Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Frontcountry Dreams

For every backcountry skier, there is a dream.  A dream of an endless supply of untracked snow, soft powder, and cold days with pristine conditions.  Every winter, the die-hards scour the weather reports, read the snow telemetry gauges online and look for the magical conditions to appear.  Mostly we are not so lucky to find them but on one or two days a year, when you actually don't have to work your day job.

In the Methow Valley on the east side of the Cascades, there is a culture of skiing that has evolved over the past 150 years since it was first settled by the white man from the east.  The snow here is not like the snow 30 miles to the west in the middle of the Cascade range.  The snow is far drier, less voluminous and the terrain is less dramatic as the Cascades transition into the central Washington plateau.   The Methow Valley rests at 1800 ft elevation and its surrounding mountains touch the cold clear skies between 3 to 6 thousand feet.  There are numerous slopes to be explored right along the valley when conditions are right.

In the early 1900's, when free heel skiing was all that there was to do in the Methow, if you wanted to go downhill and the only way to ski downhill was to climb whatever you wanted to ski.  One of the local favorites was Lewis Buttte, a small peak just outside Winthrop with many slopes to choose from for descents that dropped about 1000 feet.  The Butte was the local ski area at one point - with ski school kids from the local schools climbing the slopes to get their turns in.  The Butte's south face is often sun-baked breakable crust if the temperatures warm up within a few degrees of the freezing since the last snow. However, before New Years of 2013, there were weeks of clouds, snow and cold temperatures that never formed the dreaded crust.

January 2013 will be remembered.  The dream came true in the Methow this season.  The December snows covered the mountains and the valleys with enough snow to bury the sage and the bitterbrush and the continued snow in the first week alternating with sunny cold days led to superb conditions on nearly every aspect of every mountain side. Another phenomenon in the Methow is what the locals call "frontcountry" or "sidecountry" skiing.  That is, ski touring the mountains overlooking the valley either from your home or just a short drive away.  No long drive, no long approaches, just looking for great snow in your back yard.  That was the first two weeks of January - every day, great snow.  We toured a number of "frontcountry" areas - picking the routes that had great snow day after day. It was a celebration of the sheer pleasure of climbing, skiing and experiencing the mountains with friends.  I wonder how long it will be until we have the same perfect conditions for two straight weeks again.

Check out the short film on Amazon's Createspace E-Store  or Amazon's Video on Demand (will be available by mid-April, 2013).

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