In the world of avalanche terrain, complacency is often synonymous with accidents. It’s a concept that we [should] learn early when starting to venture into the backcountry. When I took my Avy I course a few years ago, the instructor showed us a chart that stuck with me. I promised myself that I would try my best to not follow the predictive pattern that it describes.
Over time we gain knowledge and experience. Taking courses and getting out with knowledgeable partners are a big part of this process. Unfortunately, we don’t always make great decisions, can miss important factors, and often times get away with it out of sheer luck. In the case that nothing does go wrong, we end up taking misinformation and applying it to our growing knowledge base. “Last weekend I skied a NE slope that has a persistent slab buried about 40cm and everything was fine.” Maybe we missed the shooting cracks that were present while skinning, or maybe we just never hit a weak point in the slab, which if we had, may have triggered a release. Or maybe, just maybe, that persistent slab was starting to settle and get safer to ski.
As we learn more and gain experience, our tolerance for risk tends to increase. When you first start skiing in the backcountry, everything is terrifying. Practically any terrain you want to ski is potentially avalanche terrain and we know just enough to be terrified. Through courses and time on the snow we learn how to start to identify safe terrain. That level of risk starts to creep upwards as we start to use our perceived knowledge to venture into bigger, riskier terrain. Every time we go out and test our assumptions and they hold up, we are adding to our perceived knowledge.
Unfortunately, all-too-often, it takes making a bad decision and not getting lucky to force us to step back and challenge our perceived knowledge and level of acceptable risk. Maybe we set off a slide on a slope we thought to be safe, or worse, we (or a friend) gets carried/buried in a slide in supposedly “safe” terrain. Worse still, the consequences of our poor decisions can be dire.
When I first saw a chart like the one above, I promised myself that I would fight the natural susceptibility to tolerate greater risks. I would fight the tendency to allow an increased level of risk by using open communication; over communicating is better than not. I would challenge decisions, even if they seemed trivial, to make sure all of the information was on the table.
Well, it turns out fighting this behavior is a lot easier said than done. Even with an open dialogue, if the entire group has a heightened risk tolerance, complacency ensues.
So why do I bring this all up? Last weekend I believe I hit one of those spikes in the chart. Nobody was hurt and we all managed to walk away having skied a classic line in Rocky Mountain National Park. But we shouldn’t have.
Dragons Tail Couloir descends the southeast face of Flattop Mountain, dropping down the Tyndall glacier gorge, ending at Emerald Lake; providing a prime viewing location for the dozens of tourists out for a pleasant (and quite popular) hike through the park. You can either ascend the couloir directly, or as we opted, by hiking the Flattop Mountain trail and entering the couloir from above.
We knew going into the trip that the snow wasn’t in great shape. May had been a productive month for snow in the front range – several feet up high. The snow was immediately followed by a warm period where not even the highest peaks were seeing freezing temps overnight. The snowpack during the day had the consistency of a giant Slushie. Rotten. We were under the impression that the couple of days preceding our trip had seen freezing temps overnight and we’d planned accordingly, intending to get an early enough start that the upper mountain would still be cold.
On approach, we found promising crusts in the trees, but once we hit treeline and direct morning sun, the snow was terrible. Our quick hiking turned to post-holing and a transition to skins. Not a good sign. We discussed the snow, rationalizing that the couloir was more south facing and it’s steep walls would keep it cooler for a bit longer. We knew we were on a time crunch, but willing to keep going.
We made it up to the top by 10:30. Typically a completely reasonable hour to consider a descent. Still wary of the snow, I descended 20-30 feet to test the snow. It was promising. I wasn’t post-holing through like on the approach. The snow was certainly soft. I was sinking to nearly halfway up my boot. Not great, but we agreed that it was within what we considered a reasonable tolerance.
