Sunday, September 19, 2021

Mt. Ashland

By Amy Post

When I was thinking about going back to school, I looked for a graduate program with some specific, non-academic criteria: a place where we could live together (A lot of programs in my field are residential; think cabin in the woods with bunk beds.  Fun but not conducive to adulting.), a place where we could both work (He does bikes and skis, I do teaching and random stuff.), and a place where we could ski (and I could teach skiing).  While searching for programs, we visited Ashland, Oregon, and it checked all the boxes.  We skied Mt. Ashland on that trip.  At the top of Ariel, I saw the Cirque and said, “Hey, that’s steep!” and knew it could hold my interest for a few years.  I applied to the grad program, was accepted and we moved at the end of our last season at Crystal.

When I showed up at the Mt. Ashland job fair, there was no one at the front counter.  I waved down a lady with a Mt. Ashland vest and said I was here to apply.  She looked at me and said, “You just got here?”  The job fair was scheduled to go on for another hour so I was confused by her question.  I said, “Yeah, I just got off work and came right over.”  To which she gave me a weird look, like, “Then why are you here, at a job fair?”  When I actually sat down for the interview, we were half way through when I noticed I was speaking to Kim Clark, general manager.  “Oh!” I said, “You’re the boss!”  “Yes,” he responded, “but I got my start as an instructor.”  So, we chatted PSIA, he shook my hand and said, “See you up there.”

Kim was a great leader.  Mt Ashland had the best workplace culture of anywhere I’ve ever worked, and that is a testament to Kim’s leadership.  The ski school director, Brian was awesome; he got the job right out of school, graduating from that ski area management course at Sierra Nevada University.  He had clear expectations and a sense of humor.  Also, he liked me and I became friends with his wife.  At Mt. A, I met some great people, taught some fun lessons, passed my alpine level III, and skied a lot.

My second season at Mt. A, I worked full time over the university's winter break.  It dumped and we skied powder most days.  The thing about Mt. A is that it is small, about 200 acres.  So, the place is usually tracked out before morning meeting is over.  One day Kim showed me his secret stash, a tree shot off Lower Tempest that was pretty dense getting into it, then opened up.  Mt. A has some great tree skiing amongst huge hemlocks and Shasta fir.  Oh, and there 's this giant, granite boulder in the middle of Dream that's called the Big Rock.

Amy at the top of Dream

I took a field botany class in grad school, and we spent a lot of time on top of Mt. Ashland, exploring the ridge-top flora.  It was a new experience to spend time during the summer in the place I skied during the winter.  I got to know the land more intimately, on my hands and knees, looking at tiny flowers with a hand lens.  I got to know the land in a more expansive way as well; the Cirque is even more intimidating in the summer, with steep, rocky, unscalable (at my skill level) slopes and glacier moraines.  I never did ski every line in the Cirque because Light Brown is rocky and requires mandatory air.  I think it’s good to leave a place before you ski every line.

I’d be remiss to write about Mt. Ashland and not mention the expansion.  So, back when Alberta Tomba was crushing the World Cup, Mt. Ashland made plans to add a chairlift and runs into the next drainage north, adding about 200 acres of skiable terrain and almost doubling the size of the ski area.  It also would’ve added some beginner terrain, which is something Mt. Ashland lacks and one could argue, needs to be competitive.  As is, I got used to teaching a beginner flats progression on a double fall-line, hiking up to the bottom of the beginner lift and having my students lose control on the steepest part of the bunny hill, a pitch that Kim called “Sonnet face.”

Like most ski areas in the western United States, Mt. Ashland is on US Forest Service land, so they can’t just go chopping down trees and doing whatever they want.  In order to develop anything new, lease-holders have to complete an Environmental Impact Statement and defend it in court under the NEPA laws.  The town of Ashland is very liberal, full of environmentalists, and for the record, I identify with both those labels.  Many folks in Ashland were concerned about this expansion for its environmental impacts.  The ski area is situated at the tippy top of the city’s drinking water watershed, in a diverse, relatively undisturbed wooded ecosystem.  While the expansion would have impacted only about 1% of the watershed, the land is at the top of the watershed, affecting everything downstream.  The area is also potentially critical mountain-top habitat for the Pacific fisher and wolverine.  So, some environmentalists took Mt. A to court, and 23 years later (when I arrived in Ashland), each party was embroiled in hyperbole.  Environmentalists were convinced that Mt. Ashland was evil and greedy and going to poison us all.  Expansion proponents said that the future of the ski area hung precariously on the addition of one ski lift and a handful of runs.  The EIS said that the expansion would have a small impact, but the scope of that impact was relatively unknown and potentially significant.  In my opinion, the expansion just didn’t seem to make good business sense.  It created a rift between the ski area and the local community, the very community it relied upon to keep the lifts spinning.  Plus, a small ski area that doesn’t get a lot of snow is never going to attract a lot of destination business, so the expansion wouldn’t’ve really increased its appeal to the wider skiing demographic.  In the end, management abandoned the expansion plan, but not because the other side won.

The last season we were at Mt. Ashland, the hill didn’t open because it didn’t snow.  My plan that winter was to teach skiing full-time and finish my thesis.  Well, I actually got my thesis done ahead of schedule because I never went to work.  It was super depressing to be doing data entry and statistical analysis in February and giving up on my season.  So, we moved to Utah that spring, because we need a place to ski and I need a place to work.  Ashland and Mt. Ashland are magical places, so any hippy in town will tell you.  I just wish that magic would make it snow a consistent 300 inches/year.

R.I.P. Kim Clark

Kim got fired that spring because the board of directors decided not to roll-over season passes, and he thought they should.  He was right and they were wrong, but he got blamed for the PR shitstorm.  They were probably also just sick of the whole expansion nonsense and wanted someone to blame.  Kim moved over to Bluewood and took up general managing there for the last eight years.  Kim Clark passed away a few weeks ago from a heart attack.  He was on the hill when it happened, probably acting the kind, honest leader I knew.  It was really sad news, piled onto the sea of heartbreak that is Covid times.  The world lost a good man when Kim died.  I’d hoped we could’ve visited him at Bluewood, but now we’ll just have to go there to ski a run in his honor.

Friday, September 17, 2021

I wanna tell you about my hometown.

By Eino Holm 

It useta be a dusty ol' jewel.  No longer.

One of my oldest ski memories is skating around from the top of 1 to the bottom of 2.  And before you accuse me of false sentimentality, keep in mind that that configuration was really poorly planned.  It wasn't a good profile, this junction, and Crystal skied better once they pulled old 2 down and built Rex.  It pains me to admit, lover of Riblets that I am.  Years later, 2's motor room was the grip room for Lift Maintenance.  When Kenny and I were doing all 87 grips, we set up instead in the back of Rex's shack and sprayed orange degreaser over the wall at Vinny near the end of each pay period when his cash money ran out due to his copious marijuana consumption and he couldn't afford his insulin. When he got tired of it, he asked that we spray TriFlow cos he liked banana better than orange.  Anyway, steep Riblets over good moguls, I miss em.

One of my most vivid ski memories is of a day in 8th grade, '95, where I skied Rex all day except for one run in Powder Bowl.  It was the last or one of the last years of Club Vertical, an ill-fated run tracking system that also served as the season's pass and employee ID.  Deal was, you wore this little colour-coded wrist watch bobbin over your glove and tapped two pins that connected some pre-RFID magnet thing with a gate, or with the time-clock, and some sorta magic happened.  It was sometimes problematic.  Especially if you and your ski partner in crime, Aram, tried to jump on at Quarterway at speed and the gate didn't open and you bent the gate with all of your 145 pounds of schußfahrt acumen.  Anyway, that one day in '95, the system was working and I decided I'd see how many laps I could get.  I remember 53, but according to my maths and Peter's incredible lift database, that'd in the best of times take 7 hours and 15 minutes, not including a likely 20 minute detour up 9 and 6 to get Powder Bowl.  It doesn't really matter, though, cos memory.  Memory trumps reality.  I skied flat out from 8.30 bell to 3.30 bell, beautiful Cascade chalk spray and sunburn and if my memory of 54 total runs is even close to correct, I overtopped 80 grand of vert in one day.  I've had days where I was satisfied with the 500 on loan on the easterly aspect of Yakima, like fully, happily satisfied, as if I had a cutting board full of smoked fish, cheese, light crackers, pickled vejies, and a big glass a Newcastle at the Black Sheep in Ashland during a foggy December inversion kinda satisfied.  80,000 is just an absurd number, even if the actual number was closer to 70,000.

Eino (far right), his Pa (far left), and brothers (middle) at Crystal.

Another day, this one after getting kicked out of Pep Band (as I write this I have to stop and admit just how privileged I sound and how fortunate I am) for, natch, skiing.  Now, it's important to note that the reason Judy kicked me out is I was the drummer, technically the only one, and I skipped a District Tournament basketball game to ski with my Pa.  Okay, maybe not important.  Even if it had mattered in the end, which it didn't cos with the exception of the few games left in the season, I didn't miss anything, I would do it again cos both skiing and more importantly, skiing with my Pa, of which days if there were a handful of millions, there wouldn't be enough. At any rate, I left school when I could (my ego says it was when the Pep Band left for the tourney, but Judy was vindictive enough to both give me an A- freshman year to ruin a 4.0 and to also tell my teachers that I no longer needed the afternoon off) and snagged a ride with JO and his sister-in-law Jen up to the hill and tried to get a goggle tan while night skiing.  You laugh at the prospect, but I did.  Goggle tan, I mean.  The day before with Pa had been typical PNW thick cloud cover, chilly, puking, deep.  That night skiing Chair 4 from Quarterway I pretty much tucked, run after run, until what I think was the 10 o'clock last bell.  I think I wore JO's found-in-the-lot homemade puffy vest.  I can't remember what skis.  Salomon 83 boot.  Orange and black.  Rear entry, cos '97. You know.

