Unless you are chasing winter from hemisphere to hemisphere or you are one of the ambitious few who will walk 7 miles of dirt trail to ski a 300 foot strip of snow in August in an effort to continue the goal of skiing at least one day of every month, chances are that you ebb and flow with what the seasons give you. With that it typically means you put the storage wax on sometime late spring early summer for dry land type activities like mountain biking, running, climbing, etc, and you wait for those first cold snowy days in early winter to get the skis back out. If you are true lover of winter, the absence really makes the heart grow fonder and while you might be enjoying a warm and beautiful summer mountain bike ride, in the back of your head you might have those winter wonderland thoughts creeping in.
Very few activities are as weather determined as backcountry skiing and while ski areas manipulate things with snow making, backcountry users must wait for Mother Nature to do her wintery work and there are no guarantees when it will happen. Even with all the forecasting resources available, news outlets, scientists, and Punxsutawney Phi wana-be’s in the world today there is still the big uncertainty of “when” the snow goods will lay down enough for you and your buddies to strap those wooden planks on to your feet again.
With the growing popularity of skiing, the build up to the season has almost become a season in its self. It typically starts sometime around mid-August and you are just starting to get into good mountain biking shape but the ski movies start having their premieres, social media is saturating your media feeds with blower over head shots, then on the first day the temps drop below 70 degrees you see a wave of people walking around town wearing stocking caps and puffies. There is an increase in the conversations about new gear, El Nino, La Nina, ski trips, who’s going to have a good snow pack and it usually all starts before the leaves start changing colors; it’s hard not to get sucked into the anticipation. Love or hate the pray for snow parties or all the cliché seasonal transitions leading to winter, there is something special about those first storms and how they transition our landscape and our focus.
The lead up and anticipation differs from season to season and there are times when the snow never seems like it will come and with the effects of climate change, sadly, there are more frequently seasons when the snow might not come at all to certain regions. The ritual for me almost always starts early to mid November of watching the storms, tracking certain weather stations and getting a feel for the early snow pack. Picking that first day to go out can be a real balancing act, you are excited to get out again but you don’t want to just destroy your gear or heaven forbid end up with a trip to the orthopedic surgeon.
Watching the Oregon and Northern California Coast get wacked with a powerful storm got me thinking that it might have potential to lay down some snow. We were set to get cold enough temps for snow but it was only October and it is rare that the stars align for cold enough temps and enough snow to make it worth the effort. While drinking my morning coffee and checking the weather station information and the Sawtooth Avalanche website I could see the storm had dropped quite a bit of new snow and somewhere between 3” to 5” inches of water across the central Idaho Mountains. And with just a one day window of cold temps following the storm before we would get another warm-up, we pulled the trigger on getting our nose into this new snow.
With little notice, we scraped skis and gathered up gear that had been in summer hibernation and headed for the hills. It was a spectacular partly cloudy day with the trees and rocks covered from the storm but with the early season, the lakes were not yet frozen. It was a rare day of skiing in October and surprisingly, one with incredible conditions (we did tag a few rocks but that was expected).
We hope your first day of this season is a great one and until you do get out, we hope you enjoy the transition season!