The parking lot was fairly empty and we lazily packed the appropriate gear in our packs for a few hours in the elements. With the group not being familiar with each other, the time passed quickly making random conversation from music to climbing to church and the like. The higher in altitude we got, the louder the wind became. Knowing we'd soon be getting pounded by mother nature, I opted to detour us a bit, attempting to stay in the safety of the trees for as long as possible. This proved to be a mistake, when I soon landed us all in a difficult situation of skinning up a steep, loose and wind-blown section of mountain. After flailing around in the snow, we decided to take refuge under a thicket of high altitude flora to get a break from the wind and take a gander at the map. The banana bowl of Flattop looked completely different than any other time I've been on it due to the lack of snow. We opted for the only skiable line, a short thin section, opening up at the bottom.
We tried to make quick work of removing skins, adding a shell layer, and throwing the skis on, but the wind and temperature made it difficult, with constant pelts to the face from frozen conglomerated snow. Once I booted up, I skied down a short section to 2 of our 4 party team, trying to ensure they were ready to descend. Surprisingly, there were a few nice patches of snow, allowing me to confidently drop the knee, hoping I remembered how to telemark ski.
Once back in the trees, we got some relief from the wind, threw a couple high-5's, and gave our own account of the snow slope. We then bushwhacked our way through the tight trees to find the return trail from Fern Lake. It was a bit of a roller coaster ride the rest of the way, skiing on narrow sections of trail, with little chance to 'check' your speed but ample chance to case of a rock or tree. We all arrived safely back to the car, pulling off the loads of gear we'd had been carrying and indulging in a celebratory Fat Tire, while recounting the day. We capped off the day with a quick stop at Kind Coffee (that may have been my idea, as I'm a bit of a coffee addict).
Joe and Mike, taking a breather from the roller coaster descent.
A view up the trail - from whence we came
On our way up
As I sit and reflect upon the seasons first day of skiing, I can't help but compare it to running, as running as been my primary activity as of late. The first thing of comparison comes in the form of gear. My gear for running, for the most part has been shorts and shoes. Even with the coming of colder temperatures, you need only add a pair of tights, a windshell, and hat. That's it. Simple. Backcountry skiing on the other hand is much more complicated. Here's a quick gear list from my little outing yesterday:
- Skis - Telemark of course
- Poles - Retractable
- Boots - Lightweight for touring yet burly enough to turn a bigger ski
- Climbing Skins - To my detriment, I used my wife's old ones - (i.e. too short)
- Avy Beacon - Mammut Barryvox
- Avy Probe
- Base Layer - Top and Bottom
- Smartwool Socks - B/c they're the best
- Gore-tex ski pants - The North Face (Sorry Steve)
- Gore-tex soft-shell - Arc'teryx (Again, sorry Steve)
- Synthetic mid-layer - Patagonia (Thanks Steve)
- Down jacket (thrown in the pack just in case) - REI (it was on sale)
- Gore-tex gloves - The North Face (Christmas present)
- Winter hat - The North Face (Another Christmas present)
- Ski Goggles - Oakley (Someone left them in my car)
- Water bottles (3)
- Granola Bar (2)
- Sunscreen (always in the pack)
- Backpack - manufactured specifically to strategically place all these items
In so many other ways, it's extremely difficult to compare running and skiing. Skiing gives me a feeling I've never felt while running. It also allows me to experience the mountains in a different way, in a different season, through a different mode. I absolutely love skiing and plan to get back in the backcountry as much as possible this winter (and maybe even do a little resort skiing).
But, when I slip on my 7.8 oz trail shoes and throw on my shorts, grab my 8 oz hand-held water bottle and head down the trail, I'll have a little extra pep in my step knowing that few things in life are simple and the act of running is about as simple as it gets.