A skiing and riding season is ultimately remembered by its epic snowstorms. Such an occasion occurred over the course of last weekend and I was in the right place at the right time.
The best time to take advantage of a big snowstorm is while it’s happening. There’s something empowering about bearing the brunt of Old Man Winter’s wrath with the weatherproofing and gear (and mechanical assistance) that enables you to turn it your way.
I was wide-awake long before my alarm was set to fire Saturday morning. The night before I packed and staged my gear at the door. My plan was to be primed with coffee and breakfast and ready to respond the moment my friend JP arrived to pick me up.
After considering a fist full of great options, Lookout Pass was our destination. Deep accumulation throughout the region was a given. We decided to head for the highest quality of snow. We fiddled around and rearranged gear to safely stow my skis. Excited about the day’s prospects, we hit the ramp and accelerated to the east.
It’s a law of nature that the better the skiing, the worse the driving. We merged with an armada of powder hounds, testing the limits of traction and speed in a race for first tracks. Earlier casualties of the conditions languished in the ditch. A stream of passing traffic sprayed slush in its wake.
We had gotten as far as Wolf Lodge and I reminded myself to hydrate for the physical effort ahead. I reached into the back seat for the water bottle stowed in my gear bag. It wasn’t there. A grim assortment of emotions flooded my mind: shock, anxiety, dread disappointment and frustration to name just a few. We pulled off the interstate. I checked the trunk. No gear bag.
I was so wrapped up with getting on the road as quickly as possible my boots, jacket, helmet, goggles, gloves and provisions were left behind. The stark realization that we had no choice but to backtrack hit me like a sucker punch. Fortunately, JP, well-adjusted fellow that he is, laughed it off and turned around.
He assured me that heavy snowfall should refresh the powder throughout the day. We could be better off separating ourselves from the rat race. JPs words soothed my troubled mind. I forgave myself and enjoyed the ride. He was right.
Lookout was busy. Its overflow parking was at capacity. If this were an average snowstorm, the hill would have been skied out. But this wasn’t an average storm. In intermittent surges of intensity inches would pile up in a matter of minutes, not hours. The wind howled. On a day unfit for neither man nor beast, we giggled like little kids.
The hard cores had nearly a two-hour jump on us. But the weather was quickly erasing evidence of their presence. Many of the connoisseurs had gotten their fill. Many others were worn out by deepening snow. We were just getting warmed up as the hill thinned out for lunchtime.
In all my years of skiing, I can’t remember witnessing it snow harder that the manna falling from the sky at Lookout on Saturday. In the loading areas it dropped straight down in dense, heavy curtains. As the chairlift carried us into the wind, gusts would send the snow swarming past sideways, directly up the hill.
Epic snow at Lookout can create a paradox. As a hill of modest size and angle, high quality snow is its claim to fame. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. After some reconnaissance, we elected to take laps on the steeper north aspect of the mountain where gravity was strong enough to pull us through the powder.
Save for the first few hours of a powder day, the terrain serviced by chair three at Lookout gets less traffic than the rest of the hill. What’s more, tracks made by the early birds were being obliterated by the blizzard. We gleefully floated through deep snow until patrollers roped off access and sent us to the bar.
We were bushed and had no qualms about leaving an endless supply of great turns undone. Despite my unconscionable brain cramp to start the day we accomplished our mission – thanks to the epic storm which continued to rage on without us.