The lifts have long since stopped turning but the east coast ski season is still far from over. After two years on the late season disabled list, it is with great pleasure that I am able to extend my season through spring and into summer.
I often wonder why I do it. Why punish myself for a few short runs totaling less vertical than that hiked to and from the skiing? Some might answer for the love of skiing or the passion of earning turns. But that rings hollow to me. There is something much more primal at work in this regard.
The truth is that there is no reason nor logic. There is no concrete premeditated thought process driving me to ski to the bitter end. There is something unconscious and primal pushing me towards such things. I do it because it’s there. And because I can.
MadPatSki and I hatched plans to ski this weekend. I was working on Sunday and thankfully the weather cooperated for Saturday. After a leisurely start, we made good time up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. In the ultimate jinx, during the switchbacks I commented on how pleasant it was to hike bug free. By the time we reached HoJos, two dozen bite marks spotted my legs.
I was enormously pleased with the snow coverage in the bowl. Easily twice as much vertical as typically found in late June or early July with half the ravine’s vertical covered in the Sluice area. Broken snow was lingering in Hillman’s that was not worth the effort. Intrepid spirits could easily make the cross over into Left Gully where a respectable amount of snow remained. Below the Chute and looker’s left of lower headwall both had enough snow for turns but both looked like far too much effort for far too few turns. The majority of skiers and boarders ascended looker’s right which offered the longest vertical drop down to the ravine floor.
A solid booter was already put in with occasional rekicking of steps required due to skier and rider wash out. Sliding dangers were relatively limited with a narrow bottleneck providing the only major concern. The biggest danger was first time Tuckerman skiers and riders and hikers both ascending and descending the closed Tuckerman Ravine Trail. While in the boot ladder, I spied two hikers on my left opting to cross the snow instead of retracing their steps and selecting an alternative hiking route. I quickly made double time to get above the hiker precariously kicking steps across the snow pack. Had the snow been slightly firmer, the hiker would have slid into a cravase and required a rescue.
Once above the traversing hikers, I clicked into my skis and awaited what I thought would be their certain death. But luck favored the foolish today and no Darwin Awards shall be given (just yet). But above and to my left, I hear boulders crashing downward! Two hikers hell bent on hiking a closed trail failed to understand that the reason the Tuckerman Ravine Trail was closed was that the trail was cut off by a glacier of snow. The hikers attempted to ascend the 40-50 degree Sluice headwall area and were forced back down. Thankfully their folly and loose rocks did not kill any one.
Back on the snow, amateur day continued with many first time Tuckerman Ravine sliders in far over their heads. Ranging from deathly afraid and timid to frighteningly fearless, the amount of fatal near-falls in decidedly no fall territory was sobering. But not all the first timers put on a show for all the wrong reasons: I witnessed a switch pseudo-butt naked for the first time and it was done with style. Obama might suggest that brothers need to pull up their pants. But pseudo doesn’t count if you really want those gnar points.
My skiing ranged from tentative to overpowering. There is something eerie about clicking in and preparing to make a first turn in no fall terrain. Having never brought my Dynafits to Tuckerman before, clicking into “dynafiddles” on a narrow shelf had me on edge about making those first few turns. I have said in the past that Dynafits are more bomb proof and better on the down than Freerides. It is one thing to make such a boast but another thing to trust your life that you correctly clicked into fiddly bindings on a narrow platform.
The upper section was too variable and undulated to be fully enjoyable whereas the lower snowfield was wide open and a blast. After two top to bottom runs, I opted to boot up only three quarters and ski from the choke by the cravase opening. This was much more enjoyable despite the lower angle and I returned to the three quarters mark for a fourth and final run.
Every time I down hike the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from the bowl, I ask myself what possesses me to suffer through the torture. And every time I later find myself forgetting about the torture and only remembering the turns and the people I shared the turns with. I keep forgetting faster and faster every time. To the point that by the time I unshouldered my pack and sat in my car, the only question was how many more times I was going to do it again this season.