When S and I arrived at the Diamond Head parking lot on Saturday, things didn’t look good. The Christmas Eve rain had saturated what little snow remained lower down, and then the falling freezing level had turned it into slick, glassy ice. We started out on foot but switched to skins as soon as we were clear of the little rocks that peppered the first section, since it was impossible to walk on.
As we climbed the ice finally transitioned to very hard snow that took us all the way to the warming hut, where some hardy campers had lit an early morning fire while they planned their descent on magic carpets (!) At this point we were both feeling like we might have come out for a nice walk on the snow and not much else, since nothing was looking very skiable. Fortunately the clouds were clearing, and it was a beautiful day to be out in the mountains.
(Photo credit: Sierra Laflamme)
As we climbed through the meadows to the lookout the snow started to look and feel a lot better, with a few centimetres of fresh sitting on top of the rain crust. We dug a pit just above the lookout and found layers in the obvious places, but nothing terribly reactive. The drifting cloud made for neat views, with mist obscuring the view ahead and the odd peak emerging with startling clarity.
The turns were surprisingly good. The rain crust wasn’t too icy and the new snow made for a slick, fast surface. We got bounced around a little crossing our old tracks and the flat light was a periodic challenge as we descended into the cloud, but it was so much better than conditions had indicated lower down. We clocked up five runs in total, all of them well worth the effort it had taken to get there. And then it was time to face the ski out.
It was clattery but reasonable going until we reached the diamond-hard, glassy ice on the lower stretch of the trail. Here I found that with some extremely aggressive edging it was possible to maintain control in either a sideslip or a snowplough. Not pretty, but at least doable on skis. For S on the splitboard, it was more challenging. Necessity being the mother of invention, he came up with the brilliant idea of putting his skins on backwards and walking down the trail. He made it look so easy that I stopped to do the same, knowing that the little rocks were going to force me off my skis soon anyway.
It worked perfectly. Our gait was a little funny given that none of our gear was designed for walking downhill, but the skins provided fantastic traction and enabled safe passage over what would otherwise have been a pretty sketchy walk.
Beautiful views, fun turns, and a small adventure on the way down. Another good day in the mountains.