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Ski Mountaineer: Iain Kuo

Ski Mountaineer: Iain Kuo

Iain Kuo

Mirroring our own founder, Kate Schade, Iain Kuo is a self-proclaimed ski mountaineer dedicated to an adventurous life in Jackson Hole. Documenting his own trips, Iain uses photography to allow others to experience adventures right alongside him. This Kate’s Real Food Partner told us about his last ride of the ski season across the length of the Wind River Range in the heart of Wyoming.

Iain enjoys a snack and a brief rest on the glacier during day 4 in the Winds. (photography by Iain Kuo)

One Last Ride

Iain spent over a year planning and preparing for a climb and ski of North America’s tallest peak, Denali, along with former US Team Mogul Skier, Sophia Schwartz and Jackson Hole native, Ian Johnston. When all Denali trips were cancelled, the team decided not to let their five-plus months of rigorous training go to waste. They immediately started making plans for one last ride closer to home.

“Surprise setbacks will force you to get creative and seek out unconventional opportunities, which can be even more fulfilling than following the well-worn path.” - Iain Kuo

From left to right: Ian Johnston, Sophia Schwartz, and Iain Kuo. (photography by Iain Kuo)

This 2-week ski traverse through Wyoming’s highest peaks was planned at great length. Maps were meticulously studied, training was demanding, and safety measures were taken at every step. They chose a range that would provide them with challenges similar to those offered by Denali. The three mountaineers made the trek end-to-end across the Winds on foot, covering over 115 miles and 32,000 vertical feet while navigating unforgiving wilderness terrain for thirteen days.

The team approaches the summit ridge on Gannett Peak. (photography by Iain Kuo)

Ski Training

Iain trained with Uphill Athlete six days per week over five months leading up to the trip. His main focus revolved around slow aerobic base training, but he had to work on strength and muscular endurance as well.

Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic base training is necessary for all endurance athletes. Iain’s goal was to keep his heart rate elevated --but below his aerobic threshold-- over long-duration workouts. His go-to was hiking up and skiing down Snow King Mountain at a slow and steady pace. To prepare for a multi-week ski traverse, he needed to train his body to handle prolonged, continuous travel over difficult terrain.

Muscular Endurance Training

Once a good base was established, ski training became more intense leading up to the expedition. Iain knew that not only would he have to ski tour across many miles in the mountains, but he would have to pack a heavy load. Nearly two weeks in a remote area means all your supplies are on your back or in your sled. To tailor his training for this specific activity, he started to carry heavy packs on his trips up and down the local training hills.

Ian and Sophia haul a heavy load over a high mountain pass deep in the Winds on day 8. (photography by Iain Kuo)

Wind River Range

The mountaineers started their journey on May 2, 2020, about nine miles northwest of the Green River Lakes Trailhead. Due to the changing spring weather, they encountered some difficult conditions entering the mountains and were forced to extend the mileage to reach their goal. Determined to complete the end-to-end journey across the entire range, the team powered through mud, slush, open rock, thick trees, and deep snow.

Sophia crosses a cold mountain stream barefoot with her gear on her back. (photography by Iain Kuo)

“You don’t need to catch a flight to an exotic, faraway place to experience the adventure of a lifetime. Sometimes, you only need to take a closer look at what’s waiting in the backyard.” - Iain Kuo

Alone in the mountains, they encountered a variety of obstacles: riding out snowstorms that brought thunder and lightning, managing a 70-pound per person load, forging their own path through the snow-covered wilderness, and altering the route on the spot to avoid unforeseen dangerous terrain. In the end, all their hard work paid off. Iain, Ian, and Sophia completed their 115-plus mile journey across the Wind River Range just after midnight on May 15. Along the way, they skied from the summit of Gannett Peak, the Wyoming state high point.

Ian Johnston arcs a powder turn below the Gooseneck Pinnacle on Gannett. (photography by Iain Kuo)

Through all the ups and downs, Iain came away with only fond memories of the trip. He enjoyed learning from unexpected challenges, pushing himself to his limits, and finding solitude in the breathtaking beauty of Wyoming’s greatest mountain wilderness.

The team enjoys breakfast at sunrise from inside their tent in the high alpine. (photography by Iain Kuo)

Iain uses organic food bars from Kate’s Real Food as his go-to fuel on his many adventures. We are so thrilled to be a part of his journey. Follow his latest here! You can also find Iain’s photography work scattered across the Kate's Real Food website.