Monday, January 20, 2014

Fair Weather Skier, or How I Spent a Weekend in Girdwood and Only Skied One Run

I awoke to the sound of the avalanche cannons in Girdwood on Sunday morning. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing -- they will fire them to bring down avalanches when there's been a lot of snow, but they also fire them when there's been a lot of wind or mixed precipitation changing the consistency of the snowpack. In this case, I knew it was the second scenario.

It's MLK Day weekend, and Heidi and Dan have come down from Fairbanks, and Joe and Allison have come up from Seward, all of us to converge on Harry and Susie's condo for a weekend of skiing. As is typical when we make plans, Mother Nature has played a horrible joke on us and turned the weather to snow mixed with rain and wind, which are not the best conditions for skiing. But we've all committed -- Joe, Heidi, and Harry and Susie to patrolling, and me, Dan and Allison to supporting our friends and spouses on the slopes.

As is also typical, our Saturday night plans involved a party of some sort, so I have a headache. Plus, Dan is snoring like a buzzsaw in the bottom bunk, so I toss fitfully and listen to the water outside. Is that rain? Meltwater dripping off the roof? The rushing of Glacier Creek? None of these options say "Hey, let's go skiing!" to me. Finally I get up and wander downstairs, where Allison has made coffee. Dan and I add a healthy shot of Bailey's each (hair of the dog, you know) and I go to the window and look up at the mountain. Something is falling sideways -- snow or rain, I'm not too sure -- and the lighting is flat, and the clouds are obscuring the mountain tops.

At about 11:30, Heidi sends a cheery text. "Hey, it's not too bad up here! You guys should come out!" I look outside at the sideways rain. "Ooh, look, Pirates of the Caribbean is on!" Allison says. I pour another shot of Bailey's in the coffee and slump down on the couch.

Finally, about 12:30, I look outside and can see further up the mountain. "Maybe we should go" I tell Allison and Dan. Heidi has sent us a couple more cheery texts, so I'm feeling guilty. Plus, even though I have a free pass, I'm feeling lazy for driving an hour to Girdwood to lie on Harry and Susie's couch. We pack our stuff into the Fit and head over to the resort.

Riding up the lift, the weather is as expected, which we comment on vociferously. "My pants are wet from the rain" I complain. "It's colder than I thought" Allison adds. "The wind is blowing my skis around" Dan comments. "This snow is hurting my face". "My goggles are fogging up". "That snow looks terrible".

We reach the top, where the wind is spiraling little spindrifts of snow off the North Face. "Hey guys!" Heidi says. "I wish you had come up earlier, it really wasn't too bad. But now it looks like the wind is picking up." We start skiing and the snow is...nice. Surprisingly nice. But the wind is getting worse. Joe meets us midway down the mountain, where the wind really starts whipping around the roundhouse. He informs us that they're closing Chair 6 and the tram, the two ways to the top of the mountain. "This is what it looks like in the movies just before they have to make the decision to start eating people" Allison says. "I'm thinking this may be our last run".

Heidi and Dan at the roundhouse. Those white dashes are wind driven snowflakes.

Skiing down the mountain, the snow gets progressively slushier, except where it's icy. At the choke point, we get bombarded by a large group of elementary-age skiers, who have varying skills and little to no fear of death -- yours or theirs. Allison turns one way, but her board doesn't follow, so she tumbles down the hard slopes. Dan turns to check on how we're doing and immediately does the same thing. So we ski down, in this fashion, avoiding the Ski Wees, until we reach the bottom. "We're at the Sitzmark bar!" I announce. "Mmm, yam fries!" Allison says. Dan is already putting his skis in the rack. We throw ourselves down on the couches and order some beer, wings, nachos and yam fries.

Heidi, Joe, Harry and Susie continue their work on the slopes, saving injured people and fixing dangerous conditions as all three of us shovel in the food and watch the opening of the Seahawks-49ers game. "Another beer?" someone asks. "Don't mind if I do," I say. "Man, ski weekends are the best thing ever!"


Kris Knapp said...

Sounds wonderful! Wish I had been there with all of you!

Kris Knapp

Kate Not Katy said...

Hey, at least you made it out for one run! My weekend ski plans went like this:

Friday morning - Discover local night skiing deal for Saturday night only, $25 for 10 hours of skiing, starting at 5pm.
Friday afternoon - purchase said deal.
Saturday morning - wake up early-ish, putter around house putting away the last of Christmas and doing laundry. Make plans to leave around 4 for the mountain.
Saturday 2:00 PM - put Miracle DVD on.
Saturday 4:15 PM - finish movie, head upstairs to take a quick shower and get ready for skiing.
Saturday 4:16 PM - see lazy sleepy kitty on bed, next to novel. Crawl into bed, "just to read for 20 minutes"
Saturday 6:30 PM - wake up. Now hungry, in need of shower, and have to dig out ski gear.
Saturday 6:31 PM - pick up book and curl back up around cat instead.

Somewhere around 8PM I decided there was no point in hauling out to ski that night, tentatively planned to go somewhere Sunday afternoon. Woke up at 1:16 PM on Sunday. So much for skiing over the weekend!

L said...

Kris, we would have loved to have you join us!

Kate, if it weren't for my friends, I wouldn't have even gone.

Anonymous said...

We skied at Girdwood/Aleyeska when I worked an PANC years ago. And yes, that's the problem -- big low in the Gulf of AK carries lots of warm air even in winter, as you know. Sorry it didn't stay colder. I see in today's WA Times paper they've given up at present. "The Girdwood resort says its closure will last for several days because warm temperatures have made a mess of groomed mountainsides." JonH

L said...

JonH, thanks for reading! I love Alyeska, but this hasn't beeen a good year for them. It's finally gotten colder again, but the snow is still not very good.