When people hear that I ski every month of the year, they ponder that concept for a moment, and then they generally ask the same question, “What do you do for the hot months July and August?” A good question, considering we live in sunny California, but I have routinely skied nice long runs in July and perfect corn in August (knock on wood).
But for me, it is September, and especially October, that are tough months to get a ski in. Usually in September I am able to scrape something together; an old snow patch lingering on some forgotten North face, but October is different. The problem with October is that half the time, at least here in the Sierras, I can ski fresh snow in October. So the challenge is; “Do I wait, or do I get some while the getting is “good”? Only once have I “threaded the needle” and waited until October 31 to ski. On that day, I earned two desperate turns on sun-cupped ice and I hiked 8 hours to do it. Learning my lesson from this experience, I generally try to get my turns in much earlier in October.
Last October, 2011, was no problem. In fact, on the 5th and 6th, I skied two of my best powder days of the entire year. This year, 2012, with a warm Indian Summer holding on tight, and not looking like she wanted to let go, I knew I better get some turns in early. So, when I saw a little storm front blowing in around the 11 of October, I knew I needed to be ready. The storm brought some rain and a little snow, above 9,000ft, to the Tahoe Basin but dropped quite a bit of snow down on the Eastside around Bridgeport, CA. I knew where I had to go. Besides, it was my mom’s 70th birthday, she lives down there, and I was looking forward to hiking with her on that day.
Driving down Hwy 395 is always a pleasure for me no matter what time of year or what time of day, but this one was particularly special. It was just before sunset on October 14. Fresh snow covered the Sierras, particularly from Bridgeport to Lee Vining, and the fall colors were at their peak. I would even say they were the best I can remember, ever. Gold and amber and tangerine and green and yellow and orange, all juxtaposed against blue, blue sky and white, rugged peaks. What’s not to like about that! Anyway, I picked out my ski line- an old, semi-permanent snowfield with new snow on top- from the highway and then drove on to meet the family for mom’s birthday party.
For mom’s birth day we hiked one of her, and my, favorite places of all time- around Convict Lake and up Convict Canyon. As usual, it was spectacular! The fall colors, the beautiful warm sky, and both reflected in a completely calm lake. Convict Lake rarely sits still so that perfect natural mirror was an extra special present for mom.
The next day, October 16, Mom and I rallied my old Toyota up some dirt roads out of Virginia Lakes until we could not drive any more. I gathered up my ski gear and packed a load up to the snowfield I had seen a few days earlier. Mom was over the ridge taking a photograph, which was probably for the better as the snowfield was actually a mini-receding glacier, complete with a 30-foot drop off into the rocks below! Yikes! I wasn’t prepared for ‘extreme’ ski mountaineering but I felt that if the new snow on top was tight, I could still ski it. When I got to the snowfield, I gingerly stabbed at it with my boot- there was new, soft powder, about 4-6″ deep, on top of blue ice. Fortunately, it was not super steep and the warm sun had bonded the snow, more or less, to the ice so I felt could squeak a line in the deeper snow on the lee side. I put on my skis and carefully turned my way down. Mom made it over the rocks just in time to see the last few turns and the consequences of the drop-off did not sink in for her until I hiked below the “glacier” and she saw that it was 4x’s taller than me. We both choose to ignore that fact and instead reveled in another beautiful day on the Eastside.
**Exactly one week later, I skied amazing Powder in Tahoe. A mid-October storm hammered the Tahoe Crest with almost three feet of fresh snow and the skiing was fantastic. It was full on winter conditions and powder skiing for three days +! Lots of folks called in sick and were out getting some freshies but I have to say I enjoyed the earlier, marginal October snow just as much as the fresh powder. Don’t get me wrong; I love skiing powder as much as the next guy, but sharing that gorgeous fall birthday with my Mom was pretty special.