Ski Day #7–Holding Steady

So over this past week of wild weather in the Pacific Northwest, Timberline’s managed to pick up over 40 more inches of snow.  That puts the local snowpack at around 80% of normal, which is a very good thing, not just for skiers but for the entire region.  While the west side of the Cascades soaks up water for ten months out of the year, without that snowpack in the mountains, the water situation on both sides of the mountains gets dicey in summer weather.  We dry out fast and, because of the winter/spring damp, we get lots of vegetation.  Not enough winter snow=high potential of fire in summer.  Bad fire.

But that gets into forest management blatherings, which is a totally different and opinionated subject.  Back to skiing!

The conditions on Sunday were heavy, wet powder.  Wet powder?  Yeah, that’s a western Cascades (and probably Sierra) standard.  The flake size is fine and granular like the drier powder that flies up, but it’s a wetter flake and, as a consequence, a heavier flake.  It’s produced when the temperatures are just below the freezing point.  Dry powder comes in the Cascades when the temps are in the high teens/low twenties (Fahrenheit).

Ski result?  Skiing in fine, dry powder is like skiing in powdered sugar.  It’s soft, gives easily underfoot, pushes away from the ski easily without holding its shape.  It’s lovely stuff to ski on a bright crisp bluebird morning high above the tree line, up at 7000 feet. After a couple of hours skiing dry powder you can pull off your skis, and the wax job still looks good, if not still pristine.

Skiing wet powder happens during storms.  It’s soft and fine-grained like the dry powder, but it doesn’t flow as easily.  It compresses easily and holds a shape.  A lot of times it lies over ice, and pushes away just easily enough for the skier to rasp across the top of the icy patch on a steep slope, then ram right into the heavier pillow of snow below the patch.  Skiing a hillside in that condition is best done earlier in the morning, before other skiers have beaten it down to ice.  Unless you really like ice.  I don’t, at least not water-slick ice.

So yesterday we had wet powder, falling heavily.  The fine flakes were wet enough to crust up on my goggles when I was skiing directly into the wind.  The early runs were nice, if heavy underfoot, though the last pitch of Uncle Jon’s Band turned to scraped ice early on.  DH and I negotiated that pitch nicely but we took our time, waiting for less-experienced skiers/boarders or more aggressive out-of-control skiers to clear out of the way.  Timberline’s clearly marked an alternative with a big EASY WAY sign, but still there’s folks attempting that pitch who aren’t ready for it.  I don’t mind the slow, careful skier who traverses from side to side (though the snowboarder who sideslips the whole way is annoying because that creates nasty ice patches, oh well), but the crazies who careen out of control unthinkingly are different.

Luckily I don’t see too many of those.

It’s Family Season, which means there’s a lot of kids, lessons, and family groups out skiing.  The dynamic of a ski season is interesting to watch.  Before mid-December, those of us out on the slopes are the die-hards and ski bums out for the solitary thrill.  From mid-December through the end of February, families descend on the slopes.  They cluster in flocks of four or more.  Most of the families have good etiquette–they’re out there for the experience, they’re patient with their weakest skiers, they don’t yell at their families or shove and push in the lift line without regard for other groupings.  Their kids usually are grinning and having fun (in part because this family is sensible and plans for short periods of the slopes when the kids are little, extending gradually).  They’ll split out their group in the lift line if there’s too many of them for one chair and have prearranged meeting sites or coordinate electronically.  If there’s a wide skill range, they don’t try to keep everyone together but split up with check-in points.

Then there are the others.  The parent (usually a father) who overfaces a young and timid kid on a tough slope and yells uselessly while the kid fights his way down (it’s usually a father-son dynamic).  The parents who don’t switch off slope time with lodge time to manage young kids and snarl at the crying, unhappy results.  The mother who screams across the lift line at the spouse who’s gone into the singles line so he can get to the top and wait for them (or not), then pushes ahead of everyone she can get her kids to shove by as much as she can.  The group that flails cluelessly down a slope above the level of most of the family, terrorizing all in their way and ignoring the rule that downhill skiers have the right of way.

Luckily, there aren’t that many of those folks, but one group of those can sure make it seem like there’s a lot of them.

The lesson groups are fun to watch, especially the under-fives.  It’s fun to watch two blue-coated instructors with a line of seven teensy-tinies, all consciously working on “pizza, french fries, pizza, french fries” down gentle slope lines.  We passed one group going down Kruser on our last run.  The head small, a teensy little girl, lost control and couldn’t stop as I passed them.  I heard the instructor hollering at the kid and I kept an eye on her (she was on my left side).  Normally, I’d have turned in that one area because it’s a rather steep little rolling hollow, but if I’d turned, I’d have risked running her over (could have avoided her but it would have been nervous-making).  So I straight-lined it since a turn was a speed-management convenience.  There would be a spot where we’d potentially intersect, but I knew I could stop and be in a position to help her stop if need be (several years night skiing with the school kids has taught me a few things).  But I didn’t need to.  She got herself stopped before that point, had a little bit of a thrill, but no harm done.

Seven runs, two hours.  Nice ski day.  We’re both getting our legs back after the Junecember/Junuary interlude.  Hope it remains wintry for a while.

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