Having discussed our options, including a safer alternate taking us down a low-angle snowfield on the north side of Flattop, we opted to ski the couloir. I went first, kicking off considerable sluff with each turn. Traversing into the first safe zone, I kicked off a point release wet slab, nearly 3 feet wide, breaking down through the 6-9 inches of wet surface snow. I was out of sight of my partners, but quickly my head started spinning. This was a HUGE red flag. Not even a quarter of the way through the couloir, with the steep narrow choke still below us and I was having doubts. I could yell up, get my partners to hold off, and climb back out. It wasn’t too late, not yet. I opted to wait for them to reach me.
Once they were both down with me, I learned another group had shown up behind us. The rationale of waiting had backfired. Now ascending the couloir was even less likely. Blindly trying to yell up to another group to hold off while we climbed out seemed less safe than continuing down. We reiterated the importance of managing the wet snow and took off one at a time through the crux of the route.
Dragon tail has two possible upper routes: the left (standard) fork we descended, and a right more technical line. They join right where we’d stopped to regroup for a second time. This was where things really went downhill. We heard it coming. A slide roared down the right fork, a band of rocks shielding us from the stream of wet snow. We watched as it ran down the gut of the couloir below us. Was that the other group? Were they trying to ski the right fork? If so, we should wait for them to reach us, rather than risk them sending more snow on top of us.
Just a minute or two later we heard a loud crack and the rumbling of snow coming from the west wall. A large stream of snow comes cascading off the cliffs descending like a waterfall into the couloir maybe 200 feet below us.
It dawned on us that this was all natural activity – the mountains were warming up, shedding rock and snow in the process. We were in the worst place imaginable. The only thing to do was to get out. Riding through our own sluff, dropped in one at a time, skiing the lower half of the couloir in one shot.
Thankfully no more snow came down while we were in the couloir, though as my partners were descending, I watched as another slide ran down Dragons Tail – an adjacent line to the one we were skiing.
Once we were all out, we stopped to reflect on what we’d done. Sure, it was fun and was definitely exciting, but we all agreed that we had made a bad decision. We were lucky that none of the slides had come down on top of us, otherwise it would have been a much different situation.
So, I felt like it was time to take a step back and reflect. We are all arguably safe skiers. We have a good foundation of knowledge in avalanche terrain and were communicating effectively. But it had also been a full year of building risk and trust. We were so confident in our decision making that we were ignoring objective hazards, putting ourselves into an unnecessarily risky situation that could’ve been easily avoided. I am taking things down a step and reminding myself that I don’t know as much as I think I do.
We have to respect the mountains and learn to be humble. After all, that classic line will still be there tomorrow, next week, next season, and for years to come.
This season has been riddled with missteps, unmet expectations, even self-doubt. Needless to say, it has been a bit rocky (yes, there’s a pun in there) going for a while. I hate to distill such an important part of my life down to some simple statistics, but in an effort to paint a larger picture, I am going to anyways.
Since moving to Colorado I’ve made it up to the resorts a whopping 7 days. Even more disheartening, in an area so bountiful with easy access backcountry, I’ve only made it out touring 4 days. Four! That’s it! In contrast, on my adventurous move out here I managed to spend 2 days at resorts and another 4 touring. And that was in a 10-day window, where I also managed to rack up a healthy number of miles on my car.
As an even bigger contrast, let’s look at last year…I broke my back in December and still managed to throw together a full season, with a couple of notable days including the black hole couloir, riding St Helens with my dad, and attempting to summit Mt Rainier
. I don’t actually have numbers for last year because I wasn’t keeping track, but I can guarantee you there were a lot more days both at the resort and in the backcountry than I’ve managed this year.
It’s easy to blame a lot of different factors…I moved to a new city; I don’t have a steady income; I don’t have a pass anywhere. Excuses, all of them, just empty excuses that, if I am honest with myself, hold no merit.
So what happened?
Earlier this season I wrote my always up-to-date guide for finding good snow in the mountains. It was easy to write back in December after a spell of dry weather and conditions that could still be considered “early season”. It was a damn good idea and it is a guide that I encourage everyone to try to follow.
