After the late December storms, the Sea to Sky plunged into the longest dry spell that I can remember. A dirty ridge let the clouds flirt with the Whistler mountains without ever delivering. A few centimetres here and a few centimetres there promised storms that never came. Only Baker offered moments of redemption.
With no backcountry companions on hand to chase down the stashes of decent snow that remain, I’ve been waiting for the forecast to improve. It looks like things might finally be turning around toward the end of this week. And in the meantime, two friends and I went on a combined ski and snowshoe hike that at least gave me a dozen or so untracked turns to keep me going until the day that the snow returns.
The Diamond Head access road was bereft of snow until halfway to the parking lot from the chain up area, which is testament to just how dry things had been. The Red Heather trail itself was shrouded in low cloud until we left the warming hut and started to make our way up to the ridge. As we emerged onto the shoulder of Round Mountain, we finally broke through the cloud into blue skies and mountaintops floating above the cloud.
Being a Saturday the trail was littered with skiers and snowshoers, so we left the marked route and climbed to the ridge just below the true peak of Round Mountain. Out of the sun the snow was waist deep and surprisingly light. In my excitement I fell over my own skis trying to turn around, and then had to wallow through the snow to a spot where I could transition. My snowshoe buddies headed downwards, and I locked my heels in and followed.
I’d been worried that the sun-warmed snow would be heavy and hard to ski, but in fact it was anything but. I dropped down from the ridge, took a long, low turn back toward the trail, and then let the speed carry me to the top of a steep knoll. Beautiful knee-deep turns followed until the slope flattened out and I let my skis carry me back to the warming hut.
I dug a snow pit and did some profile testing as I waited for my snowshoe buddies at the warming hut, and then we all left the sun behind as we dropped back into the cloud and made our way down the trail to the car.
It may only have been one run, but it was a few hundred metres of untracked turns after way, way too long without. This is the challenge of the backcountry: when you’re learning, you really don’t want to be out there alone. I’ve been exceptionally lucky in that I’ve had someone of a similar ability level to ski and learn with, but when our schedules don’t line up it’s not like an inbounds day where you can head out solo. The compromise with the backcountry is that safety always comes first, no matter how much you’re jonesing for untracked turns. I’m just glad I got this run in, and that the sun shone on my brief downhill.