Yesterday Southback was the run of the day–smooth and fast. I took a few laps out there and plan to take a few more today. There are still plenty of lines out there. While today might be busy inbounds, I suggest taking the walk to get to the goods. You’ll be glad you did.
What It’s Been
Skiers and riders in the PNW are all in the same boat. We have some of the best conditions in the lower 48, and still we know it’s not good enough. Maybe we’re spoiled here. Perhaps our skis are too fat.
We want more than fast groomers and bluebird days. We expect relentless storms, snowfall filling in our tracks, and a progressive improvement in the snowpack as days turn to weeks.
If yesterday’s mini-storm is any indication, things are about to change. In fact the skiing improved tremendously yesterday, and with what looks like another 2 inches that fell on my truck overnight and another bluebird day, today could be a vast improvement.
The last two weeks have been more Rockies than Cascades. We’ve had sunny days and a few weak stormlets pretending to bring new snowfall. We’ve had some warm days, some cold and clear ones and day after day on the corduroy. It hasn’t been bad per se. In fact I’ve enjoyed myself. As my friend Michelle Longstreth always says, “any skiing is better than none.” And she’s right. Skiing groomers is better than not skiing at all.
But still. It’s not the same.
Disclaimer: I’m not a meteorologist. You should all know that by now. I’m way too optimistic to be a real forecaster, since I just take the prediction I like the best and go with that one. I hear “chance of snow” and I think “snow.” I hear “chance of rain” and I think “snow.” I hear partly sunny, and I tend to think “snow.”
Bear that in mind as you read on.
What’s It’s About To Be
Santa is about to relinquish our storms. Maybe he’s just wanted to keep them for himself, but now that his snow runway is in, he’s probably tired of shoveling snow. And as it turns out, La Niña wasn’t a very good house guest. He’s ready to give her back.
It’s almost Christmas and we’re about to see a return to real winter. This weekend a smaller system comes through Saturday afternoon and Christmas Day. While the NWS is calling for higher freezing levels Saturday night before a return to cooler temps Sunday, Santa and I had a little chat. He promised snow.
Early next week a more vigorous system comes through. Temps stay cool and precipitation amounts are kicking back up. This is the winter that we know and love. This is La Niña’s grand entrance.
It’s still a little too soon to tell, but right now Tuesday looks to be THE DAY next week. So make your plans now. Those of you who don’t already have next week off, you might want to plan your sickness now.
I will be signing and selling books this Saturday, December 17th in the day lodge at Crystal Mountain. Come join me during the apres ski hour. If you already have a copy, bring it so I can sign it. And you can buy another one! The Next 15 Minutes will make a great gift for those of you who went skiing instead of finishing up your holiday shopping. Just saying!
Hope to see you there!
Date: Saturday, December 17, 2011
Where: Crystal Mountain Day Lodge
If you were caught in an avalanche, and you heard the scratching of a rescue dog coming to find you, you’d probably feel the same way I do. You’d love avalanche rescue dogs. At Crystal Mountain, avi dogs are part of the patrol. We currently have seven dogs wearing the cross, including four fully certified dogs, two operational dogs ready to take their certification tests and one avalanche puppy in training. They’re just as much part of the crew as anyone else. And they work for scraps. Well, some of them work for leather gloves and others work for knobby pull toys. But they all love to search.
Avalanche rescue dogs are trained to find people buried in avalanches. Monks living high in the Alps were the first to utilize dogs for their rescue capabilities, and at Crystal we’ve had dogs for over 25 years. Whenever an unwitnessed avalanche happens anywhere at Crystal,
whether a small slough below Rock Face (word to the wise: NOT a good place to stop and take a photo) or a bigger slide in the backcountry, we bring the dogs. Most often the dogs are used to “rule out” the possibility of a human burial. If a fully certified dog, such as Cirrus or Kala, says no one’s buried in there, then we trust them. They’re that good.
