First Tracks

Today I got my first skiing of the winter season up at Summit West, near Snoqualmie Pass. The snow report indicated that 3-5 inches of fresh snow would fall on top of about one foot of base. A trip report from the day before indicated that the grassy slope below the Pacific Crest lift had enough coverage to be skiable.

The temperature was lingering right at about 32 degrees, meaning that the snow was quite heavy. The lighter snow underneath made it “punchy” – my skis tended to break through the top layer to the softer stuff beneath. Skiers call this “upside down” snow since usually storms start off damp and end dry and fluffy, which makes for much better skiing. I wasn’t complaining too loudly.

I got three laps in. It was snowing heavily for the first two, then rainy for the third. I called it a day after that. On the way up the third time I noted a small avalanche right below the lift shack. Evidently skier triggered, but I was surprised at how clean the fracture surface ran across the whole slope. I figured that the vegetation would hold it in place but evidently not. One can never be complacent, not even in bounds on a blue run at a ski area.

6″ deep crown ran the whole width of the steep slope

This was my first chance to try out my new gear setup for ski touring – basically, a system which allows me to ascend and descend using the same set of equipment. The challenging snow conditions weren’t a good test for how skiable the setup will be, but I was super pleased with how efficient it was on the way up.

Rapidly accumulating Black Diamond equipment…

Basically, the way it works is that the binding holds the toe of the boot separately from the heel using pins which mate with the boot toe. A separate heel unit locks down for the descent, but your heel is free on the way up just like cross country skis. A sticky mohair pad on the bottom of the ski (called a “skin”) grabs in one direction but not the other, allowing me to slide the skis along gently but not slide backwards. I’ll post more about the gear of backcountry skiing at a later date.

The day was not over, though: unexpectedly beautiful weather in Seattle called for a bike ride to cap off the afternoon. Looks like Olympic got some snow this weekend too! 90 minutes from skin track to bike rack. Gotta love this place.

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