A Long Walk In The Woods — Patrol Race 2018

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 28, 2018      
Bluebird welcomes us on mile 14

Bluebird welcomes us on mile 14.

I woke Saturday morning to my phone buzzing with a Crystal Mountain powder alert. Normally I’d be heartbroken to know I couldn’t gobut not today. I was about to participate in a challenging adventure. Krystin, Theresa and I were excited to take a quiet walk in the woods and experience a different kind of vibe on this February pow day.

What is this adventure you may ask? The one keeping us from letting snow repeatedly hit our face? You’d think it must be awesome and full of powder. Well, it isbut mostly involves walking on said powder and skiing on it with skins still attached to our skis.

The Patrol Race is a ~19 mile, 5000 foot vertical route tucked away in a somewhat remote area between Snoqualmie and Stampede Pass. The race originally started in the 1930s and ran for twelve years, “producing tales of both misadventure and great ski prowess”. In 2014, The Mountaineers and a few vivid enthusiasts decided to bring the race back into the 21st century. The race resurrected in 2014 and has occurred almost every year since.

Krystin and I participated in 2016, when we were blessed with a day full of rain. I remember saying that I’d never want to do the race again. But, here I was, psyched to give the race another go, feeling a lot more confident about the route and my options for travel decisions. Plus, my downhill skinning techniques have improved 100% after all of my adventures with Louie Junior.

To race, a team must be selected via lottery. Every member of the team must have completed an AIARE Level 1 course. We were lucky and snagged a spot. Yay, lady power! We named our team “Ski Like a Girafficorn” and prepared for nothing but magic.

Our team spent a considerable amount of time tracking the weather, talking about conditions and options as the race day quickly approached. Lots of snow was forecast for the day before the race. The weather and avalanche forecast was making me uneasy, ranking at “considerable” at all elevations, with a persistent deep slab as one of the primary avalanche concerns. Persistent slab is not a typical hazard for Washingtonians and thus not something we are that good at managing.

Generally speaking the terrain of the course is fairly low angle and tucked away in the trees, but there are a few small areas of avalanche terrain that must be crossed. Our primary concerns were: something big coming at us unexpectedly from above; as well as the hazard of racers skiing on top of one another to beat time in the the open areas of the route.

The organizers did an assessment of the route the day before the start. A few professionals helped scrutinize conditions and dig pits in areas of possible danger from above. After an analysis of results and summary discussion, they decided the race was a go. With that said, each team was given the option to drop out if they did not feel that the conditions would be safe for travel, with a full refund of racer registration.

Race day arrived with a “considerable” avy forecast above treeline, “moderate” below, and the anticipated 15+ incoming inches of snow over 24 hours shrunk to just 5 inches overnight. Our team made the call to give the race a go, with an agreement that we would turn around if we started feeling uncomfortable with the risk. That’s probably one of the unique and most fulfilling components of this race: the 3-person teams are expected to work together, make decisions together and support each other throughout the day. To complete the race, all three racers have to get to the finish line.

We started the race at 6:30am up at Summit West and quickly emerged into the snowy woods. The snow was still coming down, but the skin track was already set as there were volunteers who had broken trail earlier that morning, as well as teams who had started in front of us. Throughout the day we experienced heavy snowfall, light snowfall, overcast and even partly sunny conditions. Welcome to the PNW where the weather can never make up its mind!

We did see some old evidence of avalanche activity during the steep sidehill portion of the race, as well as a small slide on a rollover that was clearly kicked off the day of the race by someone eager to take a slightly higher traverse track to keep speed. Nothing that created big concerns for us or made us want to turn around. Overall, everyone in the race was very respectful of precautions taken by the other teams, and no one was trying to skin or ski on top of each other. It’s excellent to see our community come together for a race but still prioritize safety.

Traversing...Spot the small crown in the back. Only avalanche activity we saw that day

Traversing.. Spot the small crown on the left. Only avalanche activity we saw.

The race is long, challenging and gorgeous. 20 miles feel just about as long as expected. I might have found my true self coming out right about mile 15 on that skintrack, right as I realized that I had eaten all of my tastiest snacks for the day. I was blessed by wonderful teammates who supported me with their tasty snacks. With that said, it is truly an amazing experience I would recommend to everyone to really be one with your skis.

Crossing Mirror Lake.

Crossing Mirror Lake.

We crossed two checkpoints where stoked volunteers fed us cookies, and hot chocolate that may or may not be spiced with a little extra something to warm us up. This year, there was even a full pot over the fire with delicious elk stew. I love this community!

Our team completed the race in just over 8 hours, improving our time from the year prior. During the whole race, we transitioned three times, with two transitions happening about one mile from the finish. I did have snow hit my face at least once on the ski down towards the finish at Meany Lodge. (No, I did not fall, although my legs sure were tired.)

After beer and snacks at Meany Lodge followed by a brief awards ceremony, we piled up into the old snowcat that transported us back to the parking lot. What a day! Can I say I won’t do it again? I felt that way the day after the race, but now that it’s been a while, my guess is I’ll probably be back at it next year!

If you want to learn more about the race, you can check out the details here. Shout-out to the volunteers who helped make the race happen. It truly felt like a big family!

For those who are curious, a track of the route can be found here

It’s always important to reflect on decisions made during tricky conditions. Just the day after the race, in an area nearby, a number of snowmobilers picked a bad spot to have lunch and had an avalanche came at them from above. The avalanche occurred at 4600k elevation with average depth of 40 cm, SSE aspect and was quite large. There was one fatality. Reading about the incident struck up a discussion between Theresa, Krystin and me, questioning if it was safe to be out where we were just the day before. As I look back on the choices that we made and the things we saw, I feel confident and comfortable with the decisions made, conditions, and the route that we took. With that said, we had a well assessed skin track set in front of us that served as a solid stability test at times. I give a high five to those who broke trail and evaluated risk as they set the course.


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6 Responses to “A Long Walk In The Woods — Patrol Race 2018”

  1. Chris March 28th, 2018 2:35 pm

    Nice work, girls!

  2. ryan March 28th, 2018 6:48 pm

    Sounds like a fun event and a great day out in the hills with friends. Glad everyone stayed safe.

    Random question, is that you with the blue showa/atlas gloves? How do you like them for skiing in the northwest? Been thinking about getting a pair…

  3. R Meade March 30th, 2018 3:03 pm

    Julia – Great article on a special & historic event. Good call out for the elk stew at checkpoint 1.

    I have copyright on the first two images in this article. Request you remove the wildsnow.com watermark and add a photo credit.

    Hope to see you next year on the course

  4. Lou Dawson 2 March 30th, 2018 5:21 pm

    Hi R, sorry about the confusion with the images, we watermark all images that way (automatically, while installing) as they’re under a compilation copyright, but we most certainly want to give credit where credit is due. We need to contact you in private and insure publication rights, so we’ll do so, meanwhile we will remove the images. Thanks for getting on it right away. Lou

  5. Lisa Dawson March 30th, 2018 5:22 pm

    R Meade, my apologies. I should have checked with Julia before publishing the photos. I removed them. Thank you.

  6. Julia April 5th, 2018 6:39 pm

    Ryan –

    Yup, you spotted right! That is me 🙂 Love the gloves, the ones I have – they have a very light liner in them.

    Find the gloves here.

    Not warm by any means, but good enough in my opinion and definitely keep your hands dry. These ones do have some breathing power too. Great buy for the north west, plus you get all the style points!

    R Meade –

    Thank you for a great event! I apologize about the photos, I meant to leave a note for Lisa but forgot. Thank you for noting!

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