Skirafting: Backcountry Ski & Packraft Adventures

6-minute read

Aqua Bound Ambassador Jeffrey Creamer is an avid ski rafter—combining the backcountry sports of ski touring and packrafting into one adventure. We asked him to tell us more about it.

inflated packraft, ski and camping equipment in the snow in the mountains

 Living in Colorado gives Jeff easy access to mountainous terrain and rivers that are off the beaten path. His skiraft treks have taken him all over the western US, including Alaska and into Canada.

We know you’ll enjoy reading our interview with Jeff as he expounds on this unique adventure sport. Maybe it’ll inspire some dreams of your own!

AQUA BOUND: What exactly is “skirafting”?

JEFF: Packrafting in its most basic form is a multisport adventure—backpacking plus paddling. Many people drawn to packrafting come from sporting backgrounds other than paddling like climbers, backpackers, mountain bikers, skiers and even paragliders.

skirafter sking down a mountain slope

So, adventures can become more complex on long-haul traverses. Backpackers use multiple wilderness waterways. Climbers use rivers to exit mountain ranges. Or we can cross an icefield or range on skis to access a river.

Bikerafting is one of the more popular multi-sport adventures. Bikes make it easy to turn routes into loops, and it's relatively easy to carry big gear loads on bikes and on packrafts.

Skirafting is an adventure sport that integrates ski touring and packrafting. You carry or haul your packraft, and packraft with your skis. The basic routes take the form of skiing into a range to access a remote river in the spring, skiing across a glacier system and exiting on a glacial river, or paddling down a single river to access a ski objective along the way.

Take a look at one of Jeff’s 2024 trips in California:

I like ski+packraft combo trips for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a way to visit mountains and remote rivers in seasons when few other people are around. Packrafters are naturally attracted to wilderness, so unlike paragliding and biking, you can ski in wilderness areas in the US.

Skirafting routes take a lot of practice and knowledge to plan and execute well—to identify routes, and especially to time them well. So, that complex problem-solving is part of the attraction of this sport for me.

Second, I don't like walking on my feet long distances, which is the reason I got into packrafting in the first place. I can avoid that on skirafting trips.

I was inspired to start thinking about skirafting after hearing about Roman Dial's early ski-packraft trips in southern and central Alaska. And then especially Luc Mehl's Mount Logan Skiraft traverse that spanned from the coast near Yakutat to his home in McCarthy, AK. It involved hauling and paddling packrafts nearly 400 miles with the goal of skiing Canada's tallest peak.

AB: What kinds of skills do you need to skiraft safely?

JEFF: The logistical challenges, gear requirements and breadth of requisite skills are significant to be successful with this sport. But it is approachable if you put in the effort.

Many glacial rivers are easy-to-intermediate in technical difficulty, as are some mountain ranges or icefield ski traverses. Personally, I’m a very mediocre skier. But I've taken the time to dial in my gear systems, experience and partners to safely and reliably cross large-scale, remote zones on skis.

Jeff Creamer, close up, with his gear on his back

 The most important skills to develop aren't technical paddling or skiing skills. You can easily design a route that is relatively easy in those regards. More importantly, having a great baseline of wilderness decision-making skills and experiences is very important. Add to that the ability to adapt to changing conditions, to repair gear and finally to develop the right partnerships for these types of trips.

Perhaps the most important technical skill isn't a physical one. It’s the ability to integrate data about snowpack coverage, snow and avalanche conditions, river flows and weather to identify a route and timeframe when skiing and paddling are both good to go.

AB: What does your gear list consist of?

JEFF: Winterish camping gear + cold water packrafting gear + ski touring gear (even in their most distilled forms) will be crushing to carry all at once. So, equal in importance to gear selection is route and season selection to avoid foot travel where you carry both boat and skis on your back.

For gear, ultralight and cutting corners is the go-to strategy to be able to get off the ground. Tricks like using an ultralight pyramid tent that sets up with your paddle or using a comfortable PFD as part of your camp layering or seat, finding clothing layers that function well both skiing and in drysuits, using Ziploc bags as pogies, or relying on ski boot liners for foot warmth while paddling can collectively make a big difference in total weight.


diagram of how jeff creamer loads his ski and camping gear in his packraft

Jeff’s gear packing suggestions while packrafting

Paring down your skiraft kit to the essentials takes time and practice, as does managing all that gear and packing it well. For trips with ski mountaineering (avy tools, axe, etc.) plus serious whitewater (IV/V), my gear base weight is as low as 55 pounds. With simpler whitewater and avoidance of avalanche terrain, my gear base weight is as low as 35 pounds.

I almost always use one of the 2-piece Whiskey paddle variants on skiraft trips. The easiest way to carry skis on a packraft is to lash them to the deck underneath your elbows. But with the cargo fly zippers now standard on most packrafts, you can also safely(ish) load them inside your hull. That eliminates the interference between the skis and bindings and your paddle strokes. I've been able to paddle some significant whitewater—like highwater Kern River and Animas River—without damage to my packraft from skis, boots, axe, etc. loaded inside.

packrafter taking a small waterfall on a whitewater river

AB: Where have been your favorite skiraft destinations so far?

JEFF: The most common places for skirafting trips are mountain ranges with significant glacier systems like those in southern Alaska and Yukon, Iceland and Norway. Beyond Alaska, I've accomplished multiday skiraft routes in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

My favorite so far was a 300+ mile link-up that involved a ski traverse of Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains followed by paddling Marsh Creek into the Middle Fork and Main Salmon. Then we took a ski traverse to access the headwaters of the Selway River.

Thanks to Jeff for his time and tips for us on all things skirafting! You can follow him on his adventures on his website Requiem For a Job, his Instagram page and his YouTube channel.

skirafter paddles his packraft with his skis strapped to the sides of the boat

All photos courtesy of Jeffrey Creamer.

What paddling questions can our friendly Customer Service team help you with? Contact us here: 715-755-3405 or [email protected]

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