I wrote it, then promptly forget everything that it was about. Which is impressive because it is only a 1-step guide.
In case you are too lazy to click the link, I’ll give you a synopsis here: shift your expectations away from the snow entirely. Chasing snow is a lot harder than finding people you enjoy riding with and there is something to be said for simply enjoying the mountains, whatever the conditions.
I was recently reminded of this on a trip to Berthoud Pass. In the days leading up, the temperatures barely dropped below freezing. In the morning, looking at weather overnight and the day’s forecast, we’d had a mild freeze overnight and the forecast called for clouds all day. It was enough to make me think long and hard about whether or not I actually wanted to get out of bed.
Pro Tip: don’t look at the forecast until you are already out of bed, removing the temptation to bail.
The less than ideal forecast was resounded in my head when I pulled into the parking lot at the top of the pass. There was only one other car there, on a Saturday morning. To put it in perspective, the previous Wednesday the parking lot was practically full by 9 am.
Needless to say, Derek and I took our times getting ready and eventually set off for No Name Peak. Something that I still haven’t gotten used to in Colorado are the barren approaches. We spend as much time scrambling over rock as we did skinning on snow.
There were a couple of old tracks on No Name, but for the most part there was still plenty of smooth spring corn ready for riding. Derek and I scoped out our lines, opting to drop in just below the normal entrance right off of the summit, avoiding the obvious tracks.
Having set out expectations low, we were both pleasantly surprised with how well the snow was riding. So much so, we opted for a quick skin back up the ridge for another lap. It was just as much fun as the first.
I really need to spend some more time looking at a map and learning the different zones at Berthoud. I can point to exactly where we were on a map, I just couldn’t tell you the name of it. Anyways, we hiked up out of the basin off of No Name, gaining the ridge that we’d approached it from, and dropped down a chute that ran out, what I believe is the Current Creek drainage.
We were back to the car before 2 pm, catching a ride up to the pass from some new friends, who’d also decided to take a lap on No Name.
All in all, it was a fantastic day. To think I almost bailed because of a forecast is silly.
So, this is my reminder to myself – follow your own guide and enjoy the mountains for more than just the snow. It’s always a good time and that should always be enough motivation to make the effort to get out the door!
I’ve been more or less homeless for the past three months. That is to say, I have a roof over my head, except for those days where it is by choice, the roof just doesn’t happen to belong to me. I’ve been mostly okay with the lifestyle: for a while, I was crashing at a friend’s empty apartment, where I became relatively comfortable telling people I was “housesitting” while I search for a career and pick up the occasional miscellaneous freelance job.
Then the friend came back and I could no longer live there. Almost in a sense of defeat, I rented a storage unit so that I could move around more freely without the extra baggage that comes with what equates to my entire life’s possessions. So now I’m staying in my sister and brother-in-law’s spare bedroom, sleeping on their couch with my sleeping bag, because it is more comfortable and easier than pulling out the hide-a-bed and putting on the sheets that have been offered to me several times. Regardless of the hassle or the comfort, there’s a sense of permanence about it. Sleeping in my sleeping bag is a temporary thing and it helps ground the fact that I will not be living in my sister’s spare bedroom for long.
The idea that I am in fact homeless really dawned on me not too long ago – when a friend sent me an email asking me how the job search was going and what my current address was (I presume to send a wedding invitation). To which I was able to respond: bad, not to say that I haven’t been trying, and sorry, but I don’t currently have an address.
Even the few people I know who have relegated to living out of a van or a truck, and yes I do know people who do that, have had enough foresight to set up a PO box, or work out a friend or relative to whom they could have their mail delivered.
It took me a while to realize it, but not having a home is a little bit stressful. I should probably qualify by saying that I am by no means worried about going hungry or cold anytime soon. By any measure, I am still a long, long ways away from homeless in the more traditional sense and I have no intention of letting this stint of my life drag anywhere near that point.
