Sunday, March 30, 2014

Adventures in Avalanche Education (or, How I Survived My AIARE Level 2)

February 6 - 9, 2014

Like every good ski story, this one has a classic beginning: it hadn't snowed. In a REALLY long time (which could be a week, could be a month; every snowless winter week feels like an eternity). I had enrolled in an AIARE Level 2 avalanche course the month prior with the main motivation being the ability to make my own educated decisions in the backcountry.

For the five years since I'd completed my Level 1, I'd been following my then-husband around in the mountains, relying on his knowledge and experience to determine what was safe to ski. We had over 100 backcountry ski days together. During that time, I'd caused three skier-triggered avalanches. All three were within a one-week timeframe and all were caused by MY bad decisions (or bad skis? It's easy to start getting superstitious when you're kicking off avalanches left and right). I didn't get hurt, but I did get the ABSOLUTE CRAP SCARED OUT OF ME!

Probably my scariest

Fast forward to the end of 2013: recently separated, on my own, no regular ski partner to get complacent with. The mountains were the same, but everything else was different. Ski lines that used to feel normal and exciting became hugely intimidating. It was immediately apparent that I needed to gain confidence in my ability to choose ski terrain in the backcountry. Confidence comes from experience, yes, but also education! So I got in touch with our local guiding company Oregon Ski Guides and enrolled in their upcoming AIARE Level 2 course.

So what happens on the first day of our class? It starts absolutely NUKING. Like strategy-required-to-get-out-of-the-driveway nuking. A morning in the classroom on day 1 was great: we reviewed all of the material in the Level 1 course in about an hour. It was great to be reminded of the fundamentals of how terrain and mountain weather interact to create the changing mountain snowpack.

Just a little snowy at the homestead!

In the afternoon, we drove up to Mt. Bachelor to practice multiple burial rescues. It was easy to ignore the new snow and huge smiles of people in the parking lot after an epic powder day: we were learning critical avalanche rescue skills!

But the snow kept falling. On day two, we spent the afternoon digging full snow profiles while it snowed heavily: over an inch per hour! It was dark, wet and cold; morale was low. The unrelenting snowfall made it impossible to identify different snow grain types on our crystal cards -- we couldn't keep them clear of snow long enough to take a look!

Johnny Mac in the classroom

What's under there?

On day three, the snow stopped. The storm total was 51 inches. 14 inches had fallen since the previous afternoon. We went to Todd Lake for a ski tour which was a huge relief. I was excited about all of the new information I was learning, but I was growing increasingly antsy! I wanted to ski the new snow! There was so much of it! And it was good, low-moisture snow!

The tour helped me burn off some of that energy and focus on digging even more snowpits. As we were digging, the sun was out and the temperature was warming rapidly. What we didn't know at the time was that during that day, there were two skier-triggered avalanches in our area: one on Tumalo Mountain, and one on Tam McArthur Rim. Apparently there were other antsy people out there too, people who didn't take into consideration the possibility for storm slabs. Our day was uneventful; we skied out on low-angle terrain that started in the morning covered in gorgeous fluff, and over the course of the day became crusty slop. It's amazing how fast that can happen!

Finally, on our last day, we were going someplace exciting: Tam McArthur Rim! Home of super legit ski terrain, a place I LOVE to ski. Something for everyone: bowls, cliffs, steeps, glades. I was so excited, I brought out my powder skis, the ones with the "avalanche problem". We did a few quick snowpack observations on our climb up to the top of the rim.

The rim: good for skiing.

On our way up, we stopped in a location very close to the previous day's avalanche. I volunteered to ski out to a potential starting zone, on belay, to see if I could start another avalanche. I jumped and jumped and jumped and jumped! All around the convexity on the slope, near small trees, wherever it seemed like I could get the slope to move. Nothing! Or, as I've been taught to report: "No Release". Our snowpack settled THAT quickly. Amazing!

Next time I'm bringing a harness! Photos by Pete Keane

Getting myself together after my jumping around in the deep snow, I realized that I'd somehow caught the fabric from my ski pants in the buckle for my right boot, keeping it from locking into ski mode. I fiddled around with it quite a bit, but eventually gave up and caught up with the rest of the group.

Johnny Mac, on belay, kicking off a cornice.

