Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sage Advice

It's a late snow season and a cold one out here in Washington State. I waxed my skis in late October hoping for the usual November snows and a few ski days before Christmas. Instead, the days of sunshine continued then a few weeks of warm clouds with no appreciable snow in much of the Cascades - at least not enough to ski down any slope without carving intricate sanskrit marking with rocks on the bottoms of your skis.

Out in Winthrop, where track skiing abounds and the famous cold, dry snows allow for early X-C skiing, there was no snow at all on the ground until 10 days before Christmas.

Then winter arrived - not only to the Cascade range but to the lowlands with actual freezing temperatures and snow that stuck around for more than 24 hours. In fact, it will be a winter storm remembered with the snarls of traffic in downtown Seattle from cars and buses unable to climb its many hills. It was snowing everywhere, it was actually piling up. Entire neighborhoods came out to sled, ski and snowboard on the city streets. Nevermind that if you fall on concrete with 6 inches of snow cover it hurts like hell.

So we return to Winthrop while the snow is falling heavily on the west side to try to break out our ski touring gear for the season. We ski up one of our favorite local routes towards Lewis Butte and find that the sage is only half covered with the 12 inches of snow on the ground instead of the usual 30+ inches this time of year. It is dicey to attempt a few turns in the dry, nearly granular snow. None the less, I've been out every day, checking out the 2 new inches of snow that has fallen every night, hoping that the coverage will grow to allow for some skiing on something other than flat terrain.

Skiing in low cover conditions has many exciting moments. First, the sage snags the tips of your skis and prevents any turning or unweighting of the ski until you have blown through it (at 5 mph since the snow is deep and slow on flat terrain). Second, some of the low mounds of snow that look like sage are actually ROCKS. The thought of a nice deep tele turn with your trailing knee smacking one of those babies really is enticing.

Alas, our vacation's end is looming near. I feverishly scan the weather reports that promise new snow but will it be too little to late?

Dr. Telemark

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