Crystal is situated at the upper end of Silver Creek, in what used to be a picturesque amphitheatre of Pinus albicaulis, Abies (Abieses?) lasiocarpa, amabilis, and procera, Tsuga mertensis, Pseudotsuga. I'm sure there are others.   Corvus corax, Tamiasciurus douglasii, what have you.  Chipmunks and mormota.  Some martens, I'm certain, cos they rad.  What is now another corporate playground for "'knowledge' workers" from wherever.  The same sad refrain of CB and Stowe and Sugarloaf and Solitude and Tahoe locals.  A place that once was, did not move, changed little in appearance, yet disappeared just the same.  There are a few camps of loyalty at Crystal; the Founders, actual Greenwater locals, Boyne apologists, and more than a few folks who see opportunity in a giant, useless, exploitive corporation such as the new owners, Alterra.  Nothing against Rusty Gregory personally as I've never met him, but I have a suspicion Crystal skied better in '85.  Things devolve, although usually not all the way.  The same trees, same little rivulets that gather, the descendants of the same ravens plying the thermals.  The snow, when it comes, and the rain.  There are a few new lines that weren't there fifteen years ago from some huge control work results.  There are more people venturing out past Boxcar as well.

That night, sophomore year, one of the runs in full tuck I hit some kinda rut in the snow, and it damn near took my right leg off.  Sent a jolt plumb through to my shoulders.  I kept skiing, but for the last few runs I pulled back on the throttle.  I've never had good night vision.  I still remember the colour of the night skiing lights through my goggles, and how unhelpful it was at speed.  I don't know what I was tryna outrun that night.

Stina lost her Karhu (RIP) tele board, not sure whether left or right, in one of the chutes below the Beach.  I think of it as Stina's Chute, though it isn't all that far from where Pa's ACL and MCL gave up and snapped in mid-January '000.  He always skied a little in the back seat.  Still does, thankfully.  Ski, anyway, not the backseat part.  That's also the last slot I can remember skiing at Crystal.  It's been since Liisa's wedding in '014.  Things always conspire.  I struggle with the distance as it is, this 500, 550 mile drive from the desert.  I can't imagine what some of the folks feel who had to leave Gällivare or Narvik or Oulu when the fisheries fell or the Russians came calling or when their kin moved south to build trucks for Volvo and they didn't want to be in the city.  Mabye nostalgia is a disease, like they claimed back in the middle ages.  Farming was never easy, nor mining, nor logging, but there never really was opportunity here, either.  Only continued indentured servitude.  At any rate, this drainage, with its little draws and big snow, calls like the old country it is.

Someone hiking out South found Stina's ski the summer after she lost it, and Pa's knee knitted up in large part due to Chris Cancro's stitches and to some good physical therapy.  Amy and I moved to Ashland, then Ogden, then BoyCee.  The itinerant blood I was born with isn't as thick as it may have been with some of my ancestors.  I'm tired.  There are times I wanna adversely possess a Thuja stump above the White and live there, and times where I'm already done moving.  That chute, and many others like it, keeps me up at night.  O Meadows, or that little slot toward skiers' left of Niagaras where I ganked my back up but permanently this time, or the Toaster, Rabbit Ears, Kemper's Only When It's Foggy and Patrol and Uwe's Successor Can't See You, the Cache Run, Flush Gap, Rock Face (even though I've totally never poached that ever, not even it was milkbird and nobody could see me if I did ski that entrance higher up than Banana Chute quickly and without hanging around to revel in it, which I totally didn't), or just about damn near anywhere in the Upper Silver Creek drainage.  It's home, more than even the town I grew up in, 40 miles downstream.

From the top of East Peak, all of Crystal's permit area, not just the controlled and patrolled, lays out before you, along with a lot of more, um, spicy terrain.  Tahoma gazes over the shoulder of the drainage.  The Summit House is silhouetted against the milky sky by the oncoming trough, the exposed ridgeline cluttered now by the less storybookish Uni-G terminal of the not exactly necessary gondola.  Pa cut that liftline, so there's that.  The Cascade Range is huge, from a disputed (large, visible and related volcanism or giant, incredibly important river valley?) point north of the international border to a vague and wandering line of complex orogeny somewhere around Lake Almanor inside the current enormous Dixie Fire.  This isn't a spot where the curvature of the Earth is the horizon.  The hills and conifer and peaks and Corvis all hide something further on.  From the summit of Bachelor one can see three states and at least two massive geologic provinces.  From here, the divide between Whulge and the immense Columbia, one sees peaks that seem far off but are twenty, thirty, forty miles as FarFar Johan flies.  Sometimes it's hard to stop spinning.

Title from Neko Case' "Thrice All-American"

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Complaining About Knees (Part 1)

By Amy Post

My knees have hurt for 20 years.  It started back when I was a freshman in college.  My alarm went off at 5:00 AM, I dragged myself out of bed, ate a banana and called campus security for a ride down to the fitness center so I wouldn’t have to walk there in the dark.  There I met up with the ski team, a small and friendly, but nonetheless intimidating, group of student athletes.  We ran, lifted weights, and did dynamic exercises like box jumps.  At the time I didn’t know what else to do but to go all in.  I pushed myself to keep up, even though I couldn’t keep up.  I ignored the pain, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?  No pain, no gain?

A few months later, I couldn’t walk down the stairs without a sharp pain in my knees.  I went to the doctor and they said tendonitis.  Then I went for an MRI and they said chondromalacia patellae.  Twenty years later, I still can’t spell that correctly on the first try.  My knee cap doesn’t track correctly so it shreds up the cartilage on the back of my knee cap and causes pain.  I went to a physical therapist who was really dismissive and said, “Just…” and handed me a standard program.  That wasn’t helpful.

I tried skiing with the team that winter.  I kicked some ass in the few races, but in the end, had to quit before the season was over.  It hurt too much.  One day I was walking by the social justice activists’ meeting in the student union building, saw a friend who called me over, and was thus occupied for the remainder of my college career.

How it started.

I graduated from college in 2006 and didn’t know what to do with myself.  So, I went to live in a big house in the woods with a bunch of friends.  We lived as cheaply and collectively as possible, grew a garden, raised chickens and a goat, played our own versions of basketball and badminton, hosted community dinners every Sunday night and threw some truly great parties, including a pig roast on the Fourth of July.  Then the economy crashed.  What’s a girl to do with an English degree when the economy goes into a tailspin?  Well, move back in with her parents and fulfill her childhood dream of being a ski bum, of course.

I got a job in the ski school sales office at Bogus Basin.  I skied a ton and coached Mighty Mites on the weekend.  I found a physical therapist who helped me and I started to learn how to listen to my body.  I learned, some pain is good, some pain is fine, and some pain is there to tell you to stop.  Boy howdy, did I think I was a good skier back then.  That first season, I signed up for a PSIA Level I prep clinic.  The first session, I remember saying, “Yeah, I’m pretty much an expert skier.  I just can’t ski moguls.”  Eric, my clinician was patient and taught me that in fact, I did not know how to turn my skis.  Okay, yes, I could turn my skis, but I could not make a turn shape that controlled my speed.  This experience set me on a journey towards better skiing, meeting my partner who also loves to ski, and a career of which my much-wealthier friends are envious.

The following season, I attended a class on pre-season training.  I learned that what I did my freshman year of college was way too much for me.  I learned how to pace myself, which exercises I can do and which exercises I have to avoid, modify or skip altogether.  Now I know I have to work up to the more dynamic stuff very slowly, and that I can’t run if I’m doing anything else that’s high impact.  I put together a pre-season regimen that got me strong enough to ski at an aggressive level.  Most importantly, over the course of a couple years, I learned how to manage my knee pain so that I could ski my brains out.

Unlike the ski team workouts in college, I just didn’t do the things that hurt too much.  Over the course of eight to twelve weeks, I worked up to jumping lunges, one-legged squats and box jumps.  I started with one set of the easiest version of each exercise, two, then three times per week, and never got beyond an 18-inch box jump.  I worked out alone because I had to move at my own pace; if I was trying to keep up with someone else, I would over-do it.  I ignored anyone who wanted to push me harder, because I knew my limits and knew that I was pushing myself as hard as I could go.  This approach worked really well for about ten years.

Then my boss sexually harassed me for a year.  His abuse, the consequential legal fight, move to another state, and starting over at a new job with a lot of baggage deteriorated my mental and physical health.  All this stress made my knees hurt a lot more.  Anxiety decreases your pain threshold, and pain increases anxiety.  Isn’t that unfair?  Four years ago, I meet my medical deductible (thanks, Obama!), so I went to get another MRI.  In the almost 20 years between MRIs, I’d worn all the cartilage off of my knee caps.

Now, I have arthritis in both knees.  Yes, I’m 38 and have arthritis.  It’s super annoying when people say, “But you’re too young to have arthritis.”  Apparently, I am not too young to have arthritis, because I have arthritis.  I know folks are trying to be sympathetic with that comment, but it’s really annoying to be told that you can’t have [insert diagnosis] because [insert some unrelated, arbitrary reason].  Why would I make this shit up?

