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.
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 earth.nullschool.net, 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"