From:         Matt Duffy <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:      Early season routines

>     I am curious to hear if there are many out there who have any "rituals"
>that they perform at, or as the beginning of their season.  (snip)    I'm
curious to hear >what other, perhaps less "stupid", people do on their
first outing.

Less Stupid ?   Hmmm!

For 3 years in a row I went skiing in early Nov.  Once at Wisp MD where it
had been cold enough to make snow on the bunny slope ($5.00 ticket), once
on 10" of new wet snow in the Laurel Highlands of western PA, and once at
Blue Knob PA.  (Great mountain, at least for MASH, see my First Tracks
story.)   The following Blue Knob story took place in Nov. 95, the last
time the gov't went on compulsory furlough on account of inability of the
Congress & White House to agree on a budget.  It was before I joined the
list and comes out of my personal files.

>When we got furloughed on Tues. I was on my way back from a symposium in
>Charlottesville.  There were about 2" of snow there and the weather reports
>said the mtns. north and west would get a big dump.  I called Blue Knob at 3
>not expecting an answer and they said 1 ft. on the ground and 1 to 2 more
>expected.  They were doing maintenance work on the lifts and plan a Dec. 1
>opening at earliest.  ~ 4 yrs. ago Jeff and I had a great powder day at Blue
>Knob on Dec. 10 or so after a similar early storm.  This time I couldn't
>talk anyone into going with me, so I violated the cardinal rule of
>backcountry skiing and went alone - mad with snow lust.  After all this
>was only PA, how bad could it get?

>I got to the summit parking lot at 9:30 on
>Wed. and it was  an arctic wasteland, about a 50 mph wind and snow
>everywhere.  No way to tell how much because you couldn't find a level spot
>without wind but it was a huge snowfall.  There was one employee there with
>a big road grader trying to keep the lot and summit road clear, a battle
he was losing.  >He was stunned when I appeared.
> As soon as I got the skis on a rational man would have realized this was a
>mistake, but I pressed on.  It was extremely wet and heavy but still fluffy
>enough to sink down deep; real leg breaking snow..  I was smart enough to
>check my pack to be certain I had my climbing skins and space blanket.  I
>had to shuffle along until I got to the first steep spot, then I was able to
>make one turn before getting stuck in the glop again.  I wanted to get to
>Extrovert which would be the only spot on the mtn. steep enough to link
>turns.  After 45 mins. I got to the top of Deer Run and decided to go down
>that instead.  I wasn't confident about being able to climb back up from the
>bottom of Extrovert.   The steep part of Deer Run had a huge drift and I got
>in a couple of nice linked turns before running out of momentum.  I  put on
>the skins and began to climb back to my car to quit for the day.
>It was only 10:30 but it was clear within minutes that I was in a race
>darkness.  It was still snowing and the wind
>was getting stronger.  Weighting one ski so as to slide the other forward
would drive
>the weighted leg down hip deep.  Then the attempt to raise that leg would
>plunge the other down to the same depth.  It was strange snow.  It had
cohesion as >long as you stayed on top but when it gave way you would
plunge deep.
>I don't have much experience with skins.  In the
>summer I bought heel pieces with built in climbing bars.  I remembered that
>and raised the bars.  It made a huge difference.  With the bars raised I
>could weight the skis more evenly and they didn't plunge down so deep.
>It was exhausting anyway and progress was extremely slow.
>Fear of spending the night alone on the mountain was a good teacher.
> I learned that little mincing steps are much better than big ones if you
want to
>stay on top of the snow.  Also you must keep the skis as equally weighted as
>possible to spread weight over the biggest surface area.  So slide them
>forward, don't step.  Stepping puts all the weight on one ski and it will
>plunge.  Where the snow is strongly rippled, it is also wind-packed and will
>support weight better.  If you can see the tops of the reeds and grass it
>isn't too deep and you can move faster there.  A good kick turn is
>essential.  I learned in the 50s when they taught that.  PSIA doesn't teach
>it any more.  They should.  It took an hour and about 15 shallow climbing
>traverses to gain the 150 feet of vertical to get back up the steep part of
>Deer Run.  In another 3 hours I was back at my jeep.  It was badly stuck and
>it took another 2 hrs. to shovel it out and get off the mtn.  The wind was
so fierce that >by the time I got one wheel dug out the other 3 were buried
again. I finally managed to >shovel faster than the wind.  Within the first
100 feet
>of descent on the road, as soon as I got to the trees, the wind and snow
just died.
>However the summit was still engulfed in a "ground blizzard" of blowing snow.
>In another 30 mins I was sitting in a local restaurant with a menu in my
hand but
>shivering too much to read it.  The waitress asked me if I was alright and I
>asked her to bring me the biggest bowl of hot soup in the place and then I'd
>Other than the very stupid decision to start off alone under the conditions,
>the things I did and my equipment choices were all good ones.  I had big
>wide skis with telemark cable bindings, skins, climbing bars, lightweight
>leather backcountry boots, adjustable length poles with big powder baskets,
>powder skiers goggles with the ducted fan to clear fog, Gore-tex and
>fleece jackets with pit zips to vent heat.   Also had the strength and
>stamina for which I am known among my ski friends (those that are my age
that is).  >The lack of any one of these things might have eliminated the
thin margin by which I >got out of there before dark.
>Well, I went for an adventure and that's what I got.  Also learned (again)
>never go without a partner and never underestimate the power of snow.

Denis Bogan

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