Today is my birthday and there is 12″ of fresh snow on the snow stake. What could be better than that? It started snowing hard yesterday afternoon and continued well past the apres ski hour. At 7AM it has started up again and already dumped a few inches of new. Here are a few pictures from yesterday. If you aren’t able to get off work, I recommend you don’t look at them.
You might think that I haven’t posted anything in the last few days because I have been too busy skiing powder at Crystal. According to Facebook it’s been off the hook up here. And that’s probably true. But I wouldn’t know.
Instead, I’ve been sharing my story with various groups across the state. That’s right. I’m becoming a Motivational Speaker, which is kind of an oxymoron (more about that next time).
I did sneak in a day of skiing at Stevens Pass on Tuesday with a dear friend of mine that I haven’t seen in ages. We visited the new memorial site for Jim, Johnny and Chris, the recent avalanche victims. The frozen roses were beautiful and tragic.
Afterwards I spoke to a group of High School Journalists all with bright futures ahead of them, and I’m pretty sure I convinced at least one of them to scrap her plans for college and instead become a ski bum (sorry Mom).
Then later I drove over three mountain passes in a single day. Needless to say, it’s been a bit of a world-wind. Now I’m back at Crystal, hoping to find some leftover stashes today (if I ever find myself at a job interview, I’m afraid I will claim this ability to find powder turns two days after a storm as my BIGGEST STRENGTH).
The forecast looks pretty settled for the weekend, with another cold front arriving Monday. Perhaps March will live up to the hype. Fingers crossed.
My childhood desk was a work of art. It didn’t just sit in the corner of my room, accumulating piles of homework and stray scrunchies–it did that of course–but it also was a sort of friendship map. It was covered in colorful text. It included the phone numbers of everyone I ever knew, my oldest and dearest friend’s numbers relined and doodled upon lovingly. There was also the names of crushes outlined in painstakingly scrawled hearts, and quotations by my favorite authors. Hearts and mountains, raindrops and waves filled the spaces between the numbers. Some words and numbers were forgotten under the layers, others were new. But one line dominated the canvas. Across the top of my desk was written in big blue letters, “Spontaneity Rules.”
I was weird in High School. Not trench-coat wearing weird, more pseudo-intellectual weird (I pictured myself someday with Joan Baez hair and a book or two to my name, which is kinda strange when you think about it).
Lets just say I wasn’t your typical late 80s high schooler. Otherwise I’d have written “Beastie Boys Rule” or simply “Wham!”
Not me. I wasn’t going to be defined by my musical choices, but rather my lofty ideals. I had a loose plan of someday saving the world. Or at least showing the world how righteous you could be if you simply memorized a few quotations and outlined them in felt markers. I mean c’mon. We are the world, people.
My number one lofty ideal was spontaneity. Not that the daily grind of a high school Junior leaves many spur-of-the-moment decisions. There were the odd Fridays that I skipped afternoon classes and played pool at Jody’s instead. Sometimes I’d lower the top down on the Ford Galaxie when really summer was still months away. Or I might slide down the center of the outdoor escalators at the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Seattle just for fun.
Later, I would mourn the loss of this supposed spontaneity when I developed Type 1 diabetes and would need to take insulin and plan my activity with each dose of medication. When an unscheduled romp down a slip ‘n slide followed by a pick-up frisbee game could send you into diabetic shock, it’s easy to leave the bag of spontaneity by the front door.
So when my husband called me from two states away just after I finished by book signing at Brighton Resort on Saturday to ask me if I had any plans “Monday through Friday,” I didn’t even ask what he had up his sleeve. I remembered that old message scrawled across my desk and asked, ”What do you have in mind?”
“Japan.” He said.
“What’s that noise in the background? Are you at the bar?”
“It’s puking in Japan.” I could hear him smile into the telephone. “Martin and Jesse and Scott are going too. Are you in or not?”
I didn’t hesitate. “I’m in. Of course. It’s dumping? When?”
“Excellent. Now. Tomorrow.”
I would need to change my flight back to Seattle in order to make it happen. I calculated the gargantuan effort it would take to explain to John where my skis and all my gear was spread out in the patrol room–my ski boots in the boot drying room two pairs from the left, my powder skis one slot over from my locker next to the radio cabinet and behind another pair of skis, my helmet hanging above my locker on a peg, my ski pants at the apartment hanging on the back of the front door.
While he bagged up our ski gear, I’d head home from the airport and get our passports. We’d meet back at the airport an hour later. Could we do it?
