Monday, December 3, 2007

How Deep is Too Deep?

The season got underway in a big way for the Karhu office this weekend. With the sales meetings behind us, the alarm rang at 4:30 AM on Friday for the drive up to Mount Baker. Charlie headed out touring with some folks from MEC, while Nils, Eben and I skied inbounds to do some testing. It was a full day, and a successful one, running through a lot of skis and finding some great results. A lot of terrain needed more coverage to open fully, but all chairs were running. We made a mandatory stop off at Graham’s in Glacier for tasty burritos and started making plans to ski again over the weekend.

Saturday brought snow all the way down in Seattle, big fat flakes that seemed to slow down city life. Trees that shed their leaves over the fall looked beautifully adorned with white lining on their branches, and people took to walking through winter instead of driving on the snowy roads. Everyone’s mood brightened, especially holiday retailers who suddenly seemed packed by shoppers in the giving spirit. The phone chain started shortly, and we planned a tour for Sunday up at Hyak, anticipating good new snowfall with such low freezing levels.

The telemetry data said 18 degrees and 19 inches at 6:00 AM on Snoqualmie Pass, but there was more than that in the parking lot of Hyak. The drive had been slow, but we were rewarded with thigh deep snow before we’d even hit the skintrack. The snow was light and soft, with little consolidation underneath as well. Tall grass and brush occasionally poked through, but we’d chosen Hyak for its soft, relatively rock-free slopes and lack of anything dangerous looming overhead.


(Buried cars in the Hyak parking lot. Photos by Graham Gephart)

The skintrack went quickly for us as the snow continued to pour down, easily an inch and hour. Kudos go out to the employee from Summit at Snoqualmie who put in the labor to the top, a tiring task that non of us envied… many thanks for that and for lending duct tape to my failing skins on our second lap.We took shelter under the lift platform at the top and thought about how great the faceshots would be.

(Elizabeth and Charlie Lozner and Lulu Bael getting out of the weather at the top.)

(Charlie and Elizabeth partway down Hyak.)

On the spectrum of conditions that I’ve ever skied, I don’t think I’ve ever found snow too deep for a tour for turns. Well, there’s a first time for everything, and this was it. Pushing away from the skintrack meant absolutely wallowing. There was nothing to push off against, even to pole downhill, and not enough float to keep the tips up. All we could do was gather speed in the skin track and duck off, hoping for enough momentum to straightline down a steeper section of the run.

(Charlie burrowing in after leaving the track.)

We’d slingshot past each other in that fashion, inevitably getting stopped after 10, 15 feet completely stuck up to our waists or more. Getting nervous about snow immersion, we stayed close together, and more than once had to help each other out of the snow. Freeing skis and moving back to a track – even downhill – seemed like less exertion than climbing. We stopped two thirds of the way down and reskinned, climbing back for the top in the hopes that more tracks would cut it up enough to make a few turns.

(Elizabeth comes to a stop mid-lap. DEEP!)

The snow kept falling, and we quickly transitioned to downhill mode at the ridge once again. Between our tracks and a few others out for the same quest, we fared better on the second lap, picking up speed in a track and dipping out for faceshots where we could. It became comical to see how quickly someone would decelerate out in all the fresh snow, even with a full head of steam.

(Lulu goes waist-deep off the top on lap 2.)


(Lulu finding easier and no-less-powdery turns in cut-up tracks.)

By the time we hit the bottom third and flatter terrain, it was useless to do anything other than ski out in the skintrack. The weather at the lower elevation was already starting to warm, and it was time to hit the road home before the snow became freezing rain. There are major changes happening in the weather system as of last night, and the snowpack from here out will be quite different. Hopefully today’s Pineapple Express sets up a solid base for us, but anyone thinking about backcountry after these next couple days absolutely needs to attention pay to this layer of snow.


(Elizabeth finds a steeper roll.)
It was by far the most new snow I’ve ever had for a first tour of the season, and given that I made maybe three turns over the two laps, it was more about the tour than anything else. All in all, yesterday was about getting out there to break a sweat, see the return of winter around us, remember the feel of heavy flakes falling on your shoulders, and hearing the laughter of friends trying to make turns.

-Graham Gephart

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1 comment:

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