Just Good to Get Out: Optimism, Denial and the Powder Miracle

The winter of 2014-15 was moody. After the early season smashed us with pineapples, a high pressure locked down on the region and put us into an endless stretch of warm, sunny days. It was hard on morale. My friends and I spent the majority of the winter repeating the optimistic mantra, “It’s just good to get out,” which of course it always is, but in some ways it felt like I was being fueled by denial.

 

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Brad Slack photo.

By Joe Lax

Without pow, you get back to the basics – it becomes more about just getting exercise and breathing mountain air. There was enough snow to ride on – it could have been a lot worse – and while many pow-snob locals rode their mountain bikes or got out of town completely, we were determined to find winter.

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An aggressive 4×4 recon to the top of one of the highest logging roads in the area barely got us to the point where we could unload snowmobiles. Each shady, snow-filled section of road was like a mirage; as soon as we rounded a corner to anywhere sun-exposed, the road returned to dirt.

Beyond the forest service road, desperate sledding through wide open creeks and grassy marshes already abuzz with Mosquitos and swamp bugs. Open aqua-blue water was just beginning to show on an alpine lake that we would need to cross. This type of scene would be normal for June in the Coast Mountains, but not in March, typically the peak of winter. It was good to get out, but also kind of grim.

 

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Brad Slack photo.

 

But then, a well-timed miracle happened – it started to snow. March and April storms delivered in a more usual fashion and the alpine actually began filling in. Even as everything lower than treeline transformed into instant summer, far above the valley, there existed a semblance of winter. A short, late-season window opened and the usual rules for getting it done still applied – wake up early and be there when its cracks blue.

Photographer and friend, Brad Slack, and I decided to escape the valley and get away from the “worst season ever” negativity that had been festering all winter long. We battled our way past tree-line and set-up camp – armed with splitboards and a will to not let winter pass us by.

 

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Joe Lax photo.

 

We drank beer by campfire and scoped lines by starlight. A 3:30 a.m. alarm sounded and we rolled out of our sleeping bags, excited to still see stars. We pushed to the alpine, and like Brad and I have done before, we parted ways once we hit the ridgeline. A solo, pre-sunrise ridge walk gave me ample time to reflect on the season that almost wasn’t, and the sun crested the ridge as I stood on top of my line. After radioing Brad, I dropped into soft, powdery snow – leaving any sour taste from a frustrating winter behind.

At the bottom, I took a moment to look back up in the early morning light and admire the track coming down the mountain. I quickly switched my gear over and started hiking up for more. I had no excuses. The day was still early and even though it was now April, the winter I had been impatiently waiting for had finally arrived. It felt good to get out.

 


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