Not having a home makes me feel like my life is completely out of my control. That lack of control is immensely stressful. When was the last time you had to think about where you would be sleeping next week? Tomorrow? A home is grounding. It is somewhere to call your own – somewhere, short of a natural disaster, will be there at the end of the day.
I’ve fallen into this world of semi-homelessness entirely by choice. It seemed like a smart decision at the time, and it probably was. I’ve had the luxury to be picky during my job search, and this freedom has allowed me to make numerous missteps in marketing myself as I try to figure out what I want to do. So that’s the hidden cost of being picky, stress and uncertainty.
I can only hope, that soon I’ll find a job that I’m excited about and with that, maybe go ahead and find a place of my very own to live.
For now, I’ll continue to be just a little bit homeless.
The WFR or “woofer” as it is often referred to, is an idea that I’ve been toying around with for a while. As taking an avalanche class is pretty much accepted practice for anyone who is interested in getting into backcountry skiing or snowboarding (or those of you enjoying the sidecountry at your favorite resort), a WFR is something you hear tossed around the more time you spend outdoors.
Inevitably, if someone in your group has taken a WFR course, conversation will turn to the values of the course at some point in the day. The general consensus is almost always, “I should take one.” It’s talked about the same way people talk about getting CPR certified. Everyone will agree that it is beneficial, but hardly anyone will follow through and take the class unless it is required for their job (summer lifeguarding anyone?).
I’m exactly the same way. I’ve done a lot of talking about how valuable it would be to take a WFR class. I keep saying that I should. Or I will. I never do. “It costs too much” or “I don’t have time”. It’s really easy to make excuses.
The sad reality is that in most of the activities I do, there is a risk of injury and you are seldom close to help. Having the knowledge to understand how to react in case something does happen is one of the main reasons I think getting a WFR is so valuable.
Last weekend, I was climbing with some friends in Eldorado Canyon when a guy in the group next to us took a bad fall. There was a whole crew of us around who rushed over to help in any way we could (which as it turns out, is not much). I did a lot of helplessly standing around watching. Staying quite as the group and injured person worked out a plan. Should we walk out? Should we call for a rescue? Can I afford a rescue? There’s a lot of us here, could we carry him out? Should we carry him out? Even if I can walk, is that a smart idea?
The questions went on, rather than coming up with answers, we just came up with more questions. Everyone was well versed in travelling in the wilderness, but nobody seemed to know what was the right thing to do.
As it turns out, I learned one very valuable thing, and this one is absolutely HUGE:
RESCUES ARE FREE.
Of course this varies from area to area, and you should always know what the rules are in your particular location, but the general premise is this: we would rather you call for a rescue and be okay than to not call for a rescue and risk injuring yourself further.
That doesn’t change the fact that performing a rescue is a large operation, the cost will come from somewhere, and takes time for a lot of people (who as far as I am aware, are mostly volunteers). So even if you can call for a rescue, making the call is a BIG decision. So how do you know when you need one?
Ultimately, we helped the injured climber walk out to his car. And by helped, I mean I gave my friend a belay to climb the route that the injured climber left all of his gear on, and helped carry their gear back to the car. Despite my want to help more, I had no answers to any of the questions and decided the best thing I could do was to stay out of the way and be quiet.
As far as I’m aware, the climber is okay, just a little battered and bruised (okay, maybe a lot bruised). So, that’s a good thing, but the experience really drove home the value of a WFR. Sure, there will be a lot of questions and I think we as a group did a great job of communicating people’s concerns and coming up with a plan that worked out well at the end of the day. It seems like this type of situation is exactly what a WFR is valuable for. So, just maybe, the next time something like this happens, which of course I hope it does not, instead of just contributing questions, I will be able to provide answers and have confidence that we are making the right decisions.
