Dust-on-crust

Mt Ashland lost a lot of its snow base over the last two weeks due to high temperatures and some rainfall. Fortunately a recent storm provided some replacement snow. We ventured out early yesterday morning on reports of six inches of fresh stuff and discovered that much of the mountain was still quite ski-able. Don’t get me wrong—they could use another foot or more! There were still hazards just poking out of the surface or lying in wait just under the snow cover.

In fact, my buddy took a spill on our first run and lost a ski when he clipped the top of small tree. We’d been in line for about half an hour before they loaded the Windsor lift and although there was no wind it was quite cold. I’m never cold when I ski, but when you stand around without much movement the chill sets in. We were both a little stiff and awkward going into our first turns and it took some time to get fully warmed up.

It was mostly grey and overcast but visibility was good and the conditions, overall, were decent. The soft layer on top of the packed snow made for some nice, easy turns but it wasn’t enough to keep you floating. We found ourselves, on the steep runs, having to really work our edges. Every run was an adventure as you could not predict the response from turn to turn. Sometimes you’d feel the hard bottom and sometimes you would encounter wind-blown areas that had iced over. On the gentler slopes the turning was nearly effortless and we hardly broke through the “dust” on top of the firm “crust.”

At the top of the Ariel lift (which takes you to the summit) the area off the chair and at the start of the runs was treacherous with icy spots and wind-packed bumps. You really had to concentrate (I fell twice!) to get past those hazards. Once you were down in the shelter of the trees the skiing was good and we managed to have some long sequences of easy turns. Exploring the rest of the mountain we found a lot of variability and we had to work hard to adjust to the changing surfaces underfoot.

Since we got there for the opening and skied without breaks by the time it was almost noon we were done. When we left the flood of half-day afternoon ski traffic coming up the hill was impressive. People are really starved for skiing!

On the last half mile of the road out I came around a turn and had to stop quickly because a big pickup was blocking both lanes. I put on my flashers and hoped the cars behind me would be able to slow down in time—that’s never a sure thing on snowy/icy blacktop. It turns out the pickup was using a chain-and-hook tow line to pull some fool in a Jeep out of the embankment. How that guy got his Jeep into the ditch I’ve no idea but it was a real redneck festival. They managed to get the Jeep back on the road and the guy in the pickup simply unhooked the chain from his rear hitch and then drove off. The fellow in the Jeep also drove away but he was still dragging the chain from the mount on the front bumper! He was lucky he didn’t run over the thing and seriously damage his tires or frame. It was a real hillbilly move, I hate to say. I mean, c’mon, you have to pick the damn chain up and stow it before you drive away. And next time, fellas, have someone run up the road and flag the traffic coming down so we don’t plow into you inadvertently. What a shit-show that would have been!

Big storms are a-comin’ and Mt Shasta Ski Park is poised to get absolutely hammered. They are predicting at least two feet tonight and maybe another foot tomorrow with more waves of snow to come on top of those. They need snow even more there than at Mt Ashland as many of the runs are closed due to lack of coverage. We will go exploring there later this week, probably Thursday or Friday (or both). Sometimes at Mt Shasta the snow can get so thick and deep that you can’t get down the hill on the moderate slopes, there’s just too much resistance. You have to be on the steepest pitches in those conditions in order to get enough momentum to bust through the “Cascade concrete.” Hey, it’s a great problem to have: too much snow!

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