Last Sunday I went on a ski tour with Wayne and Matt, two guys I know through the portlandhikers.org forum (where they go by Koda and Water). It was my first time hiking with either of them, though I had met Wayne a couple of times before, and also it was my first time skiing in the backcountry. I’ve done a fair amount of resort skiing but that’s quite a different experience. Wayne has been doing this for years and showed me the ropes.
Here is the track I recorded with my GPS unit that day. It says 7.99 miles and ~3220′ EG if you feel like believing it.
Avalanche danger was reported as “considerable” — in fact, a guy in another party not too far from us was involved in an avalanche and hurt his knee and shoulder but fortunately survived — so we picked from a couple of routes that Wayne knew to be pretty safe on avalanche-prone days. We still examined the conditions in the field (pictures of that below).
The batteries died on my GoPro before we skied any downhill, and I tried to film one run with my camera but it’s a bit hard to watch. Here are a couple clips anyway.
We started at the Hood River Meadows lot, leaving my car at about 8:30. It’s about ~2.5 miles to get up to the top of Elk Mountain where we want to ski. We crossed a couple of snow bridges. Wish I’d gotten a picture of the second one because it was more scary looking.
Not sure why this tree has these marks.
Matt and Wayne broke the trail the whole day. They are faster than I am
Near the top there is a burned area. Actually we’ll be skiing down among burned trees too.
We have reached the top of Elk Mountain, and now we are getting ready to ski down the slope you see in front of us.
Wayne digs a test pit…
…while Matt stands around looking cool.
Here Wayne has exposed the profile of the snowpack. You can see the 2 feet of fresh powder on top of previous sun-crusted layers. He showed us some cool things like how to make test hits on the top of the snowpack and see how the layers beneath react.
Some sunny haze.
The snowpack seemed to be in good (safe) condition, so we took the skins off our skis and started down. This was great! Despite going skiing dozens of times before, I’ve spent very little time skiing powder. This was 2 feet of fresh powder. No tracks, nobody around, no noise of the chairlifts in the background. Just pretty silence. Now it makes more sense why people choose to put in all this extra work instead of just riding a lift!
I went into this trip thinking “the downhill will be no big deal, I’ve done that plenty of times before and I know how to ski.” I did not realize how much harder it can be to turn in deeper snow… or, at least, how much harder it is to make controlled, tight turns. It was still manageable but I could feel that my form was terrible. I had to pick wider openings in the trees to make my turns because I didn’t always trust myself to make a good turn right in front of a tree.
We skied down maybe 700-800 vertical feet and stopped for a bit of a lunch. Wayne told us more about the area and how it’s possible to ski down 2000 vertical feet to the highway. Matt informed me about the differences between Ravens and Crows. (I think I like Ravens better)
After eating for a while we skinned back up to the top of Elk Mountain, finding, to our surprise (and Wayne’s surprise especially), that someone had already established a set of ascending tracks after we had skied down. We hadn’t expected to see anybody else out there, but we actually encountered two other parties on skis that day.
Back at the top of Elk Mountain, we could see Adams poking through the trees. The weather turned out to be clearer than we might have expected.
From here we planned to make another run down what we had just skied and then to travel along Bluegrass Ridge to the north. So, we traversed to a slightly different spot on the top of the bowl, pointed our skis downhill and made some new tracks in a slightly steeper area.
After another skin up to the top of Elk Mountain, we turned north and followed Bluegrass Ridge.
A view looking back into the bowl we had just been skiing.
It turned out to be a gorgeous afternoon and we enjoyed some great views as we skinned up Bluegrass Ridge.
Wayne and Matt arriving at the summit of Mt. Everest
Pretty mountain, nice clouds.
Now we are getting close to the high point (I think) of Bluegrass Ridge and we are about to ski down on the left, toward Mt. Hood and Elk Meadows.
One more closeup of the volcano:
And if dead things can bask, these are.
Below us you can see our next destination, Elk Meadows.
This snow was not quite as nice as before. It was a little icy on top, and just kind of scrapey in general. But it was still fun to ski.
At the bottom of the slope we put our skins back on and skied through some forest until we hit Elk Meadow. There is a shelter there. It’s a nice view of Hood too.
We skied across the meadow, heading back in the direction of my car, and toward the setting sun.
One thing I learned on this trip is that when you’re on a ski tour, the general rule is that you should always ski toward the sun.
(not really, don’t do that!)
From here we had just a little bit of elevation to gain before meeting with our tracks from earlier in the day. There was another downhill run — kind of tricky for me, as my legs were getting tired and there were quite a few trees and narrow spots.
I was using a pair of Wayne’s skins that day, and had them stuffed in my jacket for the descent. I didn’t zip up my jacket far enough and one of the skins decided to bail at some point. At the bottom I realized I was short a skin… hiked back up a short way to see if I could find it, but no luck. Bummer! Skiing back to the car over some gentle ups and downs was interesting with only my right ski skinned. Like pushing a skateboard sometimes. It wasn’t entirely bad on the downhills because I could put more weight on my left ski and glide farther than normal, but progress was slow on the uphills.
We made it back to the car just as it was getting pretty dark. Sometime after 6, I guess. If we had been out another 5-10 minutes I would have had to put on my headlamp. We packed up our stuff and stopped at the Ratskeller bar in Government Camp to fill up our gut tanks before heading home.
Thanks to Matt and Wayne for an awesome first day of backcountry skiing, and especially to Wayne for showing me the ropes and ensuring a safe outing!