In the Coast Mountains, it’s not often that early season skiing starts at the end of December. This year, just like last year, is a late starting snow season. Somehow, during the years we have lived in Vancouver, almost every snow year is “out of the ordinary”, unusual or atypical in some way. Perhaps it’s global warming causing the weather to be more variable. Either way, we take what we can get.
I picked up Doris, Avery, Matt and Mary. When we left Vancouver it was raining hard, and apparently continued raining for much of the day. We drove up the Sea to Sky, placing empty bets on when we would finally see some snow. Driving up the road to Callaghan, the road suddenly became snowy, earlier and lower than anticipated, so we were all happy, but I was starting to think that I should have switched to snow tires already. We arrived to the gate precisely at 8:30am, right when they open, and bought the mandatory $10 backcountry pass. At the parking lot, of course Matt was rearing to go while the rest of us were still getting into our ski boots and adjusting our gear.
We were able to skin straight from the car. At the impressively signed trail head, once we entered the forest, there was no snow or very little, so we had to carry our skis for about an hour. This was the same section I had helped clear on a work hike, so I was happy to think of all the alder and blueberries we had cleared that day and would not have to push our way through.
Once the snow got deeper, we were all happy to start skinning again – skis are heavy and cumbersome to carry. In the open sections the snow was deep and heavy, making for difficult trail breaking, later the light went flat and I could barely tell if the white in front of me was a small bump or a big hole.
When we reached Hanging Lake, it was just a few minutes before noon, so it was pronounced time for “lunch number one”. Matt pulled out an uber-impressive sandwich with a thick hunk of ham, worthy of the Alpine Sandwiches website. I soon pulled out my own sandwich, turkey meatballs on homemade macadamia-raisin bread, not to brag or anything… Our original plan had been to go to Gin Peak, but we could already see that visibility would be bad, so we decided to yo-yo ski the slopes above Hanging Lake instead. The snow was sticky but we all whooped and yipped as we enjoyed the first turns of the year as well as some impressive face plants (at least on my part).
The ski down was a bit challenging at times, since bushes, rocks and small trees that are covered later in the season were fully exposed. We arrived back to the car and packed hastily, leaving at 4:26pm, just four minutes before the gate officially closes, phew.
As we were driving down I noticed that the road felt slippery. Then came a downhill and we started sliding, very slowly towards the edge of the road and a large ditch… I tried braking, I tried adding some gas, turning the wheel, nothing seemed to make a difference. The car came to a stop – luckily there was a small snow bank at the edge of the road that was just large enough to stop us from landing in the ditch. With one wheel in the air, the combination of everyone pushing and all wheel drive was enough to get us back on the road. The rest of the drive was very slow, since the road was snowy and icy right down to the highway – so much for the forecast of high freezing levels and lots of rain. Winter has definitely arrived, and with it the much anticipated ski season.
That brings to mind an amusing discussion we had on the way up, on what minimum ratio of skiing to hiking would be required for a trip to qualify as a ski trip. We then tried to come up with a name for such trips, such as ski-hiking, hike-skiing, hskiing, etc. Ideas?