Saturday, November 25, 2006

November Powder Storm

Yesterday I took my first turns of the season. Chair 1 had a long line and after some miscommunication and gear forgettals and remembrances (hey I'm out of practice) Jennifer and I were set to go and "kill some powder", a phrase she picked up from a mt baker dirtbag last year, but the ticket agent said it would be another 1/2 hour before it opened. So we skidded down to chair 3 (this is the only resort I know where every lift but one is accessible from one or the other parking lot) and began our slaughter. The first run was barely cut up, light-for-Baker powder, and soon we turned off the run into something that was so deep and a little on the steep side I didn't know what to do with myself, being it my first run of the season, since April, I mean, I wasn't ready. This was "hotels" one of those runs that isn't named on the map. Every time I fell, I could feel a slough of snow filling in behind me, pushing me to keep going. I quickly realized my decision to bring my "rock board" was a mistake, but it was too late now. The bottom of the run was a 4' gap with roots sticking out onto a slough. At that point I was a little glad I had the rock board.

Next run we hit chair 6, which brings you within about 75 ft of the highest lift access point on the mountain. We could see boarders flying down under the chair bouncing off rises, floating and landing effortlessly in the pillows below. We cut right into the trees and I finally "let go", nevemind that my face was completely covered and view blocked by flying snow, just keep heading down hill and everything will be okay. And it was more than okay.

The only trouble I managed to get myself into was our run from chair 1. There is a cliff line that stretches for maybe 1/8 - 1/4 mile with only a couple sane ways out, but cutting it close to the cliff line can afford some great powder rewards. We dropped into a bowl too early. I watched as Jennifer got stuck in a toilet bowl shaped situation with one track, so I tried to stay higher. Only I wasn't high enough and the light was as flat as it could possibly be. My board wouldn't budge any more, only digging in deeper. I was buried to my thighs. She told me to try taking off my board. When I did and stepped off it I was buried up to my shoulders. I panicked in a way that I am ashamed of, and she went to get ski patrol.

I saw a way out that would have involved her backtracking and finding the cut over into the Chute, underneath chair 1. She didn't want to go that way, so I figured she would cut to the right to get out of the cliff area. Soon she disappeared over the rise and I was left as a little blue flower bud popping out of a field of white.

Get a grip, I not in any real danger. It's not even noon, there is a ski track about 50 ft away, and hey I have a shovel! By the time I put my shovel together any buried person would have suffocated (need to work on that), but it's not like I was in any particular hurry either. Mostly I started digging to give myself something to do, keep my mind occupied and my body warm. I was wearing my spring pants, the ones I wear as a joke - two blue and two black vertical stripes per pant leg with a string cinch and velcro-closed pockets. The gaitor doesn't stay around the boots very well. I wore these because when I got to my boyfriend's house I had forgotten my bonfire pants and had lent these to him the week before. (He found something less loud to wear.) They weren't much defense against the falling snow and stinging cold of the snow ditch I found myself in.

I tried to reattach my snowboard but quickly found out that I would just sink again up to my thighs, and that digging was easier with my feet free of bindings. So I just placed the board next to me and started pitching snow downslope, digging enough for one foot to move forward a few inches, then the other. I continued this as I could see people from chair one looking over at me, and the luckier ones having the powder run of their lives on the ridge above; the ridge I should have been on. Where is the patrol? I'll have myself free by the time they arrive.

After what was probably a half hour of digging and inching, I reached the slightly filled-in skier track. The track had compressed the snow just enough that now I could get on my board and I wouldn't sink! Getting up was no small feat; I had to use my shovel as a prop. And then a propellor. It was still pretty flat, so I used the shovel as a kind of oar, digging into the side of the track to push myself forward. I managed to get to the edge of the rope line, and put my shovel away. Just then three guys came, two skiers and one boarder. The skiers gave the thumbs up to the boarder, and it looked like he followed my track and then completely biffed where my track and the existing one intersected. They gave a hearty laugh and I realized these weren't patrollers like I originally thought. I asked them if you could get out of here going to the right. "By hiking up the hill, but we're going to the left." I could see tracks heading off to the left following the rope, and started worrying about Jennifer.

I followed in their tracks and managed to get to the Chute without difficulty. I had to take one more chair to get back to the lodge. Certainly Jennifer would be waiting for me there, but I only found Paul. I explained what happened and he reminded me that I should tell patrol that I was safe. I went to the info booth and a call had gone out; I heard her saying that "she dug herself out; was safe and here in Heather Meadows lodge." She thanked me for letting them know and told me to stick around the lodge to wait for my friend, as I was sure she had gone the wrong way out of North Face.

Jennifer showed up about a half hour later. Turns out the trollers had told her to wait at chair 3, only a stone's throw from the chair I had to take back to the lodge. I didn't think to look there. But she had gone the wrong way at the rope line, ended up hiking an hour through the snow to get to a familiar run. She said we could have gone straight it wouldn't have been that bad, in spite of the severe warning signs along the rope.

I didn't ride much after that. The snow was coming down in larger and more consistent flakes, Paul and I went out and played on the rope tow. For his first day he did alright, at least he wasn't cursing me for introducing him to this punishing sport that most people don't pick up unless they're in their more bounceable teens or 20s.

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