We’ve also used the dogs in bigger avalanches, even taking the dogs to the site of deadly slides in Mt. Rainier National Park, the Alpental backcountry and Mt. Baker, as well as one in a closed area at Crystal several years ago. With the BARK Backountry Avalanche Rescue K-9 program now in place, all avi dogs in Washington State follow the same training and certification program, allowing dogs and handlers to travel beyond their ski area boundaries and search wherever needed.
As I’ve mentioned before, when traveling in avalanche terrain, you should always wear a transceiver and ski/ride with a partner that can find you and dig you out. If you’re in a remote location, even the best avi dog still has to get to the scene of the slide to start his or her search. After ten minutes of burial the odds of survival are pretty slim. Of course, if you happen to have an avalanche rescue dog with you, the dog will most likely beat the human searcher.
Sadly, dogs are also used for body recovery. By the time a dog can reach a buried victim, it’s often too late. The value in training dogs lies in their ability to search avalanche debris in a fraction of the time it would take humans to carefully probe the scene. What could take hours, or even days, for a probe line, a dog could search in a matter of minutes. The faster the dogs and searchers get off the scene, the fewer the chances are of another slide coming down and burying the rescue team. Dogs are an essential tool in this way.
Avalanche dogs search for human scent percolating up from the snow. I’ve heard skiers joke about carrying sausage in their pocket, “just in case.” But food would most likely distract a dog, who has been trained to ignore non-human scents and focus only on those coming up from the snow. If you’re worried about getting caught in an avalanche, you should wear a transceiver and ski with a partner.
But if you’re looking for an excuse not to bathe or wash your stinky poly-pro more often, you could always try the, “I’m increasing my odds of being found by a dog,” excuse and take the high road.
Training an avalanche dog takes years of diligence and patience. People always ask me how their dogs can get on the patrol, to which I always tell them they must first get on the ski patrol themselves. At Crystal, we only train dogs that belong to one of us. We start training at a very young age, getting puppies used to the life, smells and machines of a ski area. These dogs quickly master the art of the on/off switch. When they’re needed, they must be fully “on,” but most of the day these dogs spend in a kennel in the patrol shack. There’s no whining in avalanche dog work.
Dog handlers manage to squeeze in training in between all their other patrol duties. Often handlers come in to train their dogs on their days off, knowing that the privilege of bringing their dog to work with them is a labor of love. Not only are these dogs masters of obedience (my late dog,
Rocket, used to salute me every time I whispered his name), they can also load a chairlift with ease, shake hands and wag tails with curious kids, and find a victim buried several feet below the surface in a matter of minutes. And if you play your cards right, they can even do your taxes and write the Great American Novel.
High-five Avalanche Rescue Dogs. And high-five avi dog handlers. Not only are you the best looking thing in a ski patrol uniform, you also perform a worthy service.
Crystal Mountain Avi Dogs even have their own Facebook page. They’re so very 2011. Check it out!
Today I skinned to the top of Crystal in blustery conditions. While it continued to shower elsewhere, we were blocked by Mt. Rainier, and stayed dry most of the day.
Our telemetry reads 14″ in Green Valley, and that felt about right. The wind has blown the snow into a smooth skein of great base-building material.
All we need now is one more good storm, and we are golden.
My first turns of the season were a bit ginger. I hit a few rocks at the top, but found some quality snow on Lower Grubstake. As long as I stayed as light as possible, I was okay.
I didn’t have to take my skis off until I was almost all the way to the base area. Not a bad first day of the 2011-12 season.
Bring it on.
If you missed my interview yesterday on Northwest Cable News, here it is. In addition to talking about my book, I also reminded skiers and snowboarders how to ski safely this winter. The old maxim, “No friends on a powder day,” might need to change. In deep snow conditions, your friends could save your life. Just saying. Click on the video below to play. And notice that under my name it reads “Crisis Expert”. Who knew??
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.