I’m still making excuses, cost and time never seem to go away, but I am getting closer to being able to justify the cost and find the time, because taking a WFR is one of the most valuable things I think I could do.
For a trip that was planned in the comment section on a photo, you would think we’d take a few pictures. Bad light, no room in the pack, laziness (yes, it is still possible to be lazy while touring in the mountains), whatever the reason, some days taking pictures is the last thing on your mind and it is a refreshing change of pace.
While at Berthoud Pass, the sun was out and I was stopping every five minutes with my camera, trying to find interesting shots. The day was incredible; blue skies and fresh snow, but the trip felt more like a photo shoot and less like a day of riding, which just seems a little backwards.
We did not have blue skies yesterday. In fact, we bailed on our original plan of exploring Porcupine Gulch in favor of a more familiar area, Butler Gulch, that we knew we could still navigate with poor light. So, the camera stayed in the car and it snowed on us all day. What started off as light flurries, turned into a respectable snowfall throughout the day.
The snow was decent in the morning. A little bit of wind transport meant there were plenty of stashes of good snow to be found. Butler Gulch was a new zone to me; mostly mellow rolling terrain that just barely pokes up above treeline. It’s an area that you can feel comfortable when the conditions aren’t great, enjoy romping around in the mountains, and make a few turns along the way.
In my typical eager and blindly ambitious form, I spotted a knoll with a good approach and a steep, open landing that was just begging for me to jump off of it. I figured I could stomp out a little kicker in a few minutes and have some fun. As if hiking for turns wasn’t enough effort already, stomping out a makeshift kicker will definitely get the heart rate up. Well, it turns out I suck at building jumps (at least when I do it on a whim) and we all had a good laugh at the build up for what was ultimately a complete failure.
That’s just the vibe that I get from Butler. It’s a playground where you want to have fun and try silly things.
Right as we were transitioning for our second lap, the storm picked up and the snow really began to accumulate. The day was just getting better. We decided to take a break after our second lap and eat some lunch in the woods while the snow fell. Normally breaks aren’t very noteworthy, just a regular part of the day where you sit down and enjoy your $2 Safeway sandwich or cliff bar, at least that’s how my breaks usually go. But yesterday was different. Between the four of us we’d brought, leftover pizza, a fancy sandwich (aka not pb&j or safeway), some homemade jerky, venison I think, a few bite-sized Snickers, a cliff bar, and most notably, a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff meal.
Who brings a hot meal splitboarding? That means not just the meal, but the stove/pot to cook it in! For a day trip, the idea of hauling all this gear and taking the time to prepare it just sort of blew my mind. I will say, those few hot bites did taste pretty good. It was a little bit of a luxury for what is normally a not very exciting part of the day.
The long meal break served another purpose. While we hung out in the shelter of the trees, the snow was falling hard. In fact, we timed our break pretty well because just as we started moving again, the snow began to let up. By the time we got to our intended zone, the weather was back to more or less a flurry and a few inches had accumulated. We rode the shoulder of a ridge, eventually dropping into drainage, making for some low angle surfy powder turns, the best of the day.
All told, it was a great day to be outside and we all had a fun time. Butler’s an area that I’m sure I’ll be back to, I’ll probably replace the camera with a few beers, attempt to make another kicker (and likely fail), and who knows, maybe even pack in a hot meal.
Last week I made it up to Berthoud Pass for the first time. I’d hear this area as one of the mecca’s for backcountry skiing in the front range. Not necessarily the best, or the steepest. But a sort of fun playground with some safe mellow tours that makes for a popular destination for a quick lap or two.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and most pictures I’ve seen from the area are your usual skier pow shot, or some other tight framed shot that, while it looks nice, doesn’t give much perspective to the area as a whole. In fact, something a lot like this.
So, I was a little surprised when I got out to Berthoud Pass at just how large the area was, and how diverse the accessible terrain was. While we stuck to some mellow lines for the day, the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Mixed with the 4 or so inches of fresh snow, it was what I would consider a perfect day to be out in the mountains.
