Thursday, December 26, 2013

Intracranial Climate in a Dry December

Motivation is a matter of perspective. But conditions can't be faked.
17 days since the last real snow fall. Red Cone Bowl, December 25, 2013. Jed self portrait.
Chad would call 'em Life Lessons: One ties livelihood and social life and avocation to a fickle low-latitude mountain environment. And then chooses to live among an isolated community of like-minded snow fiends. And that town happens to be in a desert state; A desert state that relies on mountain snow fall for residents, agriculture, and industry. Everyone's economics and mood are tied to the clouds. No one is exempt, no one can resist offering up lamentation and theorization. In 2013, the clouds are not delivering. It is no secret that we're reeling from two poor winters. A third, if that is how this plays out, will be devastating. Heck, it already feels devastating. But therein lies the rub. Like anything, there's the facts and there's the feelings. Fact is, both Mammoth and June Mountains are open from the top. You want to stay on the groomers for your p-tex's sake, but the sun's warm, the lifts are turning, and town is relatively uncrowded. Those are the facts. It sure seems like the collective "feeling", however, is that the resort's aren't even there this year.

This guy doesn't have snow pessimism in his vocabulary. With probably the world's greatest powder chasing resources, Plake chose to be in June Lake for .9 miles and 500 vf of chocolate-chipped green groomer. What's your excuse? Ken Etzel Photo, December 13.

Extend the same analysis to the backcountry. The fact is, there is between forty and eighty centimeters of supportable snow in the Mammoth Lakes "snow-belt". That is not a lot of snow. But it is also not zero. Feeling? Well, if bar-stool conversation and ski-track history are any indication, virtually no one's been out there to feel how good it can be.

That's a good feeling: Camber pressed out of the skis, snow spraying. Jed photo December 14.
This happens in the Sierra. We go a long time between storms. Get used to it. The ski area goes rock hard. The terrain park is your friend. Maybe even the Owens River Gorge. But the forces that influence ski area conditions are different than those that influence backcountry conditions. Believe it or not, sometimes the backcountry gets better with time. Don't believe it. In fact, I strongly recommend against embracing this truth. Because then you will have to abandon your victim mentality and actually go hiking for your soft snow. Go ahead, revel in the seemingly unanimous support of your friends in asserting that the skiing is horrible. Drink too much. Ride your road bike. Fly to Baja. Collect unemployment. Go down that easy path, because the alternative is solo exploration of a beautiful granite landscape. Skinning is hard. Repairing base damage is expensive. Don't bother.

Red Cone Bowl. Also Christmas Day. The most popular early season terrain in the range, getting tracked out, over two weeks post storm. Six turns. Of many. Jed photo, Jed turns. 
Backcountry skiing isn't like the movies. It's actually better than that. Because you watch a movie and get to participate in the BC. How many times have you fought the lift lines and wind holds on a storm day for six fresh turns? Those six turns were worth the weeks of riding groomed runs and the chained drive from wherever and the twenty other chopped up runs. Those turns weren't like the movies either.  They were better. Why couldn't six turns off the top of a wilderness peak be worth a similar investment? Hike for it. Dare to find out that its actually not bad out there.

It's not all rainbows and sunsets. Mammoth, December 22. Jed Photo.
Sure, I'm grouchy too. This isn't what I like to have going on. I've skinned up the back of Mammoth Mountain and skied down inbounds, just for exercise! Twice. By this time last year I'd had faceshots on 4 different days. None yet in 13/14.  Most years I can make between 10 and 15% of my yearly income guiding during the Holiday period.  That sure ain't going on this year. But I'm grouchy and know the realities. Others are griping ignorantly. That gives me a little self-righteous pedestal on which to stand. Get the F out there and see what's going on before you spout off about how we're doomed. Indeed, in the big picture, this drought status is heavy. And if it really does dry up for the rest of the winter, the ski season is kinda hosed. But there is skiing to be had right now. Justify your laziness however you want, but it is just that. Choose to do more rock climbing, choose to go ride your bicycle. It's your life. Ma Nature nor big oil nor Fukushima nor George Bush nor Chris Farley have hosed your ski season. You're choosing to sit it out. Heck yes I'm grouchy! But shit, I'm trying.

"Sightskiing". TJ Lake. December 25. Jed Photo.

Maybe therein lies the problem: I love skiing. A bad day of skiing is better than a sunny day at the boulders. Thrashing in brush and facets and rocks is more appealing than the Owens River Gorge. Even destroying skis sounds better than "giving up". I'm a stubborn dude. And I don't want to be alone in the pursuit of snow. But I've been alone out there. Kinda by choice. That's just where my head is lately. But also from a lack of partner and client interest. Sure, there are real hazards. But change the tactics. Go for distance. Go for the climb. Go for the scenery. Go for the lakes. Go for the fitness. And get your six turns as bonus.

Maybe the solo travel isn't by choice.  Maybe that's just what I tell myself. But, I am a quirky partner. Taking elaborate "selfies", wearing obnoxious clothes. Damn, I wouldn't ski with me either.


  1. Jed, it looks like you're doing it wrong. There is dirt there under your feet. I'm telling.

  2. Jed,
    Nick Schley here, one of your past Sub students and close friend of Scott W. I'm in town from Crested Butte until the third. I flew home with my touring gear in hopes of finding partners, but so far I've been left high and dry, doing way to much of the sunny pebble wrestling thing. If you're still getting out there let me know, I am motivated to move (especially with skis on my feet).