A Snow Day

In my post about Lake Alva, I mentioned a rainy June. But I didn’t mention specifics. We had more rain this June than any other June on record. In 30 days, 6.2 inches of rain fell. That comes out to an average of .2 inches per day. Had you put your iPhone outside in a flat-bottomed pan, it would have been completely submerged in 48 hours. All you jungle dwellers scoff at this, I know. But for Montana, 5.3 millimeters of rain per day is unheard of. In the spring time, I always hope that cold rainy days produce snow in the mountains. Oftentimes, we do see fresh snow well into June. This year, however, the rain melted all our snow. By the end of June, the 12 foot deep snowpack in the Whitefish range had been completely melted. My inner skier was devastated.

Early snowmelt has benefits, however. Most noticeably, snow removal crews on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier Park finished snow removal on June 18 – two or three weeks earlier than normal. This meant access to Logan Pass. And there is snow at Logan Pass. Snow means skiing.

Shorts, wicking T-shirts, and lots of sunscreen replace down filled garments. A pair of dark glacier glasses replace my beat up ski goggles. Rather than carrying a Jetboil and tea bags, I bury a can of Snapple in the snow at the bottom of our ski run.

Intense sun has pock-marked the snow. The surface we ski on looks like a giant golf ball with four to six inch dimples. This makes skiing a little rough, but the heat of the day has softened the snow considerably. We start our day at the bottom of the snowfield and sweat our way up a hill for a couple hours. Nobody feels like really busting it. We lallygag along.  Eventually, we reach the hilltop. Looking over the other side reveals fantastic, snowy slopes. But we’re not about to hike a few more miles.

Hidden Lake – Still Under Ice

Compared with time spent ascending, the descent of the snowfield is a perfunctory blip. But it’s a blissful blip. To keep from sliding on each turn, I dig my edges deep into the hill, leaning in until I nearly touch the snow with my hand and shoulder. Soft snow sprays out from under my skis, making a wet, splatty noise as it lands.

For the rest of the afternoon, the three skiers in our party relax, taking intermittent runs down a 400 foot slope above our stashed backpacks. When we are all sufficiently sunburnt, tired, and sweaty, it’s time to gather our gear and coast back to the parking lot. The grade is mild, and we end up poling long stretches of the return trip. Not fun, but still better than bootpacking.

Tromping through the parking lot in my bright green Dynafit alpine touring boots, I overhear people talking about me. “Yes, he’s wearing ski boots,” a mother answers her little child. Slushy water drips from the skis in my left hand. The cool feels nice against the almost alien heat of the asphalt parking lot. A fair percentage of passers by sneak glances at me. Granted, I’m sunburnt and sweaty, but do I really look too scary to talk to? I appreciate the one person brave enough to talk with me. Our conversation is a perfunctory Q and A about skiing in the summertime. After a hot, hard day, I feel about as mushy as the snow. Nonetheless, once we are driving home, I promptly look at my calendar and start planning my next ski day.


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