And we weren’t the only ones out there. It was a Wednesday, and by the time we made it back to the parking lot, the lot was full and cars were driving around trying to find a spot where they might be able to squeeze in if they got creative. There were a few other groups of people headed to the same zone as us (it’s name escapes me at the moment), but there was enough terrain that we were all able to find out own lines, and I was able to get a few good shots of some of the other skiers. Thanks anonymous tele skier! I don’t know who you are, but you made some nice turns down this chute!
It had been a few weeks since I’d taken the split out and it was starting to show. After two short laps I was completely worked. It was kind of pathetic, but it was about all I had in me. Thankfully one of the other guys had to get back early for a work, so I didn’t have to make any excuses.
In all, it was an incredible day and felt amazing just to be outside. If anything it reaffirmed my love of the mountains and reminded me that I need to get out there more often.
“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence Write the truest sentence that you know.” -Ernest Hemingway
While I am not reading Hemingway (and I’m ashamed to say that I never have), I am reading The New American Road Trip Mixtape, a book by the author of Semi-Rad, a blog that I read semi-religiously. Brendan does however read Hemingway and is a much better writer than I, so if you are looking for entertainment and you haven’t already read his blog, I suggest you stop what you are doing and go check it out right now. The quote popped up earlier today in Brendan’s book and it’s stuck with me throughout the day. The longer I go without writing, the harder it seems to get started again. My thoughts begin to muddle together and when I do sit down in from of a computer, what comes out is a garbled brain-dump of nonsense.
Hemingway reverberated in my head, starting as a whisper and growing to a chant of encouragement. I HAVE written before and I WILL write now. All I need is one true sentence. So here it goes.
I don’t know what I am doing, and I think that is okay.
I left grad school in December eager to start the next phase of my life. I packed up all of my belongings, selling/giving away whatever wouldn’t fit into my car. I drove to Colorado by way of Canada, anticipating a life filled with regular excursions to the mountains and a lucrative job that was both intrinsically and monetarily enriching. There was no uncertainty about my future when I left Seattle, nervous trepidation, as is expected with change, but not once did I question my decisions. Not once did I look back.
Until I arrived in Denver that is. The whirlwind of excitement that came with radical change began to wear off and the realization that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing began to set it. Shoot, I didn’t even know where to get good coffee anymore! So many things in my life that had been certain suddenly weren’t and it affected me in unexpected ways. For one thing, getting to the mountains became a chore, not an escape.
The mountains were one thing that was a certain! If anything I now had more free time now to explore the mountains – to live my passions, my dreams! So why wasn’t I? The short answer is I really don’t know, other than it now feels more of a chore and I don’t much enjoy chores if I can avoid them. Thinking of the mountains as a chore is silly. I know that. I still love the mountains every bit as much as before, and every time I do muster the energy to get out, I have a wonderful time.
Looking back on my goals for this year, I am embarrassed and ashamed. Between a persisting injured shoulder and a cold that wont seem to go away, about the only goal that I seem to be sticking to is going with the flow.
I don’t think these were particularly hard goals either. It was more like a list of: here’s the things I’m already doing, let’s continue to do them. They became hard around the same time that I realized that I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s taken me a long time to get past that hurdle, and I am definitely not quite there yet. But I think beginning to accept the fact that it’s okay that I don’t know is going to just maybe allow me to have just a little bit more fun.
Bear with me, I’m posting from my phone, which, as it turns out, is now the most capable computer-like device I own. I’m about at the halfway point of my journey, having now visited three ski towns across Canada and the US. Every town has been filled with its own unique atmosphere and had something to offer that the others lacked.
Revelstoke lived up to the hype. It has been high on my list of places to visit for a while and was admittedly the driving motivation for heading to Canada. The people were incredible. The second I walked into the hostel I felt at home and everyone was open and friendly. There were some interesting characters and I am certain I was the only person there from the US. Mostly Australian and German. Very few Canadians as well. Almost everyone was there for an extended stay. I never figured it out because by my calculations, a month in a hostel is a shit load of money.
