‘Shready for the Skison’

I have been pretty much ‘Shreddy for the Skison’ since early November – when yet again my levels of psyche overpowered my destitution-avoidance tactics and I forked out $250 (which despite being an awesomely sweet deal was not a totally insignificant amount in my then minimum wage job) for a full set up of second-hand Alpine skiing equipment and another even larger chunk of my terrible wage for a Cypress mountain lift pass.

This was in-fact, before I had even heard the ironic use of the term ‘Shreddy for the Skison’, which – to offer an explanation to those not au-fait with the language of snow-sport enthusiasts (often in their teenage years I imagine – with thick North American accents) is a clever use of pun’s to proclaim how excited and prepared one is becoming for the on-set of the winter season, in which one can partake in skiing or snowboarding.

If you are unfamiliar with the term shredding then Mogul Mick can help you out. If you need to be familiarized with what skiing is then I suggest you stop reading now for fear of ultimate boredom and only if you feel you can bring yourself to look at my overly ecstatically happy face anymore should you even stick around to scroll quickly through the photos!

Since learning to snowboard the last time I lived in BC I have been convinced of snow-sports being the funnest way to bridge the gap between the climbing seasons start and end (significantly more in the realm of type-1 fun than freezing my ass off on grim belay stances attempting to mixed climb in Scotland), however my insatiable appetite for mountainous adventures and back-country exploring lead me to reconsider my mode of transport and got me sucked into the idea of ski-touring and ski-mountaineering.

Ski-touring and mountaineering are admittedly the long game – learning toactually ski – the more immediate agenda. I had already accepted that this ‘skison’ was going to be dedicated mostly to groomed runs, chairlifts, bruises and many, many bails, but with an abundance of psyched and experienced new friends I had hoped I could spend a few days with my heel unlocked in (probably rented) Alpine touring bindings and skin clad skis heading up a mountain and fulfiling my Alpine Touring desires.

So I did what any sensible and skint-assed mountain enthusiast would do and headed to sports junkies to get myself an ex-rental, beater set of cheap Alpine downhill skis to learn on – all set with bundles of psyche to hit the mountain with when the snow fell. I waited. And waited. I’m still waiting!!!

(My ‘learning to ski’ beater set up, 156cm Vokkl and an old school pair of head boots that are 2 mondo sizes too small because I’m stoopid and I tried to fit them like climbing shoes in the shop – ‘the tighter the better right’? I’m starting to loose a toe-nail)

Unfortunately despite some huge feats of optimism even for me I now have to concede that this season seems to have been pretty freaking awful in terms of snow conditions so far. No wet stuff is falling out of the sky even in the city that can be converted into the fluffy white stuff that dreams are made of up in them there mountains. And trust me, as a climber there ain’t many times you pray for rain (well apart from maybe when a strong peer suggests you go try a route that is too hard for you and stupidly you say yes knowing full-well its way beyond your capabilities, if it only rained you could use that as a handy excuse and not have to admit that you are scared as a rabbit in a fox-hole and weak as a kitten, not that I’ve done that – Just sayin’!)

Thankfully despite there being naff all snow though I had the stupidity to be psyched enough to get out anyway and gratefully Tom S and his similar levels of keenness encouraged me to hit the icy and sparsly covered slopes of Cypress. Thanks to some of his top-tips and in-quantifiable amounts of patience I was scraping my way down crusted blue runs in no-time (maybe not with a shed-load of elegance) but certainly without face-planting at every attempted turn.

(Night Skiing with Tom on Cypress)

Some snow-machine-generated fake snow saw me able to convince Colleen B to join me on the mountain a couple of times and even helped to rally troops, despite the poverty of open runs, to get involved in a Christmas day jaunt up the local mountain. The mileage accrued in these few trips along with a few continued night skiing sessions in the new year certainly got me started on the whole learn to ski mission but until it snows some more and the conditions improve – or more runs open on the mountain, I am ashamed to say that even I am running on empty in the psyche department for getting out on piste. This is a shame as having a pass to a mountain so local was my stab at a sure fire way to accrue enough mileage to keep improving.