Then I blew up my knee at a PSIA event.  As a skiing professional, I knew that at some point I would likely tear my ACL.  It’s something many ski pros go through, and I knew many people who have recovered from this injury.  But, when I crashed, in addition to tearing my ACL, I broke just about everything else in my right knee.  I had one major surgery to repair the broken stuff, and another to remove some metal that had detached from my bone and was floating around, running into my IT band.  During the first surgery, I had the surgeon to work on my knee cap problems, since he was going in there anyway.  This is a big story that will be told in a separate post.

I have a great physical therapist that I started working with before I blew up my knee.  He’s a skier and he really gets me.  He’s also  very creative and knows how to challenge me in order to keep me engaged in my rehab.  For a while after each surgery, I made great progress.  I expected to continue making that progress until I regained all the strength and ability, I had pre-accident.  I expected results and I wanted them immediately.  I was going to be back on snow at the beginning of the season, god willing and the creek don’t rise.

When I progressed to exercises that loaded my kneecap, I ran into a wall.  Loading the knee cap means directing pressure into it.  You do this when you step down off a stair, squat, or ski: anything that puts your body weight into that small bone and its surrounding soft tissues.  My knee cap, already cranky from years of wearing off the cartilage, is incredibly sensitive and I have not been able to work past this sensitivity.  Because my knee cap can’t handle load, I can’t increase my quad strength, and my quads can’t get stronger because I can’t load my knee cap.  I can’t flex my knee, under load, beyond about 60 degrees because the pain physically stops me from doing this movement.  I can’t push through this pain.  My body just says, nope!

Sometimes I get impatient and push through the pain anyway, compensating with my other muscles and just gritting my teeth.  Then my knee flares up and takes anywhere from a few days to a few months to recover.  It’s so easy to over-do it and sometimes my knee flares up because it’s Tuesday or I had teriyaki for lunch or my sister sneezed in Madison.  I’ve been running up against this wall over and over for the last two and a half years and it’s maddening.  I was trying to force my knee to heal and was furious with my knee for not cooperating.  I did the exercises.  I was on a first-name basis with everyone in my physical therapist's office.  I put in the work, so why can’t I get the results I want?

The other day, my mental health therapist said to me, “Most people wouldn’t have put up with that pain.  They would’ve quit.”  This made me laugh because it had truly never occurred to me.  Quitting never crossed my mind.  I keep comparing myself to other skier who have recovered from their major injuries.  It never occurred to me that I don’t really encounter the ones who do quit, because they’re no longer around.  She also asked me if I regretted wearing all the cartilage off my knee cap.  This made me laugh too.  Hell no, I don’t regret it.  I’ve had a lot of fun doing that much damage.

I went to see a new orthopedic specialist last week.  The good news he gave me was that I’m not a good candidate for more surgery.  The frustrating news is, I have to start over with rehab.  I need to rebuild my base strength before I can even think about ski-specific training.  Isometric quad contractions, hold for 10 second to one minute, repeat ten times.  Simple leg lifts four different ways, three set of ten, add weight when they get easy.  Go slow and do them every day.  It takes me about 45 minutes to do them all, properly without rushing.  The first two to six weeks of physical therapy are mind-numbingly boring.

How it's going.

I’ve been doing these slow, tedious exercises for five days now, and I know the new doc is right, because I’m already in less pain.  I’m going to stay the course, but I just don’t know what will happen when I get to the kneecap-loading exercises, or where I’ll be at the start of the season.  If I’ve learned anything from the rehab I’ve done since my big accident, it’s that I can’t put a timeline on my recovery.  I have to be patient.  If I get impatient and push through the pain, I’ll hurt myself and end up back where I started, or worse.  I don’t really have a target for recovery.  I’ve let go of the idea of “fully cleared,” or getting back to my previous level of strength.  I want to get there, but the reality is, I may not ever get there.  I may never again be the skier I was, and I’ve accepted that.

That’s not to say that I’m giving up.  I don’t know where my rehab will take me, or where my skiing career will go from here.  No short cuts this time, and I can’t expect immediate results.  I have to trust the process and be kind to myself.  My knees talk to me and I have to listen with compassion.  I want to keep skiing, but I don’t want to damage myself further by doing it.  I’m not sure the pain is worth it any more.  I’m going to have to work really hard to just be able to slide around on the slopes.  So, I will put in the work and see where it takes me.

Life is waiting for you.

By Eino Holm

Mt Herman is quite a bit bigger than the two little lumps Mt Baker Ski Area settles on.  It's also in the Mt Baker Wilderness, and pretty darn intimidating.  I only skied it once while I was bumping chairs at Baker, my second winter.  My roommate Brian--he said his college buddies back in Boone called him Twig--and I took Avy 1 and this was our class' final. Plan a route, hike or skin, and ski.  The snow wasn't really all that good, as the only safe route that week was the south aspect.  The sun had been kind and settled the previous week's snowfall.  Minimal wind, and while the turns weren't awesome, the whole trip was worth the sweat.  

Another day, Twig and I headed up the Blueberry Cat Track toward Austin Pass.  It was a dark night, no moon, without any cloud cover to reflect any human light back toward us.  We skinned up with head lamps to the backcountry gate that opened out toward Table.  Neither of us was super adventurous that night except in heading out alone after dark with only a few real BC days between us.  It had been cold and dry all day and most of the previous, so the storm snow had settled and was starting to chalk up nicely.  Just through the gate into the Wilderness, we tried making turns with the headlamps. We found that it was just like driving in a snowglobe down 542 with the high beams on, that disco ball/under-sheet effect.  After some hesitant and very blind turns, we put the lamps in the packs and finished the remaining however many hundred vertical to Upper Bagley and headed back to the E Lodge.  The light from the windows doesn't project very far out into the world  That building seems permanent, impenetrable on the inside, but from out and away it looks like a tarpaper shack in a world full of ghost and wolverine.  As the legend goes, correctly, to be certain, there isn't a good deal of time to stargaze there, buried and surrounded as one is with approaching 700 inches on the average every winter.  The myth of the never-ending winter, or the reality of February 99 where it snowed, sometimes for days without end, more than an entire Vermont winter.  That night was cold, quiet, mystical.  I think Brian and I were maybe winding each other up a bit with our imaginations.  Mine, at least, runs a little wild and maybe left of centre (thanks, Suzanne).  Spirits, ghosts, squirrels, sabre tooths, that sorta deal.  Night rides at Point D in Tacoma I'd see wolves in the Thuja and rhododendron if there was a full moon.  Better, then, to ride in the perpetual mists.

Mt. Shuksan from the Swift Creek drainage.

The skiing that night wasn't what the magazines show of Baker.  It was archetypal PNW chalk, a few inches carveable above a winter's settled cement.  I get a little bit het up when people toss off the Cascade Concrete epithet without knowing what it actually feels like deep in a late March cycle, but it is there for the simple reason that once settled, the snowpack is incredibly solid.  Given a normal cool spring and early summer, Solstice turns on a still-fat snowpack are the norm in a good portion of the Range.  When it's early February, Steenburgh winter, that solid layer cake is wonderfully supportive.  With each turn, you shave off a nice slice and spray it to the wind.  

Baker is a small place, in the scheme of modern skiing.  Those Euro resorts that span many drainages and untold peaks, or inter-connected Utah, or sprawled and unfortunate Vail, all dwarf the grand and a half of vert and the thousand acres of inbounds squeezed indelicately between North Cascades NP and the Wilderness, vividly represented by Shuksan, the Orca, to the East, and Kulshan, the Patriarch, to the west.  The common narrative is come for the first run on Gabl's or Sticky, stay for the deep, uncontrolled BC.  One could spend a lifetime hiking the Arm and Hemispheres and Table and never suffer for choice, but for two winters I barely scratched the surface.  That seemingly diminutive grand of vert can and does bury you.  Baker takes effort, takes stubborn anger sometimes, to hold on.  It isn't surprising when someone washes out, moves on to places more friendly.  It isn't surprising that the general vibe of the joint is best if one stays in the shadows, hides from view, or skis only when everyone else is kick-turning out the Arm.  I am biased in all things, I admit; by and large Baker, the ski area, is an unwelcoming place.  The mountains themselves, that huge and Krummholz drainage, that beautiful river, they are all a security blanket typical of the Cascades.  The folks who pose and preen and expect that you respect some imagined hierarchy are nothing of the sort.  Angry, hip, demanding.  If one actually finds a spot in the region, a spot in line, say, one has to fight to keep it.  Howat's mossback stubbornness might be dangerous and demeaning, but it's to be expected.  The fight to hold one's territory feels primal, like neighbouring tribes of chimps.  My brother and I didn't get along with Howat and some of his team, and it's been nineteen years and more since either of us was welcome.