My main regret is that I never rode the resort. I mean, revelstoke. That place is world class. But, I knew if I spent another day I likely would never leave. That just means I’ll have to go back :).
Pics will come eventually, but I’m still shooting in raw and I don’t have any way to edit them at the moment. Admittedly, that’s lowered my motivation to shoot a fair bit. It’s a good thing then that my phones camera is petty good too!
As for riding, I saw stoked to find partners for two days of touring up at Rogers pass. While we never found the epic pillow lines seen in all the movies, the touring was incredible! Admittedly, we were also staying super mellow due to sketchy layers and the whole new partner dynamic. Next time I’ll take friends, and we’ll stay in a hut and it will be epic!
Fernie was an entirely different beast. The town was way more developed than revy, but still had a fun mountain vibe. I was initially really impressed with the hostel. Much larger, more personal space, a huge common area, and a bar! My excitement quickly dissipated. The people were way less friendly, and it was much harder to strike up a conversation. I never did find a touring partner. I did manage an amazing day at the resort! Face shots all day and incredible Canadian pow.
The hostel experience just sort of got worse. If reminded me of living in a frat, except with less class. The whole experience left me drained and ready for something else.
Which takes me to the drive of all drives. Fernie to Big Sky, in a snowstorm with strong winds the whole way. The only respite I had was the hour stuck at the border while they searched my entire life belongings for drugs. Which brings me to my top bit of travel advice. When moving, do not travel through a foreign country if that can be avoided. The border crossing was a huge hassle both directions and it is a mystery to my as to why I didn’t get turned back.
Eventually I made it to big Sky where I had a bed waiting for me. Sadly, the weather isn’t cooperating and so I’ve done zero riding here. It’s a little sad, but at the very least it’s been fun to come back through the town! I’ve recognized a lot of faces, and the low key days are just what I’ve needed after the chaos of the fernie hostel.
Next stop: Jackson Hole! I guess it’s been storming hard and supposed to start clearing tomorrow. It might be about time to splurge on another lift ticket!
As some of you may know, I finished school and am currently 100% jobless. As if that was not enough, I decided now was as good a time as any to be homeless as well. Following in the footsteps of many who have come before (the Kerouac’s of the world); I am hitting the open road. Well, I’m not exactly a Kerouac. Moving into my car isn’t so much of a permanent move, more of a means to an end. I friend is being incredibly wonderful and has opened up her home for me in Colorado. So, while I may be homeless, I will at least have a roof over my head as I sort out the next stage in my life. Yes, I recognize that Kerouac also set out for Denver in a trip that set the whole novel into motion, but I assure you that the destination is merely coincidence.
Now, the really nice thing about being jobless is that I don’t exactly have anywhere that I need to be immediately. No responsibilities, no deadlines. I have freedom to go as I please with the impending necessity of entering the “real world” looming over me. I expect the longer I am unemployed, the stronger the desire to find work will become.
Regardless, today I officially sold off the last of my belongings that wont fit in my car. For the last week or so, I’ve been finding weak excuses for why I am not yet ready to leave. The last of which was that I needed to sell of furniture and other large items that I couldn’t take with me. It was a oddly satisfying feeling. Knowing now that everything I own can fit inside of my vehicle. As exciting as it may be, it also means that I am entirely out of excuses tying me down to Seattle. All that is left is to pack everything into my car and hit the road.
I’d kind of formulated a route a little while ago and decided it was time to map out if my idea would even work. With the luxury of time, I decided to head North through Canada. My first stop will be Revelstoke, BC. This one is fairly certain. I’ve heard incredible things about this town and the mountains surrounding it. Rogers Pass is somewhat a mecca for backcountry terrain and I want to get out and explore all that it has to offer.
