Ratha (papertygre) wrote,

Too much of a good thing

Damien and I decided to drop everything and go skiing today. We knew Mount Baker was open, and I got a snow report email yesterday that said there would be good conditions in the morning. So we got up at 6:30 (couldn't quite manage 5:30) and loaded D's car in the rain. He has a little Honda Prelude coupe, the back seats of which fold down to reveal a pass-through to the trunk, and our skis fit nicely inside. We also fortunately had some tire chains (well, tire cables) that we went out and bought last night.

The rain turned to snow as we drove, and the air was thick with white. Had to chain up part way along the state road between I-5 and the resort. Not many other cars on the road, but enough to feel like we were going the right way. As we were driving, we spotted some car tires in a ditch by the side of the road, and looking closer could tell that those wheels belonged to an overturned car. There were several people swarming around the car and there was one woman standing by the side of the road looking out, but when she made eye contact with me she did a thumbs-up meaning everything was cool, so we continued on. Later, going around a hairpin turn to the right, the car spun out completely. We wound up on the wrong side of the road, nestled beyond the bend, with our hearts in our throats. D said, "The chained tires gripped nicely, did you notice that? It was the rear wheels that slipped out from under us and spun around the front ones!" It was a while before enough cars passed that it was clear for us to pull out into the road and turn around to continue.

We'd never been to Baker. The website said it was a 2 1/2 hour trip, so I was estimating 3; it actually took 3 1/2. When we got to the ski area, it was snowing quite hard. Parked, walked to the lodge, used restrooms, and put our boots on, and by then it was 11:30 and we were hungry (not having eaten since 7). We also needed quarters for lockers. So we got lunch first, and were able to buy afternoon lift tickets (12:30-3:30) rather than all-day.

We went up on Chair 1 and arrived at the top with little idea of where we were and almost no visibility. Our choice was between two blue runs, one of which (Blueberry) someone told us was easier because it was groomed, but the way to it seemed to be fenced off. So we took the other trail, Austin. Only got a few turns in - the powder was too deep and the whiteout conditions meant we couldn't even see the contours of the terrain. We soon discovered that the trail wasn't well marked, either. Both Damien and I wound up off a few feet off the trail in a valley of powder before we realized it. We both fell while attempting to sidestep-climb up to the trail, and wound up deeply buried. I was in up to my shoulders.

And all attempts to climb out proved futile, like treading water. Increasingly, it seemed that I would never get out by myself. My skis were still attached to my boots, but I couldn't make any progress up the little hill since I was unable to get any traction. And everything - my limbs with equipment on them, the snow - was ridiculously heavy. Every once in a while I glanced over at Damien, who seemed to be making better headway than I was. I wished I hadn't left the working walkie-talkie in the locker, thinking it would be useless with the battery in the other one dead, because I had seen a poster that said the Ski Patrol monitors channel 9 frequency 11. It was crazy to me that I could be so close to the trail and yet it could seem so hard to reach. I finally took my skis off and stood them on end in the snow (they only sank in up to the bindings, so at least I wouldn't lose them) but I could make no better progress in just my boots. At least I was warm; none of the snow seemed to be leaking into my clothes. Lying back in the white stuff and closing my eyes was peaceful and calming.

Just when I was getting ready to yell to someone passing by to fetch a person from Ski Patrol, a snowboarder ventured into the valley a little past me and fell in, but he was able to climb out by using his board to shovel out snow and pull himself up. His partner, a skier, helped him the last little bit. Then the skier responded to my waving by coming down to help me also. He climbed down a couple of feet, stepping sideways on his skis, tamping down the snow, and then he reached down to pull me out onto my knees. I was able to avoid sinking in by walking on my knees, so I crawled out that way, stopping every few inches to move my skis ahead. When I got close to the trail, the skier showed me how to stick the skis in the snow mostly flat but angled up a little bit, in order to get back in the bindings without the skis sinking in when I tried to step down on them. Unfortunately, once I'd gotten in the skis again a stiff gust of wind knocked me over back into the powder. So we had to repeat the whole procedure.

By the time I was out I felt exhausted; every part of my body had been called upon. The trail here was relatively level and well-packed, fortunately. There was still a whiteout and I still couldn't tell where the trail was, but I could tell enough how to stay away from where we fell in. I felt enormous gratitude to the skier, but he and his friend were busy planning a romp into the double-diamond gulch that opened up nearby. Damien had made it out by himself and now joined me, and the wind at our backs was so strong it propelled us along the trail by itself, although it sent us into snowbanks a couple of times. Then we noticed the trail was joining up with the groomed one, so we eagerly changed over. Even on this trail we barely got any turns, with no visibility and such strong wind interfering with our balance. Damien fell into some powder when we were almost at the lodge, and I was able to help pull him out with my pole. We went into the lodge to regroup and look at the trail map. It was 2:30; we'd been out for two hours. As exhaustion set in and I felt some pain from a tweaked knee, and as the snow that was encrusted on our clothes started to melt and soak into them, we decided to call it a day since skiing is of limited fun when you can't see anything. It was disappointing to quit after only one run, but the prospect of beating the traffic out was appealing.

Several inches of new snow had fallen around the car since our arrival. Getting the car out of the parking spot was a slow and painstaking process. The wheels would spin, and Damien would switch into reverse or rock forward a few times to make progress. We were a few feet away from where we had parked when we finally got stuck for good. Suddenly it seemed like we had gotten ourselves really screwed, driving a little coupe up a mountain in the middle of a huge snowstorm; there was clearly no way we would be able to get all the way out without help from something like a tow truck. A parking lot attendant came by and spotted our predicament. He grabbed a shovel and dug out from in front of our wheels, which helped but we got stuck right away again. Then he called for help and a few minutes later, an enormous snowplow tractor came by and plowed right up to the front of the car, veering at the last minute. Then the attendant and a few other people pushed us, and we got onto the cleared road and underway. A few minutes later, when we stopped behind a van that was stuck, we found ourselves stuck again as well. We helped the van people by pointing out that one of their chains had come off; they helped us by pointing out that our front tires were spinning freely in the cable chains and they might benefit from tightening. So D and I tightened the chains and that immediately seemed to solve our issues. Back in the car, I shivered from wet clothes, and the melting snow that had blown in caused the windows to fog up from the inside while the wind packed layers of icy snow onto the windows from the outside. We blasted the heat and A/C, and joined the caravan of cars moving slowly down the mountain.

We were listening to the Savage Love podcast as we crawled through the snowy roads. It was odd to feel like I was in serious danger and yet to be listening to people chatter about sex and relationship problems. It became dark. We drove by another car fallen in a ditch; this one was still upright but hopelessly buried. It appeared to have been abandoned. The snow changed to rain and we pulled over and took the chains off. The feeling of imminent physical danger finally subsided.

Tags: skiing
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