(A Christmas morning jaunt up Cypress even found Santa at the top of the mountain)

On the up-side, the burning desire inside me to find a way to get out touring in the mountains and seek out the pow’ (pftt!) as soon as possible just got a gallon of fuel dumped on it. This was timed well with landing a pair of Scarpa Gea AT boots on a pro-deal price. As well as the levels of in-experience its the cost of getting set up with AT gear that forms a barrier to most folk so I saw an opportunity to start the ball rolling and maxed out my credit card with prodeals before leaving the shop job at Alpine Start. So far the boots are awesome!

(My new AT boots, Scarpa Gea’s)

A happily recent string of of adventures in the back country started with another dose of Tom Shroeder’s awesome patience and selflessness by introducing a gang of newb’s to the meaning of ‘Alpine touring’ via a Paul ridge trip with some beacon practice thrown in for good measure.

A ‘brief’ (as if I’m capabable!) Red heather/ Paul ridge TR

Colleen and I rented AT skis, skins and Avi safety stuff from MEC and got excited to join Boyle, TLT and Tom super early in the morning to get out in some otherwise dicey avalanche conditions for a cruisy tour up to the Red Heather hut above Squamish. Having never used a beacon before, or put on skins, or fathomed my way around touring bindings, everything seemed very new and exciting and I learned a lot from Boyle and Tom who I owe a lot to for spending the time to share their wealth of knowledge.

The skin up was fun and despite feeling strange with just my toe plugged into the binding, it wasn’t quite as taxingly inefficient or awkward as I’d prepared myself for it to feel.

(Cruising up the beautiful climb to Red Heather)

After reaching the hut within about 1hr 30 – 2hrs we enjoyed a few gulps of hot chocolate and some tasty treats packed in with a plethora of other skiers and snowboarders who it seemed had the same ideas for avoiding potential avalanche terrain and getting some skiing in.

Shortly after Tom proceeded to indulge us in an avalanche refresher which was super useful and we had fun tracking down Boyle via his beacon.

(Digging pits and testing the snow pack)

Skiing on the G3 cakes I’d borrowed that were fat underfoot compared to my own skinny Vokkl’s felt different to maneuver for sure, but I was glad of the extra float as the days snow conditions actually turned out to be deep and sloppy. With no experience in powder it was still an effort to say up sometimes and I found myself with an apparently hillarious problem at one point when I naively took of both skis at once to de-skin and found myself waist deep in wet snow unable to return to the lofty position a-top my skis. Luckily my climbing skills came into play and I approached the problem like a mantle shelf!

(Waist deep in Pow – not in a good way!)

The day ended well with a relatively cruisy ski out after a few laps under Paul ridge to find the car burried under 15cm of fresh snow.

Nachos and pints all round in the brew-pub to celebrate a successful first day of touring!

Zupjok peak trip in the Coquihalla

Pleased with how successfully the Paul ridge trip had gone I lamented to Tom in the pub that night how keen I was to join in on whatever touring trips he was planning that he thought I’d be capable of doing without holding people up too much. I was then pleased but kinda nervous to be invited along to a Coquihalla trip the next week with a group of people who were considerably more advanced skiers.

As we set off with Alpaca peak in mind it was soon evident that this trip was a step up from red Heather with some dense trees to navigate in icy snow. I could no longer get by just on shear determination and general good levels of fitness alone, not even on the up. As the skin tracks dissolved and the post-holes emerged it became evident that the subtle weighting of ones skies to make the skins stick efficiently needed some work on my part. Although I was pretty damn slow as I flailed between the trees and often slid back down hard ice to either land on my arse or bang into a tree I was determined and still having fun learning new skills and challenging myself. I was yet again bowled over and eternally grateful to the patience of the people I was with, particularly Allyson and Katie on the skin up who kindly waited without fuss as I grappled with the pines and played to my strengths digging in with my poles to eventually teeter totter up to where they waited. The shower of good advice and willingness to help me learn from these people has caused me to reflect on my own, comparitively selfish endevours in climbing.