Next up, Fernie, BC. This one is a bit more whimsical. It is to break up the drive into Montana, but should also potentially offer just as nice of snow.
From there, I’ll head back to my old stomping grounds, and make a stop in Big Sky (hooray!!!!). The rest of the trip may look oddly familiar, because it is a stretch of road that I’ve driven before. Jackson Hole, then Park City, then Denver.
It should be epic. Oh also, I would love to not have to buy a lift ticket at any of these locations, so I will be actively looking for people to tour with and potentially couches to crash on. If you have any recommendations on either, please let me know! I am looking forward to meeting lots of interesting people along the way!
Here in the PNW we are having what I would refer to as a below average snow year. Snoqualmie Pass doesn’t have enough snow to open and the other resorts are still a little spicy down in the lower elevations. Back in November everyone was starting to get the itch to ride. Some early low elevation snow helped drastically increase the stoke and people were getting out to make turns. Even the resorts were getting in on the early season goods, with some impressively early starts; though it is understandable if you don’t consider spinning a single chair and throwing a few rails in a patch of lingering snow an actual “opening day”.
The excitement of the early snow gave way to anticipation that is yet to be fulfilled. An occasionally front moves through, bringing just enough snow to maintain the marginal snowpack that exists. Normally the fronts come mixed with sleet and freezing rain to dissuade any potential thrill seekers from getting too excited.
All that being said, I’ve had some awesome day’s so far this season, each one seemingly better than the last and it is in no way thanks to mother nature. So, it’s my goal to provide you with the insights that you need to have fun out there.
Step One: Take whatever your expectations are for the day and lower them.
If the weather report claimed 4-5 inches in the last 24, I don’t want to hear anything about an epic pow day. The 20-30 mph winds inevitably scoured the 4-5 inches, which were sitting on top of a bulletproof crust anyways. So instead, think to yourself, “if I hunt for some protected leeward slopes, I might find some pockets of still fresh snow if I am lucky.”
Or, “sure, it hasn’t snowed in the last week, but it hasn’t rained either. So there’s a chance that I may still find something.” This is a good start, but again…lowering your expectation can never hurt. Try something more along the lines of: “Well, the sun might break through, so at least I get to stretch my legs and hopefully we will get a pretty view.”
The important thing to remember is that your starting expectations, no matter how well intentioned, are still laced with optimism. I applaud the optimistic outlook and yes, we are going to have a fantastic season, no worries that it is already late December; the season is still early and there is still time! But, if you want to guarantee yourself to have a fun day, I promise this will help.
In fact, that’s about the only advice I have right now. Sorry for not having anything more insightful. I will say that in the last three days of touring, I’ve lowered my expectations to the point where just the other day I was thinking, “as long as I find something that isn’t ice, I will be happy.” Sure enough, the snow we found on a north-facing bowl was superb. I mean, in reality it wasn’t anything to write home about, but in comparison to the ice I’d set myself up to expect, this snow was the most incredible conditions I’d seen all season. Maybe we really did get lucky. Maybe the snow really was better than I am giving it credit for.
Maybe, that’s not the point at all. Last fall I tried to take an early season lap on the Muir snowfield. No matter how low you set your expectations for the day, Mother Nature was hell bent on making you lower them even further. To give an idea, it felt like I’d bundled up in my snow gear and jumped in a pool. Upon climbing out of the pool, I was in the middle of a monsoon with sheets of rain somehow managing to make me even wetter. And if that isn’t bad enough, the wind picked up with unrelenting gusts blowing the rain more sideways that up-and-down. Amidst it all, we were all laughing and in good spirits.
So maybe, the point is actually to shift your expectations away from the snow entirely.
When you go out with the expectation of having fun with friends and strangers, to get a little exercise and to have an adventure, then there is no way you are going to have a bad time. No matter what snow you do find, if you find it while smiling, I think it is safe to assume that you’ll meet your expectations and come home feeling pretty good about what you found.