The afternoon shift at the top of 5 was my favourite.  The light on Shuksan and Sefrit and Ruth, the spires guarding the international border, smaller peaks like Goat and Tomyhoi, the air when the sun was low. Larrabee.  Whatcom County, the Lower Mainland, this wild patch of ancient accretion and tumult and modern vulcanism.  An entire eastern state's worth of water all in a handful of admittedly huge creek draws, steadily, contradictorily eroding and sustaining.  Down, most days in a rush and a roar, to the Salish Sea.  Tumbling, echoing, tearing, gliding.  The smash-and-ram afternoon calving off the the Hanging Glacier, the first morning crepuscular rays promising good viz and good snow, only to be something else entirely.  Snow in heaps, or rain in sheets, or wind that doesn't stop.  Rain to the top of 8 and then snow to town.  My last day of EMT, December of '01, I left Tacoma after my state written test and put my foot down, trying to make it before the forecasted storm really settled in.  I'd skied at Crystal the day before, some real nice early season stuff out North, and then a vintage PNW warm front slid on through.  There was lightning in Mt Vernon on the Skagit, and by the DOT, the road was white.  Buried well below Bagley Creek.  The cold front had blown through quickly, some heavy pre-frontal mank set down quickly and well above freezing, followed by some legendary post-frontal moisture at quickly lowering snow levels.  By the time I hit White Salmon in that little GL wagon, I was pinned.  4 Low, no stopping or slowing.  I think the speedometre was showing 35 or 40 and I was barely moving.  30 or 40 minutes up the three miles to the E Lodge, shaking and wound up.  I'd fallen into the fully buried ruts of whichever other kid had punched his or her way up the last bit of the highway, hoping they'd made it all the way up since their ruts were quite adamantly steering me.  Not much sleep, then up at 5 to get ahead of the rest of the lodge for breakfast.  32 new.  That's thirty, and also two.  I've been places where the two is exciting.  Rain at the top of 8 at closing, and 32 new at 6 in the morning.  The post-frontal crapshoot included more unstable temps, so maybe that bounty wasn't reminiscent of that trademarked fluff Steamboat names after a certain bubbly vintage from the northeast of Le Français.  Maybe it was challenging, deep, and tiring.  Maybe Denny was surprised to see me, maybe he didn't schedule me.  Maybe I hadn't needed to fight through some of the worst driving I've ever done, but then I wouldn't have this one picture of one turn on Sticky where three weeks after first flakes it looked like it'd been snowing since '81, charismatic Tsuga and Pseudotsuga bending low under the heavy snowfall, pitch dropping away until the run was over and I realised I didn't have it that day, at least not dropping the knee.  Too early in the year, too little sleep, too much roiling about in my bloodstream.  Those two years passed like that run, and maybe Denny telling me we needed to see other ski areas was like the realisation at the bottom of 6, that I'd be better to move on.  Being right doesn't always matter, and sometimes one isn't anyway right in the first place.  Maybe there's an upper limit to how deep is deep enough.  Maybe one is better off in the desert, believing that magical place is still there, than living in that magical place, realising not only that it isn't magical but that it's just as damaged as anywhere else.  That one is better to move off and find one's own place in the world rather than fight for a small piece of something over which other folks will kill.

Table Mountain from somewhere around the backcountry gate.

Title from Our Lady Peace' "Life"

10 Tips for Taking Your PSIA-AASI Exam

By Amy Post

You invest a lot of time, energy and money into preparing for your certification exam.  The high-stakes nature of an exam adds a layer of stress to the event.  Whether you are totally Zen or quaking in your boots at the thought of exams, the following tips can help you prepare and show up in your best form on the day of your exam.

1) Choose your gear early.

A month or two before your exam, choose the gear you will use.  You should be comfortable performing all the exam tasks on this equipment.  Buy new gear and get your boots fitted well in advance of the exam so you have time to get used to the changes.

2) Tune your gear, then test it out.

Get your gear tuned about a week before the exam.  Then make sure your gear is performing the way you want it to before you arrive at your exam.  Equipment issues the day of the exam can at best, interrupt your day, and at worst, lead to injury.

3) Train like crazy, but with focus.

It’s great to get tons of training from a variety of sources, but hone in early on trainers who help you the most.  As your exam approaches, focus your training to one or two essential changes.  The last week, practice the changes you’ve made so they shine through on exam day.

4) Make an arrival plan.

Getting sleep the night before an exam and arriving on time is essential to keeping a clear head.  Know where you need to meet in the morning and give yourself extra time to drive and park.  If you can, travel the day before your exam and stay somewhere close to the base area.

5) Don’t overdo it the day before the exam.

Take it easy the day before your exam so you aren’t tired and sore the next day.  Some people like ski or ride the day before the exam to check out the terrain and snow conditions.  If you do, just practice one or two things that will help you the next day.  I personally like to take a rest day before the exam.

Amanda Dilworth and me at a Level II exam, Tamarack Resort, March 2019.
She was passing the exam while I was shadowing as an examiner-in-training.

6) Hydrate the night before the exam (i.e., don’t party).

Don’t let exam pressure lead to over imbibing the night before the exam.  You’ve worked too hard to arrive at your exam out-of-sorts.

7) Pack your bag the night before.

Pack your bag, double check that you have all the essentials, and pack extra layers, socks, gloves, goggles, handwarmers, etc., just in case things don’t go according to plan.  Check the forecast for the next day, but expect the unexpected.

8) Plan your meals.

Plan how you will get breakfast the morning of the exam, and don’t skip it.  Pack some extra food in case the lunch line is gigantic, and conversely, bring your credit card in case getting back to your bag at lunchtime isn’t convenient.  Put an easy-to-eat snack in your pocket for chair ride munchies.

9) Don’t forget your meds.

The pressure of an exam and the interruption of routine can make you forget essential things, like taking medication.  Pack these things the day before and set a reminder on your phone if it’ll help you remember to take them.

10) Bring your lucky penny.

Ask yourself, what will help me stay calm and focused during the exam?  Plan to do or bring something unrelated to the exam that will help you, just make sure it doesn’t interrupt the actual exam.  It could be meditating in your car when you arrive, listening to your favorite song as you put on your boots, calling your mom at lunch, rubbing your lucky penny on the chairlift, doing burpees when you’re nervous, or whatever else gets you through the day.

This article first appeared in the winter 2020-2021 issue of Carve' Diem, PSIA-AASI Northern Intermountain Division's newsletter.

Castles in the Sand

By Eino Holm

Long-term review, Kästle MX88.

Test mountains: Bogus Basin, ID; Timberline, OR; The Place That Shall Not Be Named, UT; Anthony Lakes, OR; Pomerelle, ID.

Length skied: 178. Dimensions: 128, 88, 113. Radius: 20 metres. 

Binding: flat, skied with a Salomon 900S Equipe.

Profile: full camber, full-length edge.

$50 "retail".

Oh? You thought this was a new ski? Sorry.  Well. Not really sorry at all.  I haven't skied the new one.

By the stamp on the sidewall, this ski was pressed in Vorarlberg at the Head factory.  Two sheets of metal.  It drilled nicely, if you're curious.  I don't remember pulling any screws like I would have on an old Soul 7.  My copy may originally have been a demo at Montage in Deer Valley.  I know this, because when the dude who curates the Lost and Found Collection at The Place That Shall Not be Named rolled through the repair shop in the fall of '015 with his pile o' random $#!@ for the big crunchy bin with these skis somehow in that pile, they had a) demo bindings and b) a fading sticker from Montage in Deer Valley.  To keep the peace with the Authorities at the place that shall not be named, even though the skis were literally headed to the giant garbage disposal in the sky maintenance shop, I paid $50 and gave the demo bindings to the rental shop in case they were needed.

Now, before we get into the meat (the metal and wood) of the ski, let's discuss them graphix.  I mean, they are the elephant in the gondola, so to speak.  I mean, they are flat-out ugly.  Not ugly-cute like a baby condor.  Just ugly.  I am one who speaks in favour of orange from dawn until dusk, and probly in my sleep.  I am fine with white.  Together, the two are fine.  Creamsicle, all that.  Something happened, though.  Not sure what it was.  Maybe somebody in the bowels of whatever Austrian design firm Chris and Hugo badgered into designing said topsheets (all of the original models were similar) was like "F^#%in North Americans.  They don't know what beauty is."  Or maybe somebody actually wanted a ski that resembles a spatula (not that Spatula).  At any rate, my Svenska flag deck'-ul (Ask a Canadian.  That's how you say it, eh?) is a little off-kilter and even though there's a good chance my dueling Scandihoovian decals are why my friend Stina and I are, um, friends, they still don't make a dent in the overall scheme.  

Kästles in the air, Palmer chair, Timberline, Mt. Hood, September 3, 2018.

Given all this vitriol heretofore vomited on this keyboard vis-a-vis the distasteful nature of the MX88's visual appeal, I gotta say it just doesn't matter.  If someone handed me this exact ski with some other graphic, and not even one as bad as K2's death clown bullshit from whenever that was, just some pleasing scene or colour scheme, and also the actual ski, I'd choose the actual ski.  The ski doesn't scream out for attention.  It's like a ti hardtail in that if you know, you know, and otherwise it's just a ski that one weird guy with the flannel and race poles is always on and it's forgotten.  I think the Svenska have some fancy word for this; most Nordic folk (I'm pretty sure we're Sámi but people don't know or care what that means) don't want to be noticed unless it's by someone who knows why we should be noticed, and then a tip of the cap will suffice.  A "nice turns" at the bottom of the Exit Chutes.  (Thanks Ingrid!!)  Which, by the way, they were.  Well, they felt nice.  I trust someone who's won multiple World Freeride titles, but I hedge when it comes to describing myself.  I always repeat the line my Pa heard in Garmisch when he was stationed there after his tour in Vietnam.  I can turn both ways and stop.

This may sound like the sort of rhetorical stretch a high school junior would make when comparing himself to, say, a character in Virginia Woolf, and for that I again do not apologise.  This ski gets me, man.  Like, really.  Coupled with the criminally boring graphical topsheet that after 8 or 9 seasons is peeling off the metal structural topsheet, the power and ease with which it glides along is impressive.  I have made more good turns on this ski than any other, likely more than all other alpine setups combined.  Given its striking similarity to my previous benchmark, the orange Monster 88 that was even pressed in the same factory, I expected a similar ride.  It is not.  It is better.  Best. {edit: I skied the old Orange Monster again a good bit this winter and remembered why it is THE benchmark.  Still.}

I have found in my 39 seasons that a cheater GS radius is about perfect.  There's enough sidecut for when you really need to lay 'em over, and enough stability for finding speed before bending them in half.  This goes especially for this old MX88. I don't believe in one-ski quivers, and this couldn't be one.  It doesn't float.  I do enjoy skiing the wrong ski, and at this, we find shining excellence.  Well, dull, faded white and now-brownish-orange excellence.  There is a hardness beyond which this ski is simultaneously under-edged and over-girthed, but if there's something to snack on, and it isn't a 12" bowl of recently sifted powdered sugar, I have not found a peer.

I won't prognosticate on whether some tip rocker would deaden this ski like it was an Enforcer by another name, but it might.  This ski came to me well on in its life, and it has held up far more than the $50 price tag would suggest.  I will not be replacing it with something new; instead I will ski it until the 900S either pulls screws and runs or finally stops grabbing boot.  With the latter, I'll probly just add the one drilling needed to slap the purple 997 atop and keep on given 'er.

Rock'n me

By Eino Holm

Shane McConkey is credited with introducing and normalising rocker in the ski world.  I'm not educated enough to know if skis of old from, say, the Altai Mountains, had any, or if the original Telemarkers of Norge shaped their skis like a water ski, so maybe he was the first.  He certainly did more than anyone else to introduce it to the masses.  Then it became "technology", and pretty soon even some World Cup level race boards had to have an early rise tip.

There's that now-iconic segment in Matchstick's Focused where Shane skis a huge steep face on waterskis.  You'll have to pardon the terrible music, but it's a simple explanation of how we got here from whence we came.  I remember right when the Spatula came out, riding Rex with the late Tom Maks.  I was (still am, to some extent) an interested reader of the various ski lit out there, so I knew the story of and reasoning behind the Spatula he had on his feet.  I asked him what he thought so far, and he said, sans irony, that they were pretty much useless in-area.  Even at a joint like Crystal where there are big, open, steep pitches that often have some fairly deep snow, one still needs to get back to the lift.  That was the disagreement that most ski writers and testers had with the Spatula, that they were so limited.  One couldn't even tour on them because of the reverse sidecut.  They required a deft hand, and by all accounts, access to the kind of terrain the general public doesn't readily have.

With rocker, you can do whatever it is this guy is doing.

Whether it was because of Shane, or that he simply pointed things out that already existed, though, the idea didn't die.  With rocker or early rise or or reverse camber or whatever we choose to name it, people found certain things were easier.  Floating, schmearing, slarving, getting out onto pitches or into conditions one otherwise didn't have the skills to actually handle, all of a sudden became more accessible. Marketing folks happily played on the general public's ability to conflate and inevitably confuse the ability a strong skier who skis five or six days a week has with the tools that incredibly skilled and practised skier employs.  Plake, for the longest time, argued that since he and his ilk and those before him didn't need them fat skis or rocker or pronounced sidecut, no one did.  Everyone ignored him, and for a time sort, of looked askance.  Especially those with bucks to be made in selling this new technology that was neither new nor technology.

In around '05 or '06, things started to get real weird.  John C Davies, then of Powder Magazine, called it Donkey Ball Rocker.  Or someone else did and he publicly proclaimed he was against it.  At any rate, the sidelong glance nature of the epithet was a shake of the head about the absurdity with which the industry had embraced the whole reverse camber ideal.  The industry has since settled in and found ways to shape skis that take advantage of what Shane brought to the fore.

It's been credited to all sorta folks, currently to George RR Martin through his martyr Eddard Stark, that everything that comes before the "but" is horseshit. So, with that in mind, here goes. . .

Shane was such a character, so influential, that it seems dang near blasphemy to take issue with something, anything, he did, but I do.  In skis over 100mm, maybe there is a place for rocker, but even then it isn't wholly necessary.  I've skied some skis where the biggest year-to-year change is adding tip rocker, and found the new ski lacking the liveliness and pop that old ski had, but did not feel any benefits in return.  Before y'all get all angry and say things like "it's easier" or "it floats better", please remember that the ski is a tool, and it's up to the skier to use it.  Easier isn't better or worse, it's just easier.  The original Völkl Katana floated just fine, thank you, and it did not have rocker, nor did the Nordica Girish from a year or two later that was incredibly similar in radius, construction, and girth.  Both were pretty much just big, mildly detuned GS boards.  26, 27 metres, mild camber, stiff without being unyielding.  Man, do they still do the job, 10, 11, 12 years on.  They respond to technique, and to power, and best to a skilled combination of both.  They are, unquestionably, expert skis designed for experts.  Backing away from this goal is something manufacturers in the ski world have been guilty of over and over.  One need only remember the second Atomic Big Daddy.  Some companies have found ways to market different types of skis for different purposes, but there is still the whiff of "intermediate" in skis that are easier to ski, and that is a major problem.  If you want a specific set of traits, say, a lighter touch in edge release, or slightly more intuitive float in the deep, go for a ski designed that way.  The Blizzard Rustler series is intentionally easy to handle, and it has a comfortable place in resorts with complex off-piste.  It isn't marketed as anything other than what it is.  It seems that so much of the industry can't get past genre and thinks that an expert ski still needs to be approachable by the banker or the dentist for their trip out west and that just ruins everything and I hate it.  An expert ski is for experts who put time and energy and their lives into skiing.  That banker or dentist isn't that skier.  That banker who skis 2 weeks at Deer Valley on the family vacation with the ski instructor as a guide will benefit from a friendly ski with some light tip rocker, a 90 mm waist, some early taper, and a friendly, lighter flex.  I, someone who has benefitted greatly from being willing to live at or near the poverty line, scrounge skis from swaps and the second hand store and demo sales, who has put everything into skiing, will benefit greatly from a ski actually designed to be skied.  Driven, steered, bent, shaped by the skier.  I want an edge that goes all the way.  I want camber, tip to tail.  I want rebound, metal, and a binding that doesn't melt all its plastic if I ski in August at Timberline.

My buddy Gus is always haggling me that I shouldn't get all het up about tech that I find useless that still, somehow, has a market, like carbon gravel bikes or donkey ball rocker or, like, tuna casserole.  In the capitalist sense, he's right.  I really don't care, though.  I am not a capitalist.  I don't mind if I sound whiny.  I hate that there are so few skis out there that will actually do what I want.  My current benchmark for skis is the somewhat old version of the Kästle MX88.  I don't know what year it came out, because I bought it for $50 from the going-to-the-dump pile at The Place That Shall Not be Named.  It is one of those skis that is damp while still transmitting info, active without feeling jumpy, stable without feeling dead.  That skilled broker of deals, that compromiser who ends up benefiting and not actually compromising anything.  It doesn't ski the deep very well, but it's not a big ski and doesn't need to.  What it does is pretty much everything else, well, in pretty much any condition.  I do not ask it to hold an edge on the periodic Beast Coast ice we get here in Southern Idaho, and I think it thanks me for the leeway.  It responds with aplomb when tasked with a practicable do it.  Why I bring this ski up is that my version is fully cambered and fully edged.  I just measured with my highly scientific hold-it-in-my-fingers method, so there.  I know things.  I had the displeasure of skiing a newer version, and though once I finally got the tip to the snow, it did hold, any sort of mid-angle turn just felt dead.

This is definitely sour grapes from a middle-aged white guy.  I have been left behind by my chosen industries, mostly because I don't buy in to much of anything.  Whatever ski it is that gives you the fizz, by all means ski it.  Smile and turn, laugh if it feels right.  If you get a chance, find a shop that demos one a them fancy new Blizzard Firebird skis, the one with all that metal and all that ridiculous and energetic camber, the one that doesn't wait for you to catch up.  Like a deep day, though, get up there early.  There's nothing like the satisfaction of knowing the tracks under the chair at which the other folks are pointing are yours.

Title from Steve Miller's "Rock'n Me" (d'uh)

The hills turn brown.

By Eino Holm

Like many things in the west, Peter Skene Ogden is credited with naming Mt Shasta.  There isn't a lot of concrete evidence he even knew which mountain he was naming.  The mountain most certainly went by names other than Shasta before him, and still does.  It could be Shasta, yes, but it could be Úytaahkoo or Lemuria or the Root Chakra of the World.  Ogden called neighbouring McLaughlin Sastise, and many other names, and the name was transferred in the way of folk music to another mountain, and transposed, so that today we have Shasta, 80 or 90 miles to the south.  McLouglin was known by many names as well.  Such is the way of things when so many of the peoples within viewing distance don't have truly shared language, or aren't in contact with the regularity that is required of community reference.  This sounds like a criticism, and it is much the opposite.  It is a rich pastiche we modern white Americans are sadder for not knowing or understanding.  Unlike Tahoma, Denali, or Koma Kulshan, there really isn't a widely agreed upon ancestral name for Shasta. Cos, you know, stuffy academic white people need to agree on what somebody else's ancestors called something that will be here long after we are gone for that name to hold steady.

