Thursday, October 24, 2013

Skiing In The Sierras

Dale Matson

We are now well into the fall season and soon our rain in Fresno will be snow in the Sierras. Once the skiing season starts, I usually get up to ski once a week depending on the weather. I want to say immediately that downhill skiing has never appealed to me though I have given it an honest try. Just arriving in the parking lot with car radios blasting heavy metal music and beer coolers being unloaded for the trek to the lodge put me in the wrong frame of mind. I am more the Enya and  granola person.

My first ten years in California, I skied machine groomed surfaces with waxless trak skis and skate skis. My choices close to Fresno are Montecito Sequoia resort in Sequoia Park and Glacier Point Road (groomed as a trail in winter) in Yosemite. I have also skied at Tamarack by Mammoth Mountain and loved the scenery and groomed trails.

Sequoia Park near Big Meadow

Lake Mary From Ski Trail Near Mammoth Mountain

Who could forget the squeaking sound of ski pole tips on cold snow?  On a cold day with freshly groomed snow, the experience is wonderful. These places have clear views of the Sierras that warrant taking a camera. Groomed surfaces allow for fast travel and the ski from Badger Pass to Glacier Point (21 miles round trip) can be done as a day ski. My only caveat is that an old groomed surface that has thawed and refrozen can be outright dangers to ski. The grooves on the trail sides are what I would call suicide ruts at that point.

Half Dome From Glacier Point

My first backcountry ski experience was a day trip to the Ostrander Lake in Yosemite on new back country skis. It is also about 20 miles round trip but takes twice as long as the trip to Glacier Point. Most folks ski to Ostrander as an overnight at the ski hut.

L to R Track, Skate And Back Country Skis

Back country skis are shorter and wider than skis for groomed surfaces. This is for maneuvering and flotation in deep powder snow conditions. I have experienced fresh powder so deep that it is too deep to ski in. Snowmobiles get stuck in snow like that. Generally however, I like fresh powder snow since a fall is cushioned by the snow. Getting up in deep powder can be a problem if you do fall.

Back country skiing has become my preferred ski experience. We have two snow parks that we use within an hour of our home. Coyote and Tamarack both have Nordic skiing with views of Shaver Lake, Balsam Forbay and Huntington Lake. The views are a great place for lunch.

Shaver Lake Overlook

Your trail is the trail you create. Having a few folks along, helps, when breaking trail in fresh snow. Each person takes a turn at the lead. Back country skiing requires more gear than groomed trails. You need a day pack with a hooded windbreaker, food, water, map, compass or GPS and duct tape for emergency repairs. I also carry a balaclava, satellite phone and spare waterproof gloves. Drinking water is important since it is easy to become dehydrated in the dry mountain air.

Back country skiing is quiet. It bestows a solitude and reverent frame of mind. There are various animal tracks in the snow. How in the world do coyotes get around so well in deep powder as they look for an occasional rodent? Our Airedales have been a part of our ski experience and they so enjoy frolicking in the snow. Duke, our big male tends to post hole because of his weight. Susie our female got herself in trouble one spring jumping into Tamarack Creek to chase ducks. The bank was too high with snow for her to climb back out. I had nylon webbing and was able to lasso her and help her back out. Tree wells can also a dangerous trap if you fall into them. After a fresh snow, the evergreens are adorned with a breathtaking mantle of white.

Squirrel Trail Tamarack Snow Park

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough what a great workout back country skiing can be. It is an overall body conditioner and calorie burner par excellence. Because the weather is less conducive to swimming and cycling in our winters, skiing makes up the difference. It is always sad for me when our snow pack begins to drop but the water from it creates our rivers which fill our reservoirs. Mountain snow is the source of much of our drinking, hydroelectric, recreational and irrigation water. For that we are truly blessed.

March Sierra Snow Pack

Here is my you tube video of the Glacier Point ski from Badger Pass. 


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