To me, the ski season doesn’t ever really end, it just gets less convenient. There’s always a snow patch or a glacier you can ski. That said, there is a new ski season that starts with the first real dump of snow. It’s weird, it never ends; it just starts over and over again.
This past weekend, I was joined by Paul OBK, Marie-Eve L, Katherine V and Matt O in a search for some early season turns. I’d posted a trip to the ACC calendar and rather than filling up super quickly, only a few dedicated souls wanted to join. It’s like people didn’t realize what the forecast was calling for. What the forecast was calling for, was a dump. We had beds booked at the Rampart and the stoke level was high.
When we turned onto highway 93 North and discovered that the snow on the highway was over a foot deep and that we’d be basically plowing our own road – the stoke level just got higher. Right up until we got Matt’s Nissan X-Terra stuck. After pushing it out, we finished driving to Crowfoot Glades where I tried to use the PWDRWGN (a.k.a. my beat up old Subaru Legacy Wagon with vanity plates) to clear a parking lot for us so we wouldn’t get nailed by a plow. It was going great right up until I got a touch too aggressive and got her stuck. This is the first time I’ve ever actually gotten the car stuck. Powder is her happy place.
Let me tell you about my car. I love her. I bought her from Austrian friends fleeing the country and since then she’s brought me into the mountains and then back home without fail. Oh sure, there’s been moments where she’s displayed her playful and joking personality, like the time she dumped all of her transmission fluid in the parking lot of a pub in Squamish (fixed with a paper funnel and knife), the fact that only a single lock on the car actually works, her fuel gauge lies, the driver’s seat bolsters have collapsed and smoke billows out from under the hood any time you ask her to do more than drive around the block, but she’s got heart in a way that no other vehicle in the world does. When we moved to Calgary, I got her PWDRWGN vanity plates (after intense fighting with beaurocracy over whether ‘Powder’ is obligatorily a reference to cocaine). She’s happiest when she’s just a little bit slide-ways on a snowy road, powder blowing over her hood, leaving lifted pickup trucks in ditches behind her. She is my spirit animal.
Anyway, I got her stuck. So we dug her out. In an inspiring display of Canadian friendliness, every single car that passed us stopped to ask if we needed help (and in one case got stuck by stopping).
With the cars parked/abandoned, we clicked into our skis and headed out towards the glades. Funny thing, I’d forgotten there’s a lake crossing. Now, mid-season, the lake crossing ‘ain’t no thang’, but this early in the season, the ‘frozen’ level of the lake was not the most inspiring thing in the world (we left slushy tracks behind us everywhere we went), but after cautiously venturing out onto the lake a bit and using a probe and an ice screw to assess things, Paul and I came up with a solution. I would skin across the lake while tied to Paul with a 30m rope. That way if I fell through, Paul could haul me out. I’ve fallen through a snow bridge into a river before, I know how much it sucks, but I also felt that given our proximity to the cars, the risk level was just inside my comfort zone.
Perhaps it was the sight of Paul and I tied together, about to risk our lives to blaze a trail across the lake that prompted Marie-Eve to ask whether it was worth it to ski one or two laps through dense trees. Apparently she had considered the possibility of making a phone call to my girlfriend and explaining that I had died trying to cross a clearly unfrozen lake in order to get two laps of skiing in and decided the risk wasn’t worth it.
This is why I like it when party members do their own safety assessments, they can tell me when maybe I’m getting a little too goal focused and that I’m being an idiot. Thank you Marie-Eve for suggesting we reconsider.
So instead we went on an exploratory tour which led to zero actual skiing but lots of super fun trail breaking through totally unconsolidated hip deep snow. The important thing is that that trail breaking earned us our beers at the end of the day when we got to the Rampart Creek Hostel.
We woke up Sunday morning, slightly fuzzy from celebrating the start of the ski season and discovered that we’d gotten another foot plus of snow. We decided that we wanted to ski something protected and something that didn’t involve crossing any creeks or Lakes – so we ended up at Bow Summit.
After breaking trail most of the way up (and then, embarrassingly, getting passed by split boarders), we dropped into our first line of the new ski season. Instant perfect, face shots everywhere, powder that felt bottomless (as long as you read the location of rocks properly), it would have been considered fantastic conditions middle of the season, let alone early November. We spent the rest of the day charging the Christmas trees and trying not to inhale too much snow.
The ski season is here boys and girls and despite everyone’s bleating about El Nino, so far, it’s an epic one. Get your skis out or it’ll be half way to the next new one when you do.
– Phil Tomlinson