“I just spoke to a woman in Hokkaido. The upper mountain was down today, roads are closed, cars are stuck. Its puking. Its sick.”
“Awesome. I’m all in.”
“Great,” John said. “I’ll call you back with the details in an hour.”
And so that was it. We are off to Japan to ski powder and eat sushi and soak in the hot tub with monkeys. I’ve been promised monkey hot tubbing, and I’m not leaving until I experience it. That and washing down a miso ramen with a Sapporo beer.
I’ll probably post a Japan condition report later in the week. And I might get out a High-Five Report sometime this week. But I may not even have internet connection since we don’t yet know where we’re staying. Oh did I mention that? We don’t actually have accommodations yet.
But that’s okay. Because “spontaneity rules!”
The Pacific Northwest has enjoyed wild weather these past ten days. For a while there, the fire hose of the jet stream pointed right at us, bringing enough snow to open Crystal Mountain as well as the other ski areas in the state. We started with a skiff of snow that fell in October and never really left. Followed by cold, dry temperatures, that early snow sat on the ground and rotted out. A shallow snowpack is a weak snowpack, and when it finally snowed a few feet, enough to open the ski resort, we patrollers worried about the bond to that old layer. With widespread whoomfing and unnerving cracking, the snowpack waited for a heavy load to fail.
That load arrived last week when we were hit with the Four W’s (wild, wet, windy and wacky). In 48 hours, a thick blanket of wind-packed 36″ of snow fell Monday and Tuesday, then turned to rain. Where skiers compacted the snowpack over the previous weekend, the slides were minimal. Elsewhere, not so much.
Bear Pits and Brand X both lost most of the season’s snow. It started snowing again on Thanksgiving and by Friday, we were back in action, enjoying our second powder high (following Bluebird Sunday) of the season.
When low pressure systems churn off the coast, moving further south as they approach, they often “dig” into the tropical moisture, and pull that warm air around in their track, bringing rain.
Whenever you hear forecasters calling for a “digging low” beware of warm moisture. This kind of pattern brings a best-of-times/worst-of-times scenario in which one day the mountains are blanketed in light, fresh powder, and the next day the temperature spikes, the wind picks up and everyone’s spirits are dampened.
Herein lies the lesson. When it’s powder, ski it. This is why I love my job. Not only do I get to throw explosives onto powdery slopes and watch the weather with the zeal of forecaster, I also learn to appreciate the smaller moments. When Ingrid Backstrom stopped to help me string a rope to close off a rocky section in Northway, I had to smile. I watched her ski away with my husband and friends as I clove hitched the orange and black rope to sticks of bamboo. But that’s okay. I’d gotten my turns in earlier. As I later explained to one of the new patrollers, our job isn’t so much about skiing ourselves as it is about providing that experience to others. Certainly we enjoy our fair share of turns. But it’s not just about the skiing. Joy and inspiration can come at any moment–even when the low digs too far, or friends ski powder while you set up a ropeline. All I have to do is look around me and I find it.
As for the weather forecast, things are setting down. A ridge of high pressure will build across Western Washington, bringing warm and dry days ahead. By Thursday, we expect low clouds in the valleys and clear, warm days in the mountains. Spring skiing anyone?
When Larry Schick, the Grand Pubah of Powder, says it’s going to be a snowy
winter, take heed. The weather service announced today that we are in a weak La Nina pattern, which means above normal snowpack. Can I get a high-five? In Schick’s words:
Above normal snowfall is the exclusive and predictable NW seasonal weather feature produced by La Nina. No other region can make that claim. Everyone else will be rolling the dice. For us, the dice are loaded strongly in our favor with La Nina nudging the storms in our direction. Beyond our region, they are drooling with snow envy. See:
Drooling with snow envy? I like that. He’s also calling for an earlier than usual opening (yes!) a lackluster January (similar to last season) and a good spring (awesome!). Let’s here it for La Nina!
After such a great response from last week’s post offering a little advice to would-be women ski bums, I’m offering here another side of the coin: the politics of relationships on the slopes.
Fellow ski journalists John Naye and Claudia Carbone put together a “He said/She said” on the sport of skiing and I’m reprinting it here with permission. I’d be thrilled to hear your reactions to this one. Here it goes: (kk)
Ski slopes can be fertile hunting grounds for the sexes, but that Mars/Venus thing can also turn those slopes into a battlefield. Ski hills are the perfect place to test compatibility, but they can also test our patience. Can you survive taking a run together, riding the chair together, and agreeing on lunch together?
Not too long ago I was discussing this subject with a female friend of mine, who happens to currently be the President of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, a position I also held a few years ago. Claudia lives in the Colorado ski resort town of Breckenridge, and because she works as a skiing ambassador for the resort, she sees her share of skiers and riders trying to work out their gender based differences. For fun, I asked her to write some comments about skiing with men to which I could write a counter point about skiing with women. Here’s a part of that.
I love to ski with a man. I’ll take a date on the slopes over après-ski every time. But if you want to ski with this downhill diva, then pay attention. For starters, where does it say that guys have to be the leaders? You think you own the mountain. You get off the lift and zoom, you disappear. Okay, I may not always know where I am, but getting lost together could be romantic, could it not?
Guys love to talk the talk, especially in the bar the night before. Usually the ones who brag the most ski with the grace of Chewbacca. Of course, everything has got to be an unannounced contest: who can ski the fastest, the longest, the most runs, the steepest terrain. It seems that no matter how exhausted or frightened you might be, you’ll never ever admit it..
A bite of chocolate and a squirt of Gatorade isn’t lunch. I want a full sit-down meal. Besides marking the end of morning and the beginning of afternoon, lunch is an opportunity for a make-up check. You men do understand that, don’t you?
Mountain scenery takes my breath away. If you want to do the same, stop occasionally and savor the view. And speaking of scenery, don’t dress like a dork. Zip up your jacket, cut off that collection of old lift tickets, and don’t even think about wearing jeans as ski pants.
Another thing: I get so tired of hearing “Come on, you can handle this.” I’ll make that decision myself, thank you. If you lead me astray on the mountain, I’ll cut you off after dinner!
Now, let’s go rip it up.
Ah, get over it Claudia. If men didn’t lead the snow parade, there wouldn’t be enough ski patrollers in all of recorded history to find all the tender-gender types lost out there on the mountain. When’s the last time you actually saw a woman read and understand a trail map?
I love to ski with women too…but it’s not unconditional love. Since when did whining become an Olympic sport? It’s too cold, too hot, too steep, too foggy, too early, too late, just about too anything.
And how can there actually be “too much powder?” Why do women always want to have a leisurely breakfast on a powder day? Why am I the jerk if I want first tracks? You could happily meet me later, couldn’t you? I know you’d find that trail map handy then!
One of the biggest things that bugs me about skiing with chicks is when I ask them 500 times if they want to try something a bit more “aggressive” and they keep saying yes. Then I take them to a… BLUE run and…. HOLYMOTHEROFGOD… it all hits the fan, and I instantly go from Mr. Charm to Mr. Mean.
What happened to that women’s lib thing, you know, all that equal treatment under the law. Does the simple fact that I invited you to go skiing mean I get to pay for everything…. your lift tickets, ski rental, meals, spa bills, everything? Then, if I do, the first thing I hear is “that was an exhausting first run – I’m going to the lodge. See you at four.” Not much value for that $60 lift ticket, is it?
I don’t think you women realize your real ability. You may be the most technically sound skiers in the world – but will you push your speed a little….no way. I mean, where is the sense of adventure? Then you decide to stop and chat half-way down a run, then pout about being left behind. Save the chatter for the chairlifts, that’s what they’re for.
And one more thing. Don’t ask me – don’t ever ask me – if you look fat in stretch pants!
Thanks John and Claudia for offering your perspectives. I, too, often witness this push and pull on the slopes. Now dear readers, it’s your turn. How far has the sport tested your relationships? Hit the comment button and tell us your thoughts.
Tomorrow, Saturday July 16th, will be the last day for lift-served skiing at Crystal Mountain. It’s been a long, eventful season and thanks to La Nina we’ve broken all sorts of records this season. Here’s a recap:
- 612″ of snow fell at Crystal Mountain this season (breaking the previous record by a good foot and change)
- We reached our maximum snowpack in April. I used to think that after April 1, even if we got big storms, the snow would already be headed towards its inexorable slide towards the rivers, melting a little every day. Not so this season.
- 60+ days of Avalanche Control by the ski patrol
- New Gondola!
- Longest season on record
- My personal best for powder days
So, with all these big reasons to proclaim our fealty to La Nina, join me up at Crystal Mountain tomorrow to get a few more turns. We’ll be raising our glasses at 3pm at the Summit House to toast the season, the gondola and most of all, La Nina. That lady of winter can visit anytime; she’s always welcome in my backyard.