Storm Tracks, Powder Highs and Digging Lows


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.

Giving Thanks on "White Friday" for the 12" of New Snow

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.

Just before it turned to rain

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.

This is why I love my job

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?

3 responses »

    • Glad you like the new look. Thanks. Ingrid’s parents were ski patrollers with me, and I remember her when she was young. It was great to see her up at Crystal after the Thanksgiving holiday and awesome that she stopped to help me. She’s quite a gal.

  1. Pingback: What Happened to La Nina? « Kim Kircher

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