Friday, December 23, 2011


Skiers are not a logical bunch when it comes to snow. We will engage in seemingly ridiculous behavior in a vain attempt to alter the jet stream, but you can't argue with results. Illogical rituals that seem destined for failure have been proven true year after year. We can't explain why but this bag of tricks has merit.
  • How does drinking to excess bring about a low pressure?
  • How does burning your trash (unusable skis) bring storms?
  • Why do prayer candles work for powder but are useless for Africa?
  • Just who the hell is this ULLR character?
The answer: Don't know, don't care.

Ah, Ye Olde Norse God of snowlerblades and bow hunting. Does this warrior / hunter control high alpine weather? Does he favor the deep? His reverse camber skis say yes although he is a bit aggressive on his forward mount.

The Noodler claims not to be superstitious, but before every run he has to taste the snow for good luck. And on not so rare occasions he will recite the "Eddie's Prayer" before dropping in.

Oh infant Jesus, I cry and beg that in the name of your most
blessed mother you help me in skiing Eddie's.
I firmly believe that with your divine help I can attain my desire.
Powerful infant grant me the grace of eternity with Eddie's
and the Fruit Chute and all the runs on The Backside.

Back in October I got my toenails did to rile the mighty Pacific Ocean. And it snowed and snowed and snowed. Emboldened by my dominance over nature, I went for round 2 in early December. The snow has continued. Have my actions influenced weather patterns? It can't be proven, but I guarantee I will have glittery toes until May.

In extreme cases of low snow and high pressure and split streams and cloud storms your only option is the exorcism. In this case you need to find the person who has been possessed by the snow demon. This person will be unaware that they have been possessed, but it your job to find this person and convince them of their affliction.

ID'ing the subject is not difficult if you know the signs. This person will have suffered poor snow years for multiple seasons in multiple mountain areas. Back in 2001, Young Nelson fit this profile: poor snow years in Alta, Jackson, and New Zealand. The Big Blue H followed him around the globe in an obvious reference to the Ancient Mariner's albatross. Season upon season of strife and '01-'02 was looking rough. You could still bike to 9,500' at Alta on Thanksgiving Day. We explained the situation to Young Nelson and he agreed that action was necessary.

Dozens gathered for the ceremony which could have been mistaken for a ski-bum house party. But there was a sinister motive lurking beneath. All in attendance knew the goal and in the absence of sacred texts detailing the ritual; we were forced to improvise. Surely the demon must abhor alcohol. So Young Nelson was forced to drink. The demon took over tried to weasel his way out of the situation. Young Nelson made for the window, but the strong hands of desperate skiers wrested him back in. The epic struggle had reached a tipping point and the demon succumbed to the inevitable. The booze flowed deep into Young Nelson's gullet and the demon wanted out. They stumbled out the front door into suburban Mormon nightmare and the demon fled from Young Nelson's poisoned belly and was deposited unceremoniously onto our lawn into a puddle of alcohol and bile.

Within moments, the first flakes of the 100" storm began to fall. The demon was vanquished. The season was saved.

Pagans and Christians unite! Exorcise the demons! Sacrifice the skis to into raging pyre that will nip at the asses of the Nordic gods! Drink it deep! Prayer to the infant Jesus! Eat the snow! Paint the talons of savage nomads who wonder the Earth in the search of snow! Take action! Do not sit idly by and wait for science to save you! The future rests in your hands! I call to you, brothers and sisters, take arms and we shall all rejoice in the glory that we have surely earned!

- Father Merrin

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mid-December Update: Alaska

Storm has been the word of the month for better or for worse. But big wind has accompanied the snow setting up for a sensitive snowpack. The snow has been locked into a cycle of self-loathing:
  1. Snow pack gets feelings hurt
  2. Snow pack starts to get over the insult
  3. Snow pack gets feelings hurt again
This pattern has made for a bi-polar snowpack. Unfortunately, the snow has been most sensitive on Saturdays and Sundays. Not good for this ex-Sugarhouser, weekend warrior. So the dilemma has been whether to ski or wait another week.

I have expanded my horizon to other outdoor activities. Such as Avi Education

Level 3 Prep Class at Turnagain Pass

Mens Paired Lift Serviced Ski Ballet with GB6K

And the infrequent nordic ski. On rare occasions, I have been known to succumb to the more popular activities that dominate Alaska this time of year: alcohol, sleep, and the arts. Well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

I checked the weekend forecast on Friday and it looked daunting again. It predicted (correctly) that we would have a third consecutive Sunday with 100+mph wind in the mountains. But it looked like there would be a nice weather window at Hatcher on Saturday morning.

There was 8-10" of fresh low density snow a the upper lot. We elected to head up Skyscraper Peak to ski El Dorado Bowl. P9 led the charge and picked a nice route into the lower bowl. A quick test pit revealed 103" base and the new low density snow was quite reactive (CT3).

Looking Back Towards the Chugach from the Talkeetnas

We eventually gained the ridge and topped out on the summit. Winds had picked loading the top of the bowl. Visibility was getting poor.

P9 Sussing an Entrance

The 4 of us skied a nice 900' shot back into the lower bowl under flat light. A squall had kicked up when we started up for run 2. We were nervous about retracing our skinner so we aimed to gain the ridge much lower by traversing a couple 100 feet below our original route.

This seemingly conservative decision was actually our biggest mistake of the day. In hindsight, we had effectively isolated the slope above us. The original skinner ski cut the top and the right hand side of the slope. The second skinner cut the bottom. The low density surface layer that we had previously ID's let loose swiftly and silently. P9 (75' ahead of me) got carried down slope and I put eyes on. Then the slide got me too. I struggled and swam and came to stop and then got hit by a second wave. Both waves were relatively minor (as far as slides go). P9 and I ended up on top of the snow. The loose snow avalanche had carried us about 100'. , Fe2O3 held his ground on the skinner. Our poles were gone and we were ready to get out of there.

There is a lesson to be learned from every incident (SAR, avalanche, drowning, car wreck). Those who dismiss the the participants as idiots will miss the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Even if the participants were idiots, there is still a takeaway.

So you can shake your head, make the predictable Darwin comment, and shit talk me if you want, but I'd rather you draw from this experience.
  • We correctly ID'd the potential threat (good)
  • Our 2 skin tracks isolated the slope above us (bad)
  • Managing a 10" slough while skiing downhill is one thing: you have momentum that can be used to move to a safe zone, traverse out, or point it.
  • Standing still with a loose heal and skins leaves you powerless to react
We were aware of the terrain and consequences. If there were more snow, a hard slab, more complicated terrain, then our decision making process would have been different. Still, I didn't expect to be caught and was surprised by how helpless I was in uphill mode.

- Idiot