Today my friend B and I were supposed to be heading up to Red Heather to take advantage of 40cms of overnight storm snow. Everything went smoothly until a kilometre or so out of the chain up area, when we started losing purchase on the compact slush even with the chains and four wheel drive. While I was trying to coax our way over the steepest rise, the road grader suddenly appeared ahead of us. I had to reverse all the way back to the chain up zone with the grader looming over me, a situation not helped when the passenger side chain fell off the tire and wrapped itself around the suspension.
We set out a second time, and made it around the corner before the wheels started spinning on another steep section. At this point we decided to reverse to the corner, park, and skin the rest of the way up. When we got back around the corner we found a Honda Element that had attempted the drive without chains and become completely bogged down; the driver was spinning the wheels with a rather despairing expression, and rocking back and forth as though that might encourage his car out of the drift. With the aid of some other skiers whose vehicle was handling the conditions better, we were able to get the Element on its way back down the road. But that was when we noticed splashes of coolant underneath my truck.
We didn’t debate what to do for long. We were about 14k up an unpaved mountain road, and 5k above the snowline. Neither of us wanted to take a chance on finding the car devoid of antifreeze late in the day after a long hike. We headed slowly back down the road, dechained, and made our way to the Canadian Tire that has now rescued me from three separate breakdowns (the only three my truck has had in the four years I’ve owned it). I wasn’t sure whether to cheer or pull my hair out when 45 minutes of pressure testing revealed no leak in the coolant system. At this point, our best guess is that all the lurching around on the steep road caused coolant to slop out of the overflow as we came to a stop. Unfortunately by the time we got the diagnosis it was after 1pm, and too late to head back up to the trail.
By unanimous decision, we drove straight to Grouse to salvage what skiing we could from the day. It turned out to be a good plan. When we arrived the snow on south-facing slopes was still soft, the skies were blue, and we were able to get a few really good runs lapping the Peak, Tyee Chute and Expo. We did venture onto Blazes and Hades, but in the shade the bumps were solid ice and we chattered and scraped our way down. Tyee Chute was holding some gorgeous snow, and was the best run of the afternoon.
We only stayed for a few hours, but I was glad we made the stop. It was great to get the Praxis out on some regular groomers; I found myself having far more fun with them than I had on the icy day at Blackcomb. I tried to remember all the tips from Saturday’s lesson, and it really helped with skiing the big moguls on the Peak and kept me carving strongly on some of the scoured slopes lower down. I hit a few little bumps here and there, and it reminded me just how much the Praxis love being in the air. This is a ski that looks for jumps everywhere it goes.
It’s too bad the backcountry tour didn’t come off, but what mattered most was that I spent at least part of the day on snow. Because two years ago today, one mistimed jump in the Whistler terrain park brought my world crashing down around me and afterwards nothing was ever the same again. When it happened, all I could think of was the impact on my skiing. I didn’t realize that it would reshape my entire life. Do I wish it hadn’t happened? Of course. Do I regret the lessons I’ve learned because it did? Not for one second. And right now, I’m just so intensely grateful that I’m physically able to go out there and do the kind of things that I’ve been doing. I will never, ever take this for granted again.