Nope. Well, yes, today I am (after finishing writing this nonsense), but yesterday I surely wasn’t. I was up early though, quite early. As early as 5 am. You know, if you would have asked me 15 years ago if I would be willing to get up 5 am (or any time before 8.30) on a Sunday morning without a gun to my head, I would have laughed hysterically. Saturday evenings are reserved for late night consumption of various liquids that rather deteriorates the fluid balance than improves it, and Sundays should thus be spent in bed twisting and turning in anxiety over the coming Monday. To be honest, if you would have asked me two months ago, I would still have laughed, although less hysterically since I would have known that I could most definitely be tricked into doing it by a certain M. I would NOT, however, have agreed to do it happily. And yet, here I found myself rationalizing why my toe condition would not deteriorate from being stuck into a damp ski boot for a day, just to be able to get up way before sunrise, on a Sunday. Life is funny.
So in the end, all that wining I did on Friday was completely uncalled for. After meeting Kent (the, as it turned out, 63 year old ski enthusiast, who has a master’s in botany but works as a carpenter and has been skiing 40 months in a row), I just could not resist the temptation to come along on the tour to Colorado, and since the snow forecast favored a Sunday trip to the mountains and Ken and Martin were willing to postpone the trip one day, I could work and rest my feet on Saturday and go skiing on Sunday. It turned out to be a very interesting day. When Larry carried us out of Laramie, we did not see any of the promised snow, and the temperature was not very promising, +2 C. However, as we approached the “Never summer mountains” area, the clouds hovering around the mountain tops had already started to let go of their precious content. My feet made some objections as I tucked them into my ski boots, but as we started skinning up the pass, I actually did not feel any pain at all. Things were looking good. The past warm weather, combined with relatively strong winds and some new snow, had created wind slabs on north facing aspects and bulletproof powder on south facing slopes. However, among the trees, conditions were really good, and the terrain offered severely fun riding. We went up and down the second ridge close to Iron Mountain 4 times in weather conditions that varied from blue bird to snow storm, always, however, in roaring wind. It was fun, fun, fun.
On our way back, we decided to skin from the pass and across the first ridge to get one last run. However, as we progressed across the ridge, visibility deteriorated significantly, and the wind, which had been blowing quite frenetically all day, picked up with gusts that reached “I will toss you little human like a mitten” speed. After roughly 20 minutes of skinning, we could hardly see anything with all the snow blowing in the air. The strong wind also meant an increasing avalanche danger since a lot of snow was being transported to lee sides. We therefore decided to back track our steps and find a safe way down. Martin did a fantastic job finding the way back on the ridge, and during a short moment of improved visibility, Kent identified a tree line that could guide us down to the valley. It was a low angle slope (roughly 25-30 degrees inclination), but due to the wind loadings and the bad visibility, we were cautious. Martin went first, and then me. As I skied, I hit a wind roll over, and the thought “this is not good” hit me. Suddenly I heard Kent call out “SLIDE!” My reaction was to get out of the slide path and to higher elevation. However, I did not see much, and did not hear the roaring sound I had expected, so I nearly thought he was mistaken (which could easily happen if you are in a white out and loose track of what is up and down). However, as I turned around, I saw the crown of the slide. It was about 100 m wide and 1-2 feet deep. As Kent had started skiing, he had triggered the top layer. Lucky for us, the inclination of the slope prevented the slide from stepping down. It stopped perhaps 25-50 meters down slope, and the only thing buried was one of Kent’s skis. After regrouping and collecting our thoughts, we could then safely descend through the forest. We reached the parking lot at 5.30 pm, 12 hours after we left Laramie. I was, to say the least, quite tired. Actually so tired that I didn’t bother to go to the toilet before getting into the car. I think that I may soon be able to claim a world championship in the ability contain fluids in my body: the drive back to Laramie took two hours, so not taking a leak on the mountain that day meant that I didn’t let go of any bodily fluids (except for sweat and saliva) for 14 hours. I am quite impressed, and a little bit scared, of myself.
Looking back at our day, I think that we did some mistakes and that we did some things right. I think that we underestimated the speed at which weather conditions changed, and how fast visibility would deteriorate. We also perhaps had too high expectations on what local knowledge of the area could do in those weather conditions. Heck, I can get lost in Kobåset on a bad day, and I should know that area like my back pocket. Finally, I should not have left my blizzard blanket at home. Given that, however, our choice of path for our descent was, I still think, the best we could have done. Almost everything on that aspect of the mountain was wind loaded, so we definitely took a risk skiing down on that side. However, we didn’t have much choice if we wanted to get to the car, so I don’t think that we could have done much to avoid that particular risk. What we did to reduce risk was go down on a low inclination slope, to stick close to the trees, and regroup at what we perceived to be safe spots. The low inclination of the slope prevented the slide from stepping down, and I think that the closeness to the trees put Kent at the outskirt of the slide instead of in the middle of it. My first avalanche. Very interesting indeed. I don’t want to be in another one. I am very glad that I ski with the people I do ski with, and that I am starting to develop at least some knowledge of how to think on the mountain.
Oh by the way, I feel kind of silly writing in english. I haven’t got a clue if anyone non-swedish speaking is actually reading the blog. If not, I think I should go back to writing in Swedish, so if anyone has an interest in a continuation of my babbling in English, please let me know.