27 November 2006

Shadowing At The Bowl: Lost & Found, Tail-Roping, and Lots Of Snow

After a holiday of Bird, Beer, and Bond, it was time to hit the freshly-dumped-upon slopes. Early last week, rumors were flying that all the snow coming down up towards Mt. Hood meant that the Ski Bowl would open up Turkey Day weekend. The rumors were later confirmed, causing a bit of a scramble for the patrol to staff-up for the weekend. Hoping I could be of some help, I contacted the hill captain to see if I could shadow for the day, and he welcomed the help.

The drive up on Sunday was interesting. Pouring down rain in town, all the way up until around Welches or so, where it changed to snow. I had my chains this time (they're staying in the Sorento until May), but ended up not using them, as the snow wasn't packed so hard that it was slick. The lot at the east bowl had probably 6" of fresh snow on it, so I slid the Sorento around to see how it felt, then parked in the far corner of the lot.

It was snowing and breezy, so I decided I'd stretch at the patrol room (AKA the 'Palace') instead of by the vehicle. I snapped one shot of the lot area, loaded myself up with my gear and trudged up the hill to the Palace. Fellow apprentice Nick was there as well, as was one of our sled trainers from last weekend. I met with the patroller I was to shadow for the day, Jim, and chatted with the rest of the gang, only one of whom I hadn't met before. Got booted up and ready, geared up complete with avalanche transceiver and radio, and headed off into the not-quite-blizzard to perform our opening procedures.

After prepping a few sleds (de-icing and equipment check), we headed over to the lower bowl and straightened some rope lines and fences, and made sure things were set for the day. Jim was asked to bring a sled up to the top of the bowl where the Rescue Center (RC) is, so he went down and grabbed that. I finished my task and met him below the lift and helped him pull the sled up to the lift. I got to rig it up for loading and take it up myself, then tow it over to the upper bowl lift, where Jim took it up to the RC. We hung around there for a bit to dry off and be available for any cases that got called in. I snapped a shot from the window:

After a while, a call did come in that Jim and I responded to. He went ahead as the first responder while I waited above with a sled in case he needed it. Turned out he did, so I pulled it down, and with the help of another patroller, we got the patient splinted and loaded. Jim asked me to run the tail rope since we didn't have many other patrollers on duty and I'd done it the previous weekend in training. So I did it - my first case on the tail rope. We went down Skyline, then down Mid and Lower Reynolds.

Reynolds wasn't groomed, and thus very chunky with some heavy new snow, so plowing and slipping that was pretty tough work. We got to the bottom and Jim was able to get a snowmobile to take him and the sled from the bottom of the chair up to the west side first aid room. After helping out a little in the aid room, we were back out with a fresh sled pack and took the sled back up to RC.

Jim and I did a few more runs on the upper bowl, making some fresh tracks here and there and just generally enjoying the snow and listening to our radios for cases. Not much happened, except for some false alarms for missing skiers/boarders. One such case had another patroller go out with Jim and I to the western part of the upper bowl and we swept down, looking for anyone who matched the rather poor description we got. We'd gotten most of the way down Gunsight Notch when my left ski tip dug into some deep snow and pitched me out of it. I did a nice flip right over my tips and on my posterior.

'Damn...well at least I didn't slide a hundred feet' was my first thought. I turned uphill and my second thought was instantly realized: 'I bet it went in deep...'

Then more thoughts, some actually verbalized: Oh shit. I can't see my ski. Where did it go? Damn it, I'm never going to find it! No! I have to find it! I can ski down on one ski, probably, but that's not even the worst problem - buying a new pair of skis, or trying to finish my apprentice year on 18-year-old racing skis...oh well, I have a buddy here and a flashlight...start probing...

I repositioned myself and started to try to climb up to where I thought the ski went in -about 15 feet above where I landed. This proved to be quite a challenge, as the snow wasn't packed at all, which means every time I went to step with my free foot, it went into the snow all the way to my hip. The stuff was pretty heavy, so extricating my free leg took a lot of effort. I made a cross with my ski poles and used that to push with, since putting my hand on the snow had the same effect - foomp! shoulder-deep.

After what seemed like 30 minutes of climbing and probing and digging - and cursing - Jim finally found my ski, in the one area of snow we hadn't checked. We'd covered probably 20 square feet of area, and there was a 4 or 5 foot square patch between us. Jim dug the ski out and I stepped back in it, took a breather, and thanked Jim profusely. Then, we were on our way down to the lower bowl. We never did find anyone, but the report of missing skiers turned out to be bogus.

That adventure pretty much ended our day, as we went back up to RC and met up with the rest of the volunteer patrollers after sweep. A nice leisurely run down Skyline and back to the palace put the cap on an interesting day. I offered to buy Jim a drink for finding my ski, but he wouldn't hear of it. "Just stay on the patrol," he said. Works for me.

The adventure wasn't quite complete, however. We found that many of our cars were sort of blocked in by a small berm of snow from when the area operations folks plowed the lot. Fortunately, folks had shovels and the berm wasn't very big or well-packed, so it wasn't too tough to get out of there. The drive home was pretty slow going until we got down towards Rhododendron or so, then people started realizing they weren't driving on snow or ice.

I was pretty beat, but managed not to fall asleep at the wheel on the way home. I'm pretty pleased with the new goggles and helmet. Sunday was the first time skiing in a helmet since my racing days of 17 years ago. It was comfortable and kept my head warm as well as protected. Here's a look at my new Boeri brain bucket and Scott goggles: