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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Powder City: South Hill bluff skiers plunge into rare opportunity

Skier Theron Vanhoff plunges down the fall-line off the South Hill Bluff toward friends. At the bottom near Hangman Creek, they all will put skins on their skis, climb up and do it again, on Jan. 9, 2017. (Rich Landers)
Skier Theron Vanhoff plunges down the fall-line off the South Hill Bluff toward friends. At the bottom near Hangman Creek, they all will put skins on their skis, climb up and do it again, on Jan. 9, 2017. (Rich Landers)

While some people were shoveling the relentless snowfall in Spokane earlier this week, others were playing in it.

Never mind that condition reports from area ski resorts have been gushing with news of powder piling thigh deep on the mountain slopes.

This week, Spokane is Powder City.

With the roads a dangerous icy mess and only half a day to spare on Monday, opportunistic skiers seized a rare day of almost-deep-enough powder skiing on the South Hill bluff.

The view from the street was inspiring. Mark Moore, Bucky Sturgeon, Theron Vanhoff and Dave Dubuque barely found enough room to park off High Drive as plows piled snow 3 feet high along the road. Neighborhood skies were filled with whiteness from snow throwers.

“It’s rare to get enough substantial coverage to ski the bluff,” Moore said. “It’s not an every-year thing, and it doesn’t last long when it comes.”

The winter starting in 2008 came to mind as a powder bonanza, but the last time the South Hill rivaled a ski resort’s snow load was around the winter of 1998, he said.

The men snapped into their skis – three on AT gear and Sturgeon going free-heel – and traversed the slope just below High Drive west of Bernard.

“I scoped it out on Friday,” Moore said, buoyed with the optimism that had lured his three buddies to join him this time. “It was pretty sketchy. But we’ve had 6 more inches of snow. So I’m back – but I’m wearing my helmet this time.”

His buddies were undaunted, lured by the prospect of urban turns in a fall-line plunge toward Hangman Creek.

They wearing their helmets, too.

“It’s no place for good skis,” Dubuque said.

Moore leapt into the hands of gravity and pointed the tips of his fat skis down to make the first line. His weight centered in the sweet spot in the middle of his skis with quick hopping turns to keep from edging through the crust and into the the rocks and bunchgrass a bit too intimately below.

“Hey,” Sturgeon said as powder billowed to the right and to the left. “I didn’t hear him hit any rocks. Not bad!”

One at a time they carved their signatures into the steep sparsely timbered slope for anyone driving U.S. 195 to see.

Cheap thrills – even with the expected damage to old boards.

“My skis suffered a core shot,” Dubuque confirmed later. “But it was such nice snow. Totally worth it.”

At the bottom above the creek they pulled climbing skins out of their packs, pressed them onto their ski bases and pointed the tips of their fat skis upward. For the price of a good workout, they’d get another cheap thrill. And another.

By probing around the bluff, they looked for the deepest deposts. The best possible run off the bluff would net about 400 vertical feet of city skiing bliss.

Meanwhile, we hope you packed a shovel in your rigs along High Drive, boys. The city snow plow is coming down the street.

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