Shasta is in the southeast of Siskiyou County, and is utterly dominant.  It is the most voluminous (no more eloquent way to say it) volcano in the Cascade Arc.  To those of us who are tied by birth or spirit or whatever to Tahoma, it is a bit surprising to note.  Tahoma is massive.  Ever present.  Comfortable and threatening all at once.  I grew up not too many feet above the Osceola Plateau, the mudflat spatulaed into place by the historical Emmons Glacier, its foundational rock, and much of the summit of Tahoma when the northeast aspect liquifacted and ran all the way to current-day Puget Sound.  Well, Whulge.  A rare native name these modern ears find inelegant, which obviously doesn't matter.  To me, Tahoma is the sky, and God, and most everything, so to admit that Shasta is actually bigger in mass is an interesting academic challenge.  Shasta doesn't care what I think, though.  Shasta is a beautiful, asymmetric composite cone with a commanding view of the heat of the Shasta Desert east of Yreka.  The Shasta River (sensing a theme yet?) drains the northwestern aspect and some of Mt Eddy and its foothills to the west.  The desert isn't empty, not in the sense of the southwest.  It's a working desert; the forests around are working forests.  It is bounded on the north by the Klamath River and the Monument--the bridge between the Siskiyou Range and the Cascades--and on the east by the Lost Cascades. The desert is hidden to most, hot and uninviting to the unimaginative.  If one is heading toward Shasta from the south as most folks do, from the Central Valley and the Bay, this small desert simply doesn't exist.  It shares a lot of mystery with all the deserts, well and lesser known.  Shasta's bulk shadows the brown fields a bit and gives cover to any ghosts that may glide along in the night.

From Lake Siskiyou

Shasta, the volcano, is a hallucination from the summit of Diablo, a flag waving in the distance above the Central Valley.  To some, it is home to dolphins and eternal near-humans from some long-lost island in the Indian Ocean and life-defining crystals of some sort.  I've tried to find out more, something specific, but all the literature is delightfully vague.  Shasta City is a central point on the southwestern slope, a place to gather supplies for the long day of climbing Avalanche Gully, a coffee stop in a dirty and welcoming downtown, or a place in the hills to assemble the last needs before shutting oneself off from the cluttered world of modern society in some sort of yoga retreat or, more likely, a montane hallucination of privileged white spirit quest.  Just east of town, lined up to the north off the highway that eventually leads you to the volcanic wonderland surrounding Old Tehama and New Lassen, are four small buttes on the southerly shoulder of the volcano.  Mt Shasta Ski Park sits on the middle two bumps and a mellow ramp immediately west.  It is a small area, three chairs, some snowmaking, some nice Shasta fir (speaking of disorganised etymology) and knobcone pine, and an incredible view of the southern Cascades and eastern Klamath range.

These southern Cascades are many shades different from their northern cousins.  Well known in ski circles are the jumble of volcanism from the Klamath Basin up through Hood River, the accretionary alpine wonder of the North Cascades from Snoqualmie Pass into Canada, or the high country steeps east of Tahoma.  This mildly bizarre slice of far-north California is just, for lack of a better word, different.  It is so dry that the planners of the PCT took it well to the west through the Klamath Range and only brought it back to the actual crest at the natural bridge of Siskiyou Summit.  As one walks northward, one is constantly playing peek-a-boo with the domineering spirit to the right.  In the winter some years, it is almost as dry.  The south slope of the volcano is also home to some of the most intense snowfall anywhere, with a single-storm record of 189 inches in three days back in 1959.  In a wet, cool, southerly upslope, this mass of orography provides limitless forcing and it can just absolutely puke.  If the storms track in from the west, sometimes there's little if any snowfall as the Klamath Range is mighty, wide, and built out of epochs of uplift such that there is no simple drainage system or terrain gap to allow any low-level flow to pass through.  There are several peaks in the neighbourhood of nine grand, with Mt Eddy due west of the volcano across the low valley at a handful of yards above.

The ski area itself is pretty much lost in this place.  It slides down one side of two small and unassuming peaks and attracts working class folks from Weed and Redding.  The curious, interesting, and oddly formed knobcone pine that make up part of the forests are head-scratching to those of us used to more traditionally shaped conifers.  Its cones curl back toward the trunk.  These cones are serotinous, opening only after a fire.  It isn't a particularly charismatic tree, not like its mixed-stand companion.  These fir stand tall, red-barked, cones upright.  The first ride up Douglas our first day skiing at Shasta, we both were surprised by the weedy little Pinus attenuata, not sure what it was or what to make of it, but it grew on me.  Out here in the desert, away from conifer country, I miss it.  No surprises there; to quote John Prine in the liner notes for Iris DeMent's Infamous Angel, I am a sentimental old fool.  Anyway, diversions, diversions.  That's all I am some days.

I have been in retail, fixing and selling bikes to often disinterested folks, for going on twenty years now.  I try to speak only in affirmatives, this bike does trails and some climbing, that one does descents like Hugo Harrison, that one over there is real good at listening, that one with the skinny knobblies will serve up a nice flatiron steak with mushrooms and pine nuts and gruyère on house-made Finnish crisp bread.  Skiing is no different.  I look to find what a place is good at, such as Bogus' weekday quiet and adventurey willow skiing, or Mt A's views and Chute 4 in the Bowl and the Void off the southeast side from the top of Windsor.  Shasta skis real nice in a cold southerly upslope on Christmas when Anderson Grade is closed to anyone without chains or 4, obviously, but it also sure does a nice job on MLK when Mt A is closed due to wind and the snow gets sloppy.  Douglas has a short, fun pitch full of manzanita that bakes into a smooth whipped cream in the low-angle January State of Jefferson sun, off the south side and not skied all that much.  I learned quickly one winter that Amy's college slalom skis with the race plate ripped off may not adequately float in this wonderful stew, but that's me and not Shasta.  Coyote has some moderate steeps, that fun sort of pitch that with courage and good grooming can be railed on edge, or steered with less vim and maybe less on the line.  Some southwest aspects that bump up nicely, some fir thickets that really benefit from a few inches of wind consolidated.  As with oh, so many ski areas in the west, a little ambition can get you some interesting sidecountry that feeds back into the area.  (The usual caveats apply; slackcountry is backcountry, don't go if you don't know, that sorta thing.)

From Bunny Flat, near the old Ski Bowl

Something the Ski Park has that many western ski areas do not is a varied and longer-trailed beginner zone.  Marmot is one of only a handful of beginner chairs I can think of with a view of a nice fourteener.  It is slow, and pretty long for a beginner chair.  Shasta is a place where one is best served by patience and proper expectations.  The groomers skiers' right of the chair are wide, mellow, fun to just ride along, slowly rolling the skis edge to edge, wide open train tracks and a couple nice nose dives to the left.  It's certainly possible to ski each named run in just a few days, but I wouldn't.  Relax, make some nice turns, watch the Abies x shastensis and Pinus attenuata wash by, maybe have a La Croix in the lot looking up at the amazing volcanic spirit hanging above.

The post-pandemic eddy of this river of time still hasn't arrived.  Some things won't be around in a year or two; I think my favourite coffee and book shop with the wall of mysticism is gone already. That long drive back to Ashland certainly wouldn't be the same without a short stop for a magazine and a fluffy beverage.  It's very pretty, though, Interstate 5 itself notwithstanding.  Surprisingly quiet, the desert to the right and the hills north of Eddy to the left, Shasta looming in the rearview, Ash Creek Butte hiding over there in a hidden corner almost out of sight.

Title from Kate Wolf's "Here in California"

Anyway, the wind blows.

By Eino Holm

An apocryphal folksy aphorism says it's an ill wind that blows no good. I say apocryphal because I don't care to verify its origin, not because I can't verify its veracity.  Basically, it's a simple logical syllogism. If, then.  I learned that back at GRCC, fall quarter, my senior year in high school.  I also got a free Calculus book from a fellow back-row cynic.  In this case, even though it is one of those sayings the old men in the instructor room say during a preseason meeting, it is true from at least the human perspective.  Without any good, there is only ill.  The saying likely isn't meant to convey any meteorological truthiness, though.  Whence it came, it is interpreted by tweedy nerds and folksy Grammas alike as a kind of Bob Carpenter "Stand a Little Rain" sorta dealie.  Rainbows and stuff.  Gold, silver, Spanish galleons.  You know.  Without alpha, there is no omega.

The fences in any windy place, say, the north of Utah, or Kansas, or the steppes of central Asia, or in my case, Enumclaw, gather all sorta detritus.  Russian thistle, ponderosa needles, grocery bags, what have you.  It isn't necessarily a beautiful tableau, but as with so many things in memory, it is lyrical.  The fence at James Oil, for example.  Cold, static charged, gritty in a February easterly.  Given an open prairie, or say, an ocean, wind will not actually flow directly from a low pressure centre to that of a high, but rotate counterclockwise around the low and clockwise around the high here in the northern hemisphere.  Mountains are not open, flat, or in any way resembling an ocean, though.  Gaps, ridgelines, volcanism, 200 foot conifer, rivers, lakes, rock, narrow passes, wide headlands, steep hillsides, complex drainages, pretty soon you have very specific places like Enumclaw where in many winters the easterlies just don't quit.  Ridgelines with sparse populations of krummholz subalpine fir and whitebark pine.  Wind isn't good or bad, it's just a fact of atmospheric physics that in the end is incredibly complex and leaves its trace all across our lives.

An alpine chair somewhere, covered in rime (windblown frozen fog).

