Sometime during high school along snow covered Iowa bluffs near the Mississippi river. That’s the last time I’d been downhill skiing, nine or ten years give or take. One week in May and I’ve probably skied more elevation than most of my life. While I know how satisfying it is to reach the summit, I’m discovering just how enjoyable it can be to quickly slide back down.
The idea of AT skiing has been in my head since moving to Oregon three years ago, but it wasn’t until this spring that I became motivated. A failed South Sister attempt and successful Paulina peak trip showed me just how much faster skis could be over snowshoes. This should be obvious, but when Fox took off down the mountain and I was left shuffling along like a clown, that’s when it really hit me. Skin to the top just as fast and then descend in a fraction of the time? Sign me up! Of course things are not quite so simple. Snowshoeing requires virtually no technique, skiing years of practice. Not every route is ski-able, especially at my level. Then there’s the avalanche factor. I may not be ready for true back country touring, but practice laps at Mt Bachelor have served as a fine training ground, and the view from the summit is just as sweet.
Saturday: First time on my ski setup, a used pair of Atomic skis and Diamir bindings off Craigslist, plus Garmont boots and new Voile climbing skins from the used gear store. Cheap stuff that appears to be working. Fox played instructor as we did two repeats on Bachelor’s mini cone with fresh snow coating the trees. My confidence is dented when I fall right away, popping off one ski, then the other. Turning does not happen automatically–you actually have to recruit muscles! My weaker left side becomes obvious, the cause of most falls, including one while the groomer is watching. Fresh snow is alien to me and beyond my capability; we stick to groomed runs. I realize the downhill is not free from concentration or effort–it is way harder than going up! I’ve got work to do.
Sunday: Despite yesterday, we aim for the summit 2700 vertical feet away. The evening light is tremendous, and other than passing groomers we have the mountain to ourselves. I am amazed at how my skins cling to the upper slopes without slipping. After two hours of skinning we meet a guy from Colorado camping on the summit! Cloud line right above the Sisters and Broken Top. The descent challenges every muscle in my legs; halfway down they are screaming! Again I find myself gaining new respect for the sport. Keeping my skis pointed perpendicular to the slope as much as possible I’m able to switchback down the summit without careening out of control. Aggressive tight turns allow me to keep the speed timid. I make it to the bottom unscathed and hungry for more.
Wednesday: We get off work, pack up, and hit the road. Again, the mountain is empty. A more direct route and a stiffer pace lets us reach the top in 70 minutes. Another summit, timed perfectly with setting sun and rising full moon. Views extend from Mt Thielsen south to Hood north. Goggles turn the sunset nuclear. They also make the descent really dark. The snow crusts up and severe concentration is required to stay upright. My quads tire, but not as much as last time. I steal a few glances at the moon and mountains, then get back to my turns. Another summit and descent under the belt.
Next project: Bachelor repeats!