The battle was worth it as when we topped out on Zupjok peak (the first along the ridge towards Alpaca) as the views were just stunning on such a bluebird day. As the afternoon drew in fast we opted for a little more time messing around in the sun at the peak, taking some daft photo’s and partaking in silly races rather than killing ourselves (or atleast me!) to get over to Alpaca peak and then ski-out (it did look like a really cool ridge to ski though)

(Arsing around at Zupjok taking in the views and vitamin D)

The ski out was fun and again gave me a limited chance to test out my abilities on a longer fatter ski. Faced with what would have comparatively been my first black run I nervously side slipped the crusty steep slope and traversed the easier terrain until I was gee’d on by my co-skiers to ‘give-‘er’ and try to put a few proper turns in. I happily linked a few before bailing head first on my back directly downwards and picked up speed for a few metres before digging my feet in and gathereing my popped skis. I went again and again linked a few turns.

Although my attempt on this section was abhorrent in comparison to the rest of the teams display of mad-skills, I was pleased for a number of reasons. 1) Getting the chance to fail at something really hard for you is a sure fire way to improve more quickly. 2) It wasn’t elegant but I did link a few turns 3) Even this short section of (apparently quite crappy) snow was so awesome to me that despite my struggles it gave me reason to get really inspired and motivated to get better at skiing so I could take advantage of slopes like that in the future.

(Katie demonstrating some mad skills on the ski out)

The rest of the ski-out became a real tree-weaving battle for me and a few misguided turns lengthened the process. As the day drew in and the head-torches came out I was feeling pretty exhausted and quite dehydrated. I fought not to get annoyed and frustrated in my tiredness and even once on the easy ski tracks of the road out the last hour became a real test to hold it together.

Making it to the car and a flask of water felt such a treat and I smiled as we all got our shit together in the parking lot with Johnny Cash blaring out of Tom’s CRV before hitting the Greek restaurant in Hope and sinking a few beers whilst catching the end of the Seahawks game.

In the reflections and discussions that emerged at the pub at the end of a days adventuring I was sated to hear that others found the stuff on the up similarly tough too and the general consensus was that the day had been satisfyingly long and tiring. I discovered a flattering comment made about myself and the lack of my skiing abilities (I know it sounds paradoxical but wait!…) when someone concernedly asked how I’d get on on the trip with my in-experience: “it’ll be survival skiing for sure, but she’s a survivor”. I feel awkwardly compelled to mention this; awkward because there’s a high chance this will be misconstrued as me jumping at the opportunity to do some ego stroking, compelled, because it reflects a motto I guess I subconsciously try to live by and also respect and encourage others who do too. Its not about being good but it is about giving it a good effort despite not being immediately good. Thus it makes me much happier to be noted for a success through a fighting attitude – for putting in an effort and trying than it does if someone were simply to notice that I were good at something. I hope I can continue to live by this and meet more lovely people like the ones who looked out for me and helped me to ‘survive’ that day too.

Mount Baker Burns night January TR

Some newer friends of mine, Colleen and Will kindly invited me to join them and a group of other great people to stay in a Cabin they had booked down near Mount Baker in Washington state. I was super excited about this trip as I had not skied Baker before and I was hoping the weekend would help to top up some mileage on piste I’d not really been getting in Canada.It was also suggested that we would be able to get out for a tour in the backcountry one of the days and I was eager to keep skiing new terrain and keep getting out touring. Above this I was looking forward to hanging out in a cosy cabin with good people, eating haggis and drinking Whiskey.

Unfortunately the inversion the West coast had been trapped in for so long, which was keeping back the snow persevered and the conditions weren’t set to be any better than the local Mountains as I’d hoped.

It seems I am becoming some what of a regular at the MEC rentals counter and despite a particulary late enquiry I managed to bag the last pair of touring skis in my size range at a hefty 110 underfoot and 168cm length. This was a lot of ski for what turned out to be pretty sparse snow conditions!

