Thursday, March 12, 2009

20 feet of snow

I used to live in Northern California in the Southern Cascades. I used to ski (metal edged cross country from 5000 feet in elevation to about 11,000 feet in elevation. I had an experience during the 1980s that taught me that skiing above tree line can be problematic when I found myself in about 10 to 20 feet of snow and an area about the size of a city block starting moving down the mountain with me. Since I was alone skiing a few miles from the nearest person I thought at the time I was dead. But luckily, I kept stepping up to the surface and when the block area of snow had moved about a city block down the mountain with me I was still only waist deep in the snow. What this taught me was two things. First I had almost died alone above tree line with no one who could even have likely heard me scream if I had screamed and second, I realized I didn't want to ever experience being in an avalanche again on skis. So, then I learned not to ski above tree line (where trees stop growing usually in the southern Cascades around 9000 feet in elevation from sea level. So I felt much safer between 5000 feet to 9000 feet in elevation skiing ever since that day.

In the last 10 years when I have skied these altitudes several times I have skied over 20 feet of snow. However, it is very important when skiing 20 to 50 feet of snow to be very aware of snow conditions and to be extremely careful skiing near the tops of trees. For in 20 to 50 feet of snow, either you are skiing over the tops of most trees that are under the snow or you are skiing next to the tops of the highest trees that are at most about 5 to ten feet sticking out of the snow.

However, I made the mistake a few years back of skiing a cornice between the tops of two tree very close to each other and in the spring trees melt out naturally about 3 feet in all directions from the trunks of the trees. So when the cornice between the two tree tops collapsed I found myself about 10 feet down one of these melt holes standing on a tree branch with another 10 to 15 feet to fall to the ground. Luckily I wasn't skiing alone and could throw up my two skis, climb up the limbs of the tree and survive with a little help from my skiing buddy. However, when this happened I was in my mid 50s and it wasn't as easy rescuing myself as it would have been in my 20s or 30s.

However, since skiing(both metal edged cross country and downhill skiing is probably my favorite sport) along with hiking mountain trails and swimming in mountain lakes in the summer and kayaking lakes and sometimes rivers I will probably be skiing, hiking and swimming in the mountains as long as I can walk.

No comments: