Return of the Snow Ghost – A Trip Report

Post by blogger | February 14, 2012      

The calendar says it’s winter, but like much of the country you find yourself wondering if that’s true this year. Here in Pacific Northwest Montana, and points beyond, the cold months typically bring with them cold temps, moisture in the form of snow and rime, and that creates snow ghosts. These rime covered trees look like spirits in the often cloud-enshrouded mountains. The mountains aren’t feeling very haunted this winter.

I’ve felt like a snow ghost myself lately. Less a frequent and physical presence in the backcountry, but more an apparition that occasionally materializes briefly before vanishing again. Changes in my life have affected my access to the mountains in the winter. Between moving, finding new ski partners and having a little girl, you happily make sacrifices to the life you used to live. Having access to a ski resort via a 15 minutes bus ride that picks up 6 blocks from my house has served as quite the distraction as well.

I want to go to there; where heaven meets earth...unless it all comes crashing down on you.

After little more than a couple hut trips and a handfull of tours in the last two winters, I was feeling the need to reappear into the hills and have an adventure. I had this realization at 8:45pm on a Saturday night. Not helpful. Fortunately a well placed text message was well received and by 9pm the group had plans for coffee and departure the following morning.

The next morning we meet, caffeinate, pick a highway East and drive. We have half an hour to decide on a destination still. Maps and the day’s avalanche forecast on-hand for where ever we end up.

I’m often anxious on backcountry tours to get to the top and start skiing. I don’t always appreciate the climb. Heading toward Rescue Creek this day, I thought nothing of it. I was just happy to stretch the legs and chat with friends. The service road and forest trail were behind us in no time, a thousand feet of alder bushes barely phased me. I was just happy with where I’d materialized this day. I was starting to feel grounded here.

Dylan ascending out of the clouds, only to be re-immersed in them moments later.

This is when I started to feel like a ghost again.

You see, here in Southern “Canada,” on the Eastern border of the Pacific Northwest we have what a Coloradan would call “gray.” This neutral color is known to encompass the entire sky, and often comes down chicken little-style to engulf entire mountains and the valleys surrounding them.

As if to spite the sunglasses we had so hopefully packed, the sky descended, and we began to walk in a white orb. Noah would disappear just 30 yards ahead of me. Erin, Dylan and I hunkered back like Velma, Shaggy and the Scoob. W-w-what was that?!

I know it's blurry, but this is the elusive NoBod skier, I swear.

In all honesty, there were things hiding in the gray to be scared of. We had a couple thousand feet of mountain hanging above us. My brain said natural avalanches were unlikely, but my gut always doubts my brain…and I appreciate that. In the end we rose to the safety of the ridge line saddle.

The small experiences are as a part of being out there as the skiing. Some great crystals forming on the trees on the ridge line.

A short ridge climb further and we reached our objective. Some less exposed trees with well anchored snow. A little exploring in the fog and a pit later showed us what we’d hoped for, a green light to ski. One at a time we pushed off and disappeared, not into overhead blower, but into the gray room. Surfing turns through the trees that faded into and out of view I found a safe spot and radioed for the next person to drop in. I could hear turns being made, that type of snow that almost sounds like sand, but skis like powder. Waiting for a visual I saw a shadow move just 20 yards out. Then nothing. Then the clouds opened a bit and Noah was just below me. This continued. All of us drifting in and out of each others consciousness. Floating through a fine moment in existence.

Some apparitions are more clear than others. Noah's focus is clear here.

Another lap, a ski lost and found in the clouds and some surprisingly good willow skiing has us back at the trail. A quick luge run and coast down the service road had us driving back to civilization for burgers and drink leaving the gray behind, until my next visitation…

(Guest blogger profile: Dave Downing, his wife Jessica and daughter Lucy live in Whitefish, MT, where he is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab. Dave has been told that there is nothing to see in Montana, so please move along.)


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5 Responses to “Return of the Snow Ghost – A Trip Report”

  1. Caleb February 14th, 2012 5:13 pm

    Hmmm, just skied cascade creek via the skhumah ridge. Cascade was full of un-skiable alders. What a horrible display of skiing it was. Although I should known cause the last time I skied it there was 16 ft of snow on the ground. Guess I should have hopped one drainage over to rescue and went higher. Thanks for the report.

  2. Frame February 15th, 2012 6:04 am

    Nice writing

  3. Gentle Sasquatch February 15th, 2012 6:52 am

    refreshing photography. I definitely enjoyed the photos. Thank You.

  4. dave downing February 15th, 2012 8:29 am

    @caleb, it wouldn’t have taken much less snow to make some of the lower skiing out of Rescue a bad experience instead of an entertaining one. Thx for the note on Cascade’s conditions.

    @sasquatch, glad you like the shots, days like that make for great experiences, but much harder photography than bluebird days for a hack like me.

  5. tony s February 20th, 2012 1:05 pm

    That looks and sounds like a dream to me. I was so looking forward to getting up there this winter, but gimpdom has struck again. Two years in a row, ugh, talk about access to the mountains not being what it used to be for a brotha. Thanks for the words and pics.

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