However after a Friday night filled with frenzied travel plans (Thanks Beth for ferrying me around in matey as always!) surreal border guards, hoards of American gas station junk food, tasty tacos and high whiskey and ale consumption as usual it was suggested that a late start tour would be the best suggestion for Saturday.

We awoke to a bluebird day and porridge ready in the rice cooker (best idea ever!). Unfortunately the luscious clear skies held compromise to there being any new snow for about a week and as we donned our planks (really glad at this point I had rented massive powder skis!Naaat!!) it was pretty evident how thin the conditions were. Attempting to skin up even some of the well tracked routes was super challenging and sketchy on sheets of ice. I was hoping that what I’d learnt from the previous weeks adventure at Zupjok would have helped me but after a relatively spectacular bail down a 15ft steep section of ice I conceded and did what everyone else was doing – finding alternative routes and even boot packing on the really steep stuff. Unlike at Zupjok, the Baker touring wasn’t very heavily treed and therefore you could be expected to be delivered at the bottom of the gradient should you bail. Not fun.

(Will with Table mountain in the background)

The views were spectacular once again though and I was enjoying taking in mount Shuksan and other peaks of the lower cascades in the beautiful weather. As we slowly but steadily made our way to the cut below table mountain where we were to ski into the bowl a little way before traversing up and around the table we spotted a few wet slides that had already happened.

(view of Shuksan with dots of snowshoers along the ridge )

The idea was to hit The south side of the peak first (which was relatively less steep but would have the sun beating on it) early in the day so we could travel round and back down out past Bagley lakes. The ski from the coll looked interesting in the lean conditions and not all the team were convinced at the prospect of the ski out being much fun in the given conditions either. Since in my opinion its never a good idea for a team to split, not least leave one man on their own, if one of you wasn’t psyched, we all weren’t.

So instead of completing the intended tour we’d set out to do we had a great time leisurely exploring nearby ridges, taking funny photos, building a snow bench to sit on and basking in the sun, skiing a little, then sitting a little, then skiing some more, ass sliding races, exchanging stories, more beacon practice and eventually skiing out mostly with skins on only to be taken off for the icy cat tracks we finished down.

Even if I were a better skier I think I would have had a great day. After all what could be better than larking around with some good friends on skis and absorbing some quality vitamin D whilst about it? And as a beginner skier the day was even better because even the limited exposure to a touring day like this all helps to add to my ski learning and mileage. Skiing in these lean conditions, even on ‘boring cat tracks’ on the way out is still something I don’t have dialed, especially on fat long skis that I hadn’t used before, so its all useful and a great deal of fun gaining more experience!

The illegal haggis, more junk food, more scotch, more ale and some spectacular birthday cake were henceforth consumed that evening and we celebrated Robbie Burns night with and American twist.

Understandably yet regrettably nobody seemed to have quite the psyche I did to return to the slopes on Sunday. As much more experienced skiers I could totally see how unappealing another day on that ice would be to those guys or even less appealing paying to hit the groomers in that condition again. But having burned a hole in my pocket hiring my planks for the weekend anyway and having never skied Baker resort proper I would have jumped on anybody who may have uttered a word of positivity toward the idea. To my expectation but ever so slight disappointment, no one did.

Again we had a great time though, hanging out and shooting shit, visiting a cool coffee shop on the way out of Glacier and another really surreal gas station that sold the biggest blocks of cheese priced as cheaply as I’ve seen since leaving the UK.

A huge thanks to Colleen and Will for organizing the whole weekend and Christine and Dave for some great food, not to mention Paul’s poetry reciting skills and Beth’s stellar cake!

So as the season plods on I really hope we get some snow soon. It will make getting the mileage in much easier. If not, I’m sure I can settle for learning to be a powder hound in the backcountry. Having just made an offer on some BD Starlets (touring ski) with Dynafit Tech bindings and skins it will make the settling option a whole lot more palatable if my dude accepts!


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