountains, I am filled with excitement. This quaint little town, surrounded by green pastures and granite cliffs, is the northern gateway to the High Sierra. Bridgeport always brings a sense of nostalgia and is one of my favorite views of the Eastern Sierra.
In my younger years, it was all about the resorts, and Bridgeport was a place to stretch the legs on the way to Mammoth Mountain. Now, I look more to the backcountry trailheads, and Bridgeport has become an alluring area along the 395 corridor. This little town has evolved into a base camp for winter exploration.
Bridgeport has always had a loyal following of backcountry enthusiasts. People gravitate toward it for its iconic routes and remote feel. The Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area (BWRA) and surrounding trailheads provide convenient mountain access. Guide services are available for backcountry adventures, and a hot spring or two is nearby. Do you need much more?
Learning About Bridgeport From International Alpine Guides
International Alpine Guides at the base of the Matterhorn. Source: International Alpine Guides Facebook
When I heard about International Alpine Guides, I was excited to talk to them about one of my favorite areas. Join me as I get to know Dave Miller, the owner of International Alpine Guides, and ask him about the Bridgeport area.
Dave is an IFMGA-certified mountain and ski guide who has spent 22 years guiding throughout California, North America, and the Alps of Europe. He has skied in almost every Western state and done multi-day ski tours in British Columbia. In California, he has done ski tours and peak descents throughout the Sierra Nevada from Tahoe to Whitney and has about 30 ski descents of Mount Shasta.
Dave, who has roots in North Tahoe, has been skiing for 53 years. He grew up as an alpine racer, ranking 10th in the nation in the downhill event, and started backcountry skiing in the Tahoe area about 28 years ago. Naturally, he got hooked on the big mountains of the Eastern Sierra.
I asked him what keeps him in the Sierra.
“What keeps me there? Arguably some of the best ski terrain in the world. While other ranges may have a colder or more consistent snowpack, the High Sierra has an almost endless selection of world-class terrain to choose from. It’s a bit like the Alps of Europe without the glaciers and cable cars. Frankly, I think the Eastern Sierra is perhaps the best place in the world to live if you are both a climber and a skier.”
Touring in Bridgeport
Dave’s love for the High Sierra is quite evident. He has devoted time and effort towards sharing his experience with others with his guiding operation. I wanted to know more about Bridgeport, so I asked him about touring in the area.
“Which tour is most popular?”
“It depends on conditions, of course, but a popular go-to in the Bridgeport area would be the Horse Creek Canyon zone near Matterhorn Peak. On lower snow years and later in the season on bigger snow years when there’s road access, the multitude of fantastic tours in the Virginia Lakes area are perhaps the most popular in the Bridgeport area.”
His answer didn’t surprise me. When I looked on a map, I saw that you could go 20 minutes in any direction and find yourself in the heart of the Sierra: Sonora Pass to the north, Horse Creek to the west, and Virginia Lakes to the south. Bridgeport is truly an epicenter of adventure.
So, after 53 years of skiing, what does this guy do on a day off? Ski Matterhorn Peak, of course!
“One of my go-to’s is the Ski Dreams couloir off Matterhorn Peak. It’s a full day’s outing, but the aspect is great, and the access is pretty straightforward. And it’s such a spectacular alpine setting up there on the Sawtooth Ridge.”
More About International Alpine Guides
While I had the chance, I asked him to give me a brief history of his guiding company.
“I founded International Alpine Guides 18 years ago based in the Eastern Sierra. In 2020, we purchased Alpine Skills International, based in Truckee, California’s oldest independently owned mountain guide service, from Mimi Vadasz. Combining the two companies has given us the legacy of over 40 years of mountain guiding experience in California.”
Dave and his wife Jessica co-own the company and guide throughout California. They have bases in Mammoth Lakes, Truckee, and Mount Shasta. IAG also offers international guide services around the world. They have spent the past 16 years guiding, ski mountaineering, and touring throughout the Alps of France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria.
It was great to see the mountains. I love sitting side by side with the European Alps and holding their own. It was a testament to how amazing this area is, including a small town like Bridgeport. Someone with so much experience and travel under their belt still finds themselves coming back to their roots. It was great to hear about his history and love for the Sierra. I would gladly put my adventure in his hands if given the chance.
Travel Quick Tips
If Dave’s words inspire you, it’s time to start planning. Here are some quick tips to think about before heading to Bridgeport.
- Bridgeport is more remote. A handful of places stay open through the winter, so be ready for winter camping if you want to wake up at the trailhead.
- Bring your swimsuit and hit up Buckeye Hot Springs after a long ski day.
- Mammoth Lakes is only an hour away. Pay a visit and enjoy the brewery, shops, and food.
- Take extra care in planning backcountry routes around Bridgeport. Save maps, bring guidebooks, and triple-check the weather. Check-in with Bridgeport Avalanche Center to see recent conditions. The reception area is very slim, and the terrain is vast.
Bonus Questions with Dave
Describe your current ski setup.
“Which one? I never thought I’d be such a quiver guy, but currently, my setups involve a slew of Black Crow skis, including the 107mm underfoot Corvus Freebird, my “fatter” long-distance touring ski, the 95mm Camox Freebird, and I’m adding a 88mm lightweight touring ski to the mix for those fast and light Alps tours. I also have a 112mm underfoot DPS powder ski for those deep and cold days.”
Tell me about your wildest day in the backcountry.
“The craziest thing I think that’s happened to me while on a backcountry ski tour was getting bitten by a rattlesnake. Like how does that happen on a ski tour?! I was finishing up a Mammoth to Yosemite Valley ski tour and hiking in my ski boots down a dry, sun-warmed trail into the Valley, and a baby rattlesnake struck me on the plastic of my ski boot, so I was fine. Not really one of the objective hazards you normally think of while heading out on a tour.”
This story was originally posted on SnowBrains.com.