The personification of wind is extensive in our collective history, at least to the point of naming frequent and identifiable winds.  Santa Ana.  Scirocco.  Diablo.  Chinook.  Föhn.  I'm certain the older cultures gave them personalities.  Certainly, artistic depictions of wind often had a puff-cheeked fella givin er over the ocean or the plains, the visible whoosh coming out of the clouds.  If one looks at a skilled wind mapping model like, the visualisation is impressive.  Continuous flows around the globe, high and low centres in stark relief given their hemisphere-specific rotations, wind shear evident in the different layers, the ability to at least hazard a mildly educated guess on if there's some lake effect over Erie, PA right now.  Even so, wind is never constant.  It's easy for me to understand why older cultures just assumed some giant moody dude was up there blowing on them, the way the wind ebbs and flows like it would if you or I were creating it.  The same way that so many religions evolved from attempts at explaining the unexplainable.  Simple, if mystical, origins for everything.  There is no harm in any of this, no need to erase the nebulous spirituality in favour of the verifiable science.


The crook in the hill Bogus Basin calls The South Face, skiers' left, not quite to Liberty, piles up some nice whalebacks in a good wind.  It runs uphill, dumping snow in the lee of the trees, sometimes six and eight feet high.  That cool ridge-hopping turn, unweighting just before the crest and landing cleanly on the other side.  This being Bogus, it isn't a long run, and quickly one has to find an exit around the willows.  Those six or eight turns are irreplaceable.  This same wind can be a knee snapper on the cat track above the ridge, especially those vintage Bogus freezing fog days where the snow feels cold and unaffected, but the goggles freeze over and the ground goes distant and flat.  There's a windlip every ski length or two, arhythmic.  Many an ad agency would say to pretend they don't exist.  It's another skill to learn, though, something that always reminds me of why skiing is so singular.  I won't win every game.  I'll come back to the board and try again.

Bogus is near the bottom of the middle when it comes to snowfall, comparable to or just a little behind such storied hills as Stowe and Copper, and in some specific ways, it is reminiscent of the higher alpine locales like Copper.  More snow than Sun Valley most years.  I bet yer Epikon Pass doesn't advertise that. That exposed ridgeline, skiable skiers' right, bare on skiers' left.  Exposure, aspect, elevation, protection, all play in to the equation.  The westerly aspect of Shafer Butte, Greenie's and War Eagle and in between, can be hardpan with chocolate chip rocks and little artemisia nubs in one lane and fully covered, with some incredible creamy duff to schmear around in the next.  I have had runs on sunny days where my tracks have disappeared, those free refills that get marketing folk all gooey-eyed and weak-kneed.  These aren't neck-deep, triple overhead days.  They're clear and sometimes mild days between cycles.  Days where the intermountain emptiness provides an empty stage to the varying highs and lows slowly moving all around us.  One can see the Sawtooths and the Seven Devils and the Wallowas, and yet in the right lane of the right aspect, the skis are buried and the turns are sublime.  I can imagine, as my skis kinda just do their thing and I ride along comfortably and happily, Kári building this set with his winds.  A little off the front side here, put that over here in the Doug fir of that little bowling alley.  Draw some up from the creek draw at the bottom of Sunshine and build a whaleback or three up the draw separating the Face from Liberty Trees. Put the rest in the void between Wildcat and Mary's.


Without wind, those cornices y'all are so fond of dropping wouldn't be there, nor, truly, would the snow.  When you complain about the wind, you are asking the world to stop turning, water to be something else entirely, to lose that elemental thing in our lives we call skiing.  Wind isn't always benevolent.  The old saying, though, is true.  There is always some good to be found.  The little runnels in new snow from a gentle breeze.  The deep infill in the Alphabet Chutes when it hasn't snowed in a few days and a nice breeze comes up out of the Park.  The Good Wind.  The tracks from yesterday's traverse across the beach up to the Boxcar.  Something about how the snow packs into the sunken tracks must provide a good bonding surface for the windblown snow, such that today they are raised tracks with surrounding snow either settled or blown over the cornice into Stina's Chute and the broader Silver Basin.

Someone on the magic internet box said complaining about the weather is better than complaining about people complaining about weather.  He's wrong, obvs.  Complaining about weather isn't even tilting at windmills.  At least Don Quixote made for memorable lit.  Wishing for perfect weather is bougie and pedestrian.  We aren't that, yet, are we?  We're skiers, or something.  We make meaning out of furtive moments and transient feelings.  We embrace the suck, as the kids say.  

I mean, I don't.  I go home when I'm frustrated, or deep cold, or if my gut is upset, or if the skis just aren't working.  I think, like pain, though, the suck isn't so much subjective as it is uncomparable.  As in, I cannot compare mine to yours.  I realise as I'm writing that I'm arguing with myself, that maybe Ryan really does hate the wind, and that Stina really is tired of skiing in the rain, or that Pa only wants the benevolent weathers now that he's well past retirement age but still making stumps.  People automatically assume that my knee issues (more on that and those and them and everyone's in another post, or other posts) are constantly painful, but I don't feel much pain most of the time.  Not, I AM SO HARD I DON'T FEEL PAIN but there just, well, there just isn't that much pain sometimes.  Beckmann said I'd need a week of bad pain pills after he Dremeled my right knee, but it really never hurt at all.  Again, not me being tough, but my nerves not transmitting anything my brain recognised as pain.  So maybe when it's snowing sideways at 40 knots and graupel and all I feel is some sting on my cheek, others' cheeks feel the abrasion of a thousand simultaneous chemical peels and ice or whatever.  At any rate, we need wind.  This isn't a hurricane.

(Someone somewhere said one measure of intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in your head simultaneously and be able to consider them equally.  I hope they're right.)


As I said before, my father is a logger.  He has other terms, but they are more specialised, and besides, none of you like his trade anyway.  Your condo isn't made of imagination and rainbows, it's wood and metal and concrete.  Something of my father is in every town in the west, whether it's a power pole along the main road or the lumber in the walls.  He hates wind, and he's the only person I won't argue with on that point.  Wind could kill him.  It has sent him home when he's twenty minutes from finishing his setting.  It has cost him incalculable wages.  It has in some form hurt--or killed--friends and coworkers.  When he grumbles about the wind, I understand and even agree.  The rest of you, though, in your fancy buildings and with expensive coats and airtight goggles and gloves you didn't find in the ditch while driving the number 3 plow, maybe consider your place in the world.  The wind was been here since the earth formed and began spinning, however it did.

The wind moves through my parents' house more easily than you'd expect.  The house isn't airtight, little slots between some of the logs, or is it just more mystical than we know? That same wind, the Stampede Easterly, will flare Mike Walsh's stove up at 3 am, ghostly flames appearing out of nothing, dancing wildly behind the hazy glass of the stove's door.  The wind dives off the hills above his house and directly down his chimney, a silent, mysterious, invisible Santa with nothing but a little harmless ennui for a gift.  The first time I heard it happen, Mike was off in McCall.  He'd mentioned that the east wind could be a bit, I don't know, spectral, but nothing more.  I stood on the balcony, staring at the stove for time unknown, wondering if this was it.  Maybe Ma is right, there is a God and He comes to visit at odd times in ways we don't understand.  When the wind had finally stirred all the remaining wood gas to burning--combustion is its own unknowable mystery--and the flames blinked out, I lay back down to not sleep until my alarm, slumping into to a day that wasn't quite as calm as it could have been.


The upper mountain is closed a lot, at many places that have an upper mountain.  Crystal is my experience.  One of my first bosses up there told me of a day when John and Scott didn't want to close old Chair 3 because the wind was only hitting hard at one tower, but that tower kept deroping.  He and this dude named Kenny, one of the only lift mechanics I got along with in my short tenure as such, had to trade off keeping the rope on the sheaves with a marlin spike.  Sounds safe.  Old 3 being a Riblet, and knowing the profile, it was likely one of the last few towers before the top, with the wind blowing up out of Green Valley from the southeast.  Riblets don't have grips like darn near every other lift out there, they have clips, which are squished spikes that have a flat, short, forked tongue with opposing hooks that is spliced into the core of the rope.  As such, it is possible to sit on a tower cap and keep that rope in place.  A grip could grab the spike, or worse, Kenny's or Todd's hand, and make a mess of things.  The tower side of a Riblet's rope only presents a small expansion in the strands.  Might bump the spike a little, nothing more.  Still, I imagine frustration, and fear, and possibly some anger.  Is it really necessary to be up here, actually risking life or at least limb just to keep this little redundant chair running for a handful of bums and rich folk to make three extra turns before heading to the Elk to pose by the fire?  Probly not.

What that wind does, up there by itself, alone, changes storm to storm and minute to minute.  Down below, in the trees, it's quiet.  The traverse over from the top of 9 isn't too too hard, and then it's Bear Pits and storm day wind-consolidated and often the sort of turns one thinks of when it's August and it's 100 and Boise is choked in some other range's smoke and the sun is just red, glaring angrily.  Through the gate, leftward sidestep, then drop the knee.  All your'n.

Title from Southern Pacific's "Any Way the Wind Blows"

I've seen them all.

By Eino Holm

Let's say you live in Vermont.  Say, Woodstock.  You ski a lotta days at the Beast.  You have a racing background that is, maybe not successful, but informative.  You don't have a lot of money, but on many days you're the best skier on the mountain.  (I don't have the numerical values memorised, but you're pretty rad.)

I'll pause here and say that I was born within breathing distance of the Salish Sea, have skied through multiple 500"+ winters, and have no idea what a real Ice Coast winter is like.  Still.  Hear me out.

