A Bad Day of Snowboarding is Not Always Better than a Good Day of Work

Brian has the snow-jinx. He says he's had it for a long time and now I believe it. I flew him out here from NJ Monday morning to help me with a guidebook I was working on and to also do a little snowboarding. It hadn't really snowed in the Cascades in nearly three or four weeks on account of unseasonably warm weather, but before the warm spell, Washington ski resorts were boasting the deepest bases in the world. I figured between the thick snow base and the possibility for at least an inch or two of fresh snow, that Steven's Pass wouldn't be that bad. I mean, really, it would still have to be better than the conditions in New Jersey, right?

I wish.

I hadn't ever seen a mountain in such wretched conditions save for when I drove 7 hours to Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia. I mean, sure Steven's Pass did still have plenty of coverage, the only problem was that the entire mountain was one frosted-over ice cube. If you dared venture off the groomers for even a second your snowboard would just chatter across the surface of the crusty ice and snow with little to no hope of even digging an edge in to turn. Factor in the permanent grooves and dips from tracks laid in softer conditions and you had an unfriendly, unforgiving, slope. If you think I'm exaggerating, just keep reading.

We knew it would probably be sucky -- and Brian was not comfortable with the Washington fog we often board in -- but we drove nearly 2 hours, not to mention the 3000 miles he'd already come, so we gave it a go. My rekindled love affair with mountain biking has kept me off the slopes this year and yesterday was my first time back on the board so I led us down a groomer just to warm up. It was your basic corduroy blue-square trail, but the muscles hadn't forgotten and I felt fine. Brian instructs inner-city youth for Burton's "Chill" program back in NJ and has been riding every week this winter and didn't need the warmup so after that quick run, we headed up a pair of lifts to hit the backside of Steven's Pass.

Of all the areas I've snowboarded, the Mill Valley side of Steven's Pass is my favorite. There's tons of glades, some pretty steep terrain, and aside from one looping connector trail it's never groomed. Just drop into the bowl and find your way down through the trees. I love this area.

We slid over to the edge where I usually drop into Corona Bowl and saw that it was looking pretty icy. I suggested we take the groomer down and see how the conditions are on the sides of the trail first before we hit the bowl -- I was ignorantly hopeful that I still might be able to show him some good terrain. Everything was fine on the groomer except for the visibility issues from the clouds that rolled in until we hit a couple steeper sections under the powerlines.

Brian was out of sight behind me and as I came over one pitch, I went to turn off my heel-side edge and the board slid out from under me. When I first started to slide I thought it was kind of funny. Then I realized there was no stopping. At all. My efforts to kick the board into the ice and self-arrest were futile and only caused me to spin around. Now I was sliding down the trail on a slab of ice, backwards, on my back. The more I slid, the faster I went. I was easily sliding at 25 to 30 mph for over 100 yards. I noticed I was heading on an angle across the trail and was on a collision course with a rather large tree. And not some flimsy evergreen, but a hardwood. I somehow managed to spin myself back around at the last moment and kicked into a pile of snow near the edge of the trail. Since I was travelling too fast to just come to a stop -- which is fortunate as my knees would have been shot if I had -- but rather bounced into the air and crashed down on a pile of ice and snow. Thankfully I had my helmet on.

Brian came over the rise shortly after I came to a stop, but I was too shaken up to get much of a warning yell out to him. He made it through the first twenty yards or so of the hill and just as I was beginning to think he was going to make it safely down this crazy iced-over hill, he fell. Like me, he at first thought it was kind of funny but upon realizing he was out of control in an unstoppable slide, he too began to worry. He didn't even notice me on the side of the hill near the trees as he slid past but I could see the terror in his eyes. Sliding on your back at 30mph towards the trees is not a sensation I ever wish to feel again. Brian said he began to see the trees and somehow used his butt to push himself just enough back towards the center of the trail to make it past the treeline to a trail merger about twenty yards past where I stopped.

I walked the rest of the way over to him and in unison we both said we needed to go home before someone seriously got hurt. We slowly made our way to the lift at the bottom and took it back up to the top of the mountain. From there we had a gentle corduroy cruise back to the base and went inside and turned in our lift tickets. Our excursion down the Mill Valley side of the mountain took us past the one-hour limit you have to get a voucher for another day, but when we explained what happened, they decided to give us a break. We got vouchers to come back another day this season.

If you're the type of skiier or boarder who simply must ride no matter the conditions and don't mind sticking to the groomers then yesterday would have been okay. I'd rather not ride at all than stay on the corduroy. And when going off the groomers even on gentle hills that normally wouldn't be worth mentioning can result in such near-disastrous slides, then there is no reason to ride at all. Brian agreed. Despite having flown 3000 miles he wanted to leave whether we got vouchers or not.

We salvaged the day by having a good lunch in Seattle with Kristin and then going home and finishing up the guidebook I was working on. I never thought I'd say it, but I actually enjoyed working last night a hell of a lot more than I did being on the slopes.

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