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The Outsider: One more kick at the can

outsider by VINCE SHULEY
Spring snowpack will allow plenty more spring skiing for those willing. Like Dan Cudlip, pictured here.

I think of my final day of skiing for the season only in retrospect. Like the common superstition of skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers hurting themselves while pushing their limits on the designated “last run,” my last day of sliding on snow is never planned. It just happens if I don’t get around to any more ski days.

An exception to this rule for many is of course the tradition of Gaper Day, where people rally to the Whistler Blackcomb lifts in costume and party attire to celebrate the final day of resort operations and all the good times the season brought them. But your final day of skiing need not be tied to the lifts ceasing spinning. You can still drive, walk or ride your bike to find snow and ski it, taking care to not get involved in the spring avalanche cycles, of course.

Last weekend I had a day of skiing that I’ll simply describe as “one more kick at the can.” For those not familiar, Wiktionary describes this expression as “an attempt or an opportunity.” After spying a break in the weather last Sunday, I jumped in a truck with some friends at 6 a.m. and took off up the highway in search of some skiable backcountry snow. By 7 a.m. we were already running into the first logistical challenge. The logging road we were using for access had deep, rough and unforgiving cross ditches every hundred metres or so. With my buddy’s capable 4x4 having one too many scrapes and dashboard lights illuminated, we pulled over, booted up and walked the final couple of kilometres.

We came to a fresh cutblock at the foot of a steep slope, the snow still a few hundred metres away. Climbing through mud and organic debris we finally arrived at the snow line and donned our boot crampons, the brisk morning temperatures allowing reasonably efficient travel up the slope that was too debris-ridden for skinning.

Observing that the morning sun was blasting our objective, we wisely decided that we should not ascend straight up it, lest we all fall victim to the looming (and sagging) cornices above. We chose to climb the ridge, requiring a detour into the somewhat tricky yet safer treed terrain. It would give us a break from the blazing sun, anyway.

A couple of hours later we gained the ridge, our vantage point showing the true steepness of the slope which was not apparent from our digital maps or views from the logging road. To avoid entering the bowl via the aforementioned cornices, we’d have to wrap around way past the summit and traverse a minefield of chutes and exposed slopes. All below in the bowl was avalanche debris from the previous week’s snowstorm; baked, slid, frozen, melted and frozen again.

Not the type of skiing that inspires.

We gained a few hundred metres more when we reached a crucial decision point. To avoid the ripe cornice line of the ridge we’d have to cross an open, east-facing slope that had been baking in the sun since it rose at 5:16 a.m. It was now 12 p.m.

“Do we keep going?” asked one of our group, in a tone that said a “no” answer was acceptable, a “yes” would need to be discussed and scrutinized. The group answered no. The risk for the reward of hazardous and mediocre skiing was not making sense.

So we found a safe rock outcropping looking over our original objective with views of fierce mountains in all directions and a green valley below. We cracked and shared a tall can of beer with our lunch. My friend and backcountry dessert aficionado Dan Cudlip made us chocolate chip pancakes on his Jetboil. We talked shit, laughed a lot and got to know each other better before skiing heavy snow more or less adjacent to our skin track.

While it wasn’t the best ski run I’ve had this year or the most efficient travel, it was a new zone I got to explore. And some of those turns were actually pretty good. Then we had to descend down through the mud and trudge back to the truck, which was uncomfortable in my ski boots with my skis on my pack, but hey, that’s spring touring.

Was it my last day of touring or even skiing for the 2021-22 winter season? I don’t know yet, but I’ll keep you posted if I get one more kick at the can.

 

Vince Shuley likes to normalize conservative decision-making, especially in the rapidly rising temperatures of spring snowpacks. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email vince.shuley@gmail.com or Instagram @whis_vince.