Monday, March 9, 2009

A bird in hand

Before I get into today’s post, I want to take a second and brag about my son again. We went night skiing on Friday with some friends. My friend’s son is three, just learning to ski, and still quite tentative. I would, from time to time, turn around and ski backwards (I don’t think it’s called “switch” the way I do it) so I could see how everyone else was doing.

After a couple of times seeing me do this, my four-year-old turned around and did the same thing. I guess his next skis are going to have to be twin tips.

On Saturday, he and I were home with his younger sister while Mom and our oldest daughter were skiing. I needed to do the dishes, so I told him I’d put on a movie downstairs. His choice: Warren Miller’s Higher Ground. Apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Now, on with today’s adventure.

There have been a few days this ski season when I skipped a chance to go out because I was holding out for the next day to be even better. A couple of times I’ve been burned, either because the avalanche danger spiked so we pulled the plug on the tour, or because the partners who were so committed to going for whatever reason couldn’t make it.

So when Dug mentioned that Mike L. had a friend in town for Monday only and wanted to go out, I was in. I know that Tuesday is supposed to be better, with a huge storm currently dumping piles of fresh snow in the mountains and no indication it’ll let up until tomorrow. That’s great. I’ll ski on Tuesday too. But I wasn’t going to skip today just in case Tuesday doesn’t happen.

We started up Flagstaff from Alta, and the skin track was slick and hard. There were boot prints in the track from others who had decided that booting was easier than slipping around on their skins.

About half way to the ridge, Mike calls for me to stop. Dug’s standing there with a ski in one hand saying he’s done. He slipped on the side hill and in the process torqued his binding to the point that it snapped off under the toe.


Dug booted back to the car while Mike, Preston, and I continued on. Though Mike’s an outstanding skier, he’s pretty new to the backcountry scene, and with Preston being from out of town, that left me as the “guide” for the day—a situation I’ve not been in pretty much ever.

We continued up Flagstaff to the summit. The skin track was so slick and hard in spots that breaking a new trail was easier than using the old one. The wind, which left me glad I haven’t shaved my beard yet, pummeled us from the South, but we hoped we’d find some shelter and better visibility on the North side of the ridge.

At the top, massive cornices hung over most of the ridge. Other than that, snow conditions looked about the same as they were when Rob and I were up on Saturday. Except that instead of blue skies and calm, it was pounding snow and windy, so the tracks were all filled in. We did two very fun laps in Days that nearly made us forget about the wind we’d face on the South side.

Mike had broken his goggle, and it was fogging to the point of being unusable, so on the return we traversed West into Toledo Bowl to avoid skiing down right into the teeth of the wind. With visibility as low as it was, I also liked Toledo because it’s wide open with less potential for surprises.

Getting there was a bit of a challenge, but once in the bowl things were “fine,” with the “minor” exception that we now had about five inches of new snow on a breakable crust, the wind was still blowing 30-40 mph, and it was snowing hard enough that we couldn’t even see the snow surface at our feet.

The whiteout alternately induced vertigo, made me feel as if I were stopped when I was still moving, made me feel as if I were moving forward when I thought I was stopped but was in reality moving backward, and caused each of us to hit the deck at least once because we simply didn’t know which way was up. Other than that, the descent was a piece of cake.

Between the conditions and the broken equipment, you’d think today would have been a good day to sleep in. Yet even with the benefit of hindsight, I’d get up and do it again tomorrow. In fact, I’m pretty sure I will.


  1. "Mike had broken his goggle, and it was fogging to the point of being unusable"

    couple questions about this--
    1. is "goggle" the singular of goggles? or does it mean he only broke one side (although, in goggles, it's all one pane, right?)?

    2. wouldn't his "goggle" fog LESS broken? what with the airflow and all. or maybe he had one of them fancy fans in his goggle and the fan was broken?

  2. Dug, ask Mike. All I know was his goggle(s) was (were) broken, and he complained of fogging. I didn't ask you questions when you "claimed" you couldn't ski out because your binding was "broken."

  3. are you saying that mike said to you "i broke my goggle"?

    and you didn't ask me questions because once mike conveyed that my "binding" was "broken" you just shrugged, turned, and resumed climbing. cuz whatever, right?