Soon we were standing at the top of the rim, finally about to ski something fun for the first time since the new snow fell. I was BESIDE MYSELF WITH EXCITEMENT! Our instructor dropped in first, sliding over the edge, stopping, and probing the snow near the adjacent cornice. One by one, my fellow students followed suit. Finally, it was my turn. I had forgotten all about my broken boot. My buddy Pete, Director of Oregon Ski Guides, had come along on our tour and in a moment of clarity said to me, "Lindsey, take it easy".

I said, "OK!", and while fully intending to take it easy, instinct, excitement, and habit took over. I pushed off, caught a baby air off the lip, and made my first turn. YES! SKIING!

Spotting a small rock to my right, I decided to ski over and slash in front of it. When I tried to swing that hard turn, I realized (to my horror!) that my boot was about as stiff as a slipper! The turn flat-out did not happen. I was headed straight for the rock. So I committed, sailing off it and doing my best to stick the landing. Yard sale! One of my skis released. No brakes or leashes meant that I was probing around for my missing ski for a few minutes, mortified, with my instructor and classmates watching me from below, and Pete no doubt shaking his head up above.

I finally found my ski, put it back on, and skied down to the rest of the group. Our next pitch involved a traverse through a rocky section into another open bowl. On the traverse in, I hit a rock and tomahawked. Put on my ski, and promptly fell again. Finally, I was able to link enough turns to return to the rest of the group.

As the day came to a close, we scooted along a frozen lake to our snowmobile. Any shred of dignity I had left was long gone. Pete and I were bringing up the rear, when I somehow managed to FALL AGAIN! In the flats! I got on my knees, lifted my hands in the air, and begged the universe for mercy! Poor Pete for having to witness that.

The ride back to the sno-park was uneventful. Awesome, actually, to be hauled behind a snowmobile in the Moonwalker! I received my certificate of completion for the course, was happy to have learned a ton, and to have many stories to tell.

I survived! What a day!

And I sold those skis.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Making due, praying for snow

November, December and part of January, 2014

How do I even begin to write about the torture that has been our ski season this year? I've had one pow day (cue the angels singing):


And other than that, nada. My days of hitting rocks on groomers and working on my ginger bro tan (read: more freckles on the bottom half of my face) were getting a bit monotonous, so I found a few other things to do with my time:

I decided to fully embrace my status as an aspiring ski bum by transforming my truck into a Glamper...

Cute assistant, right?

... and christened it at Summer Lake Hot Springs, my favorite place to go when there isn't enough snow!

Splashing around in a 100° pool can be fun too...

It got cold enough to get in some novelty ice climbing at Paulina Creek Falls, for the second year in a row!

Andy killing it in tele boots

Me trying to look good

Ian working on his bloody face

Hanging out in Tahoe at the end of December was interesting. Not enough snow to ski, but not warm enough to comfortably climb either. Oh well, the company was excellent!

Yes, this really happened. Thanks, Court!

Jasmyn and Skylyn, the dynamic sister duo! Oh yeah, and Nacho!

I got to drive past Mt. Shasta four times in about as many weeks, and stopped in town on my last time through. I was trying not to look too much at my spirit mountain while it was missing its layer of white. So Kaya and I enjoyed some of the local culture:

Free spirit fluffy!

Fortunately for all of us it is snowing again! It's time to stop screwing around. Bring it on, 2013 - 2014 ski season!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Record Start for the 2013/14 Ski Season!

October 4th, 2013

Roll call: Enrique Casablanca, Kaya the Ski Dog, and Lindsey Clark

I caught wind of some chatter about a winter storm coming our way during the last week of September. Skiable snow in early fall? It couldn't be true! But it was... multiple feet fell at higher elevations in the few days spanning the end of September and beginning of October.

I absolutely had to be at work from Monday to Thursday, and I figured that a handful of people would get into the mountains, ski the new snow while it was around, and then it would be gone. But NO! The weather gods were smiling on all of us. The storm ended, and the sun came out... but the temperatures stayed cold! That meant that the skiing got even better as the thin snowpack consolidated on top of our lava rock slopes and inspired confident, early-season turns!

Enrique testing out the snow:

 Kaya laughing at all who lag behind her:

Kaya and I enjoying the sunshine up top:

Broken Top looking almost skiable in the distance:

Enrique topping out on another lap:

Not bad for early October!

So there you have it. All smiles and sunshine for my earliest start to a ski season ever! I really hope this is a sign of a cold, dark, and stormy winter season ahead!