Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can I borrow $60?

From what I've heard, a lot of meth (or heroin or crack or whatever) junkies who are early enough in their habit that they haven't yet resorted to stealing but far enough along that they've spent all their own money will ask friends and family members for $40 or $60 or whatever they need to get their next hit. They'll cite reasons like "I don't have time to go to the ATM" but then never pay you back.

If I ever ask you for $60, it will probably also be to fuel my addiction. And like many junkies, my addiction is to a white powder. Except that mine's perfectly legal. Maybe not perfectly safe, but at least perfectly legal. I'll just use the cash to buy a lift ticket instead of drugs.

As evidence of my addiction, the following was today's avalanche forecast from the UAC:

"Bottom Line for the Salt Lake, Park City and Provo area mountains:

"The avalanche danger is HIGH on and below mid and upper elevation slopes, especially those facing west through north through east and southeast. Human triggered avalanche are likely on slopes steeper than about 35 degrees, and slides can be triggered remotely from a distance, so avoid travel adjacent to and below steep avalanche paths....The nightmarish avalanche cycle that started Sunday intensified Tuesday night into yesterday morning. The two standouts were a large natural hard slab that released in Little Cottonwood Canyon at 8:30 am, 4-5' deep, 800' wide on a NE facing slope at 11,000' and a remotely triggered slide in Mineral Fork, that was about 1000' wide on a northeasterly facing slope at about 9,000'. In addition, numerous class 1's and 2's were triggered in the backcountry, many remotely, and most running above the ice crust and explosives in Big Cottonwood Canyon pulled out slides with 2 to 4' crowns. Natural activity was also observed in Cardiff and Days Fork."

And yet this morning there I was at the BCC park and ride lot at 5:50 a.m., along with Tyler and Dug. Every junkie justifies his habit; in my case it was because I just needed a workout. I haven't been on the bike since last Friday, I am lousy about exercising indoors, so I just needed to do something to get the cardio engine going. At least that was my excuse.

We did have the good sense to stay on low angle terrain where the risk of a slide was pretty much nil. Which meant we were skinning and skiing through the weeds to start and end our day.

Towards the beginning of the tour, we were talking about Andrew Maclean, a world-renowned ski mountaineer who is widely regarded as invincible due to his miraculous survival of close calls over the years, the following clip from his interview with Stephen Colbert being a prime example.

Unfortunately for his companions, although the trouble doesn't seem to catch MacLean, his partners aren't always so lucky. If you're skiing with him, you should be prepared for some gnarly crap to go down. And maybe take you with it.

As we were having this conversation, we heard a whistle behind us in the woods. We turned around to find a man walking towards us. He was dressed in a jacket and winter hat, jeans, and some skate shoes that weren't tied. He asked us what time it was, and we told him. "Oh, so it's morning!" was his response, obviously a little confused. He told us his name was Joshua and asked about our equipment, where we were going, and if he could follow us. Feeling fully capable of knocking down any avalanches ourselves, we really didn't want some guy in tennis shoes with no safety equipment doing it for us. So we told him it wasn't safe and suggested he turn around.

Except he didn't turn around. Tyler looked back a couple of times and saw him duck behind a tree or stop walking when the light was on him. We were all a little nervous, especially Tyler, who was in back. I didn't offer to trade Tyler places--see what a good friend I am? I mentioned that it might not be a bad idea in the future to carry an ice axe on every tour. Unless the wacko living in a tent in the forest has a gun. Eventually the trail turned up a steep hill and the snow got deep, so that was the last we saw of Joshua.

I told Dug that he has a weird variant of whatever Andrew MacLean has, except instead of his friends dying, they just have weird experiences that only seem to happen when Dug is present. Chupacabra anyone?

Anyway, the point of this is to talk about skiing, not weirdos in the forest. Actually, the real point was to let you all know that I am addicted to skiing, to the point that I still go out on days I shouldn't. Not that I go to places I shouldn't, because, you know, there's always somewhere that's safe.

So after a couple hours of skinning, we make it to the top, or at least as close to the top as we wanted to go. We talked about going over to the Meadow Chutes, but it took us about 3 seconds to decide it wasn't worth the risk.

With all the weeds we had hiked through on the way up, I was curious how deep the snow was, so I dug a pit. Maybe a couple of feet to the dirt. Good in the sense that there wasn't much snow to slide. Unfortunately the pit revealed what we knew were already there--lots of faceted layers and a rain crust for the snow to slide off of. I wacked the top of my pit with a shovel, and it took three hits for the snow to collapse. Not a good omen. Still, we were on some mellow terrain, so between that and the thin snowpack, the risk was minimal.

On the way down we had a couple of instances of whoomping (is that really a word? Because all backcountry skiers know what it means, but I don't know if it's a word) and cracking. On a steeper slope, it all would have gone. But we made it down in one piece and without incident. Well except for the Joshua incident, that is.

When we got back to the parking lot and started getting in the car, the tourists who were just arriving for the day thought something was wrong and the lifts weren't working. When we told them we were done, didn't ride the lifts, and were now on our way to work, they just looked at us and couldn't think of anything to say.

Back at the mouth of the canyon, I was just about to change my clothes and head to work when a couple guys from Arkansas pull in next to me and start asking questions about the ski bus. Could they not tell, with my shirt removed even though it was 18 degrees and snow was falling heavily, that I was in the middle of something and wasn't interested in drawing out the process?

Then, with my pants still unbuttoned but their brains full (and I do mean full) of the three details they needed to know to get up the mountain, they say "maybe it will stop snowing." Excuse me? When did Utah become the new Colorado? And why don't the tourons go back there instead? I mean if you don't like snow, go to Vegas or Cabo. But for crying out loud, don't come to Utah. The skiing here is good because it snows. But if all you want to do is ride groomers, go somewhere else. Some of us need the snow. Badly.


  1. I don't even know what cracking is, but your avalanche danger was lower than the gondola danger at Whistler.

    Don't go to Vegas right now if you're avoiding the snow; of course, if you're avoiding snow and it's snowing in Vegas, you're probably screwed.

  2. that was a long-ass post for a day you got in after 10am. aren't you still trying to make an impression?

  3. Didn't a horror movie feature a killer named Joshua?

  4. Are you sure the guys were from Arkansas? They sound more like Oklahomans.