Anyway, you've been pounding nails a while and have the seasonal swing down pretty good now.  You pick up hours at the hill scraping wax for a cheap pass and to keep from totally draining your savings each winter.  You are first in line at the ski swaps, and you know how to patch your Gore and rebuild your blown-out Impact CS 120s a fifth time.  You have a pretty good stash of skis in the pantry of your lean-to, the one you told the landlord you'd build so's you could put up food for the winter, but really it's to house all your skis.  There's no doubt about it, you've got a ski for each day.  You grew up skiing here, running gates and avoiding rain days when it made sense to or was possible, meaning you had your share of rain days like any good Vermonter.  You've got that 30 metre Radical WC you found on a trip to Acadia back in '015 when your boss needed shingles he could only get from that one shake mill in Windsor and you decided to make a road trip of it. That board rips on those day-after-the-rain days when it seems like you can see all the way to Mt Washington, but can't find an edge to save your life.  You've go the Big Stix 106 you bought as a joke on ebay a few years back, the one with the faux wood paneling from who knows how long ago, and then found out you like on those rare moments when it's day three of a five day Nor'Easter and the wind takes a breather and there's some okay viz and you burn a free ticket to Stowe a rich customer gave you last summer and you find some of those rocky glades Ski the East always has in their edits.

There's a few skis in there you only step into if you're up for patch hopping down Superstar on the last bits of manmade, or for joke turns on that first heavy frost before the fans and wands really start blowing.  There's a slalom board for whenever you feel like pinning on a number for a beer league night, and that Bonafide you got off KSL in Huntsville a few years back when you had a wild hair and chased a storm for the only time you could afford in your life and the Big Stix were too big cos it didn't fire the way the TV weather folks said it would, but you didn't want to be caught in UT on your skinny skis.  You promised yourself you'd never watch the TV weather folks again.  There's your totally clapped out, but still ripping Monster 88, all blaze orange glory, and its slightly smaller sibling, the one you reach for most days when you're at home, the '07 Monster 78.  Green, and mean, and fast.  You knew the radius once, but you've forgotten in the twelve years since you bought it used from a guy whose cousin Sarah out in Wenatchee met Dean U'Ren from Head at a bar after a demo at Mission and badgered him relentlessly to sell her the ski at season's end.  That ski, man, it rips. Still.  Much metal, many woods, only been drilled at most four, maybe five times; those yellow 900S Equipes totally clash but they still pass the test.  Vermont Safety, natch.  You scored that from a one-man garage shop in Brattleboro who retired in '03 when you were just out of college.  All the shops use a Speedtronic now and tell you they won't test your several non-indemnified bindings.  You are set, though, until VS stops calibrating your, um, calibrater.

The Ripping Monster 88.

That ski, though, it eludes you.  The One Ski to Rule Them All.  Every fall, since at least the 90s, some company or other stakes a claim.  Or all of them do.  It's so tempting, the myth of the quiver killer.  "I could just grab my one ski and go! None of this 'I'll bring three and see how the day goes' bull$#!@."  But nothing grabbed your eye, even though looking back that 185 XXX was probly as close as anyone came in '03. You still couldn't let go of that sexy orange P40, though.  It railed, almost like your high school GS board except better somehow, and, well, FRICKIN ORNJ.  Those are still in the pantry, of course, but you don't really ski em.  198 is just silly these days.  Maybe when your younger sister is in town from out west and you want to show her how big bro still rips the tar out of them groomers and he ain't need none a that rocker business.  Then you put em back away for another year and breath a sigh of relief that you don't always hafta try and keep up with her.  I mean, it's fun and all, really, cos most of your buddies drifted off a few years ago to real jobs in big cities like Burlington or Portland, or, like, Bethel or whatever, but she's just that much better and seven hours straight beats you up pretty good.  So again, you start wondering, what if?

I've seen claims of this brand or that brand's One Ski Quiver, and they are often absurd.  An email I got from MDV one year was an advert featuring Ian McIntosh saying his 117 mm Coastal BC heli weapon was all the ski he needed.  Well, sure, Ian.  I get it.  A) you are a monster, like really really dang good and stuff.  I'm this moderately above weekend warrior status ski guy, while you are, well, Ian Frkn McIntosh. Grade A Badass.  B) You don't schlep your Forester to the local non-profit to dodge California transplants who complain about the wilderness toilet at the bottom of 3, you climb or get a ride to the top of some really æsthetic, wild, huge, and untouched peaks in some really remote places.  You depend on your ability to send it, day in, day out, and most of what you ski demands a big goshdarn ski.  The rest of us?  117 isn't ever useful.  (Well, maybe at Baker or Mammoth.)  Other brands claim their 85 mm all mountain ski with tip and tail rocker and a carbon insert and some P-Tex is gonna handle it all.  Never mind the occasional deep day will swallow it and the second week of a Southern Idaho chalk-drought will deflect it off line all day.  But sure, that mild-mannered lawyer of a ski can do anything!

I won't list all my skis here, but suffice it to say that for once I am a splitter, not a lumper. I like having the right ski for the right day in the right conditions.  Sometimes, I probly miss a run standing by my front door debating.  I always enjoy when I get it right.  Last winter, still rehabbing my knee, I had a cool, sunny Wednesday on my big GS board--yes, I have a small GS board as well--where everything just felt right.  Groomers, obviously, but the chalk bumps in the upper Triangle and some funky scratchy hardpan on the Face as well.  Before you get wistful and say "Back in my day, we skied everything on big GS boards and loved it," remember that that kinda sucked.  I mean, yes, it was skiing and by extension, therefore quite fun, but skis of today, even an unforgiving race ski, are much more rewarding and much more manageable.  My big GS ski is way easier for me to handle than whatever Plake was hucking on in '87, as well.  I'm real dang happy about this, too, cos I am no Plake.  That guy can shape a turn like pretty much nobody else can.  I can, well, as Pa's Army buddy in Garmisch said back in the early 70s, I can turn both ways and stop.

All this to say, just giver.  Watch the end-of-season specials.  Haunt as many ski swaps as you can.  Scroll through Craigslist during your morning constitutional.  You might net a barely used Legend from a few years back that a guy who does demos in the winter with a buddy in SLC is clearing out, or a 182 HRC that some dentist bought because his buddy who still zips up a speed suit at least once a week said it'd lay tracks like a 19th century railroad baron only to find that even if the ski could, he couldn't. If you are lucky enough to chase a storm, see if there's a used shop somewhere nearby.  Rich city people sometimes have different needs and agendas and dump gear rather than take it home.  The Gold Mine in Ketchum, say.  2nd Tracks (now Level 9, I have learned) in northern Utah has a few shops, and pawing through their used and consignment racks is like reading back issues of Powder Magazine from the glory days.  Do you ever wonder?... Or, if you have a flexible schedule or are "funemployed", look for a ski shop or instructor job.  Then work the whole season, keeping your promise.  Don't be that person who shows up all excitedly only to wither in the face of not skiing during the holidays while selling skis or filling the Mercury. Stick it out, all the way, then use that pro deal.  You'll run across all sorta marketing collateral telling you that the new KB7UXW with RaceRocker and Franjo-Carbotinum stringers is the perfect blend of race-room confidence and pow-slash manœuverability.  That the new hybrid pin-tech-race-carve binding with SilkSmooth heel track will ski just as well on your Pat's Peak ice day Tuesday as it does for Jenny Prostuff in the Mt Shredly skin-to slackcountry on her twelfth deep day in a row.  That all you need is those sweet, sweet Euro touring poles with the carbon shaft and exchangeable baskets and you'll be National Team materièl. Truly.  That touring boot will bend your new full metal, full camber 75mm teaching skis just as well as Mikaela's custom Redster WC hors categorie plug boot does.  All this jargon is just that.  Read reviews, talk to friends, find demo days if you are able, and find what you like.  Because a ski, or a boot, or a jacket, something that's real dang good at one thing, it isn't going to be all that great at other things, and that's just fine.  

When the sun gets weary and the sun goes down, well, I'm a skeptic.  I know this.  I was in 7th or 8th grade when Ryan Clevenger told me I was too cynical, and I took it as a challenge and as a compliment.  I don't read marketing copy for anything other than unintentional humour.  I read reviews for a baseline, I try to hit the free demo days, and then I just hope.  Sometimes I get lucky and someone leaves a pair of MX88s in Lost and Found for 18 months and I get to take em home for a nominal fee.  Sometimes I find a good deal on a demo Girish or Katana if I leave the demo bindings behind.  Sometimes there's a 186 Doberman GSR (27 metre, which some dude skiing his older model Atomic SLs on the wrong foot on purpose told me is the best radius) that's only slightly bent at the BBSEF ski swap for $35 and I trade some labour for a PX 15 Racing and use my Father-in-Law's drill press and a paper jig I found on the internet.  What I don't do is expect one thing to do all things.  I could hide money from myself for a year, scrape together enough cash to buy a new ski that's real good a lot of the time, or keep my eyes open, spend much less money, and always have the right tool for the job.  And I'll let you in on a secret:  those Leki poles are really nice, they have a great swing weight, and the big pow baskets don't sink in the deep, but I use my parking-lot-score 90s-replica Scott World Cup GS poles unless it's puking, and them free sticks sure do also do the job adequately!  Now, I just need to find an original.  That'd be worth some couch cushion change.

With apologies to Paul Simon.  Title from "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints"