That’s where I found myself Tuesday, floating through 18 inches of fluff at Mount Spokane as snow continued to fall. Earlier that morning, groggy from sleep as the coffee brewed, I checked my email for the mountain conditions report that arrives every morning, courtesy of Ski NW Rockies.
I was jolted fully awake by what I saw. Every hill in the region had been blessed with a deep blanket of snow not seen around these parts for several years. Any plans I had that day immediately changed. The toughest decision to make was which direction to start driving.
That’s the thing about powder days. All rational thought goes out the window. Surrounded by bounty, you can become frozen in your tracks trying to decide what part of the mountain to ski next. A wise friend of mine broke the spell by advising to simply go with “the bird in the hand.”
In this city, the bird in the hand is Mount Spokane. No matter where you are, skiing and riding are all about the snow. When it’s deep, the mountain in our own backyard is your best option. A short drive gets you to the Promised Land, where you can slay the powder in the morning and be back at the office for lunch.
The local powder hounds, well versed in that strategy, haven’t had the option for too many winters running. I joined a couple of dozen of them in the lift line at Chair One, waiting to be unleashed as the line grew behind us. A friend and I managed to load on the 13th chair …our lucky number.
Unless you get up early enough to earn the first chair, the first ride to the top is the hardest part of a powder day. You have to watch as the skiers and riders ahead of you, who covet the same lines as you, pick them off one by one. Fortunately, when mountain management wisely refrains from grooming, there’s plenty of deep untracked powder to go around. But only for a limited time.
With so much pent-up demand, skiers and riders who were lucky enough to be there attacked the hill like the scrubbing bubbles you see in ads about those cleaning products. In a few hours everyone feasted and got their fair share. We wrapped up the morning nibbling on scraps left around the edges. Even that made for great skiing, and we could have done it all day. But it was time to go back to work.
Last week, the Spokesman Review reported that Mount Spokane had already gotten more snow than they had at the peak of last season. We left a mountain fattened up with snow – and getting fatter, as the snow continues to fall in the inland northwest. A winter clouded by what meteorologists call the strongest “El Nino” ever measured has gone missing – for now.
El Nino is the supposed snow killer in the Pacific Northwest. But according to Cliff Mass, a University of Washington atmospheric scientist writing in his blog cliffmass.blogspot.com, we are enjoying the opposite. A “La Nina” type pattern has been in effect, with high pressure over the sub tropic Pacific and cool, northwesterly flow. The jet stream is oriented northwest to southeast, with the center crossing Oregon and northern California.
That leaves us on the cold north side of the jet stream. A trough lurks offshore, pushing a series of storms brewed in the Gulf of Alaska along the northern side of the jet stream into our region. This is great for a white Christmas …and skiing on Christmas Day.
Joining my nephew Bryce on the slopes Christmas Day is one of our Holiday traditions. We share the mountain with others who also feel it’s a great way to spend quality time with people close to you – with no lift lines and wide open slopes. You couldn’t ask for a better Christmas Day to enjoy the wonderful gifts we’ve been receiving. Maybe I’ll see you up there.