By Keith Liggett
Most of my years since graduating from college have been spent in mountain valleys. Many of those years I spent in a now famous valley I’ll leave un-named for the same reason I don’t tell people of my favorite fishing holes on well known rivers. While I may no longer have it to myself on the best of days, I’ll take you there, but not send you there.
In this particular valley, a torturous winding road over a high pass leaves to the west. The road crosses several avalanche chutes and often closes in the winter. In the late 70’s, they re-routed the road to make it half as torturous as originally built. The engineers designed an arcing concrete bridge over one on the bigger chutes. Avi guru Ed LaChapelle looked at the plans, then at the finished bridge and proclaimed something along the lines of, “It won’t make it through the winter.” The engineers poo poo’d Ed’s claim. “Very, very mighty strong bridge.” and puffed their chests. The bridge stood through Thanksgiving and just before Christmas the chute let loose dropping the bridge into the valley. So much for the Avi vs. Engineering debate. They realigned the road to run on the ground.
The avalanche chute remained unchanged to our delight.
The top of the chute was a brisk 20-minute hike from the summit of the pass. Facing east, we called it Sun-Up Bowl. In the spring, after the snow pack settled and stabilized, mornings would find a motley crew hiking the ridge in the chilly pre-dawn light. Most of the skiers carried alpine gear, but a few of us skied tele.
On the top, where the ridge flattened, we’d gather, sit on grey boulders to watch the sun crest the far side of the valley and light the bowl dropping below our feet. We’d talk about our summer plans. What we did over the winter. Many of us left for other ski areas in the winter and returned for the climbing. This morning ritual became our re-entry into the local skiing-climbing culture.
The snow would be bullet proof when we arrived. Slowly, as the sun rose, the top layer would thaw. In a half hour, sometimes three quarters of an hour, the top inch or two would loosen into perfect corn. Round ice balls the size of large seeds. We’d step into our bindings and drop in one at a time. 1500 feet of pure joy in the early morning.
“No, you go. I had a great shot yesterday.”
The mornings held wonderful politeness and camaraderie. We were all friends on a corn snow morning. After shuttling back up the pass for the car, we’d head into town for huevos rancheros and then to work.
Late April, May and early June ran a series of perfect mornings, one after another.
As the season winds to an end, I think to those days and how we took care of our skis. We were all gear snobs–and I guess some of us still are.
At a friend’s ski shop in town, we’d gather in the evening to prep our skis. Early in the spring, when the moisture content in the snow remained relatively low, we’d simply wax our skis. Later, when the snow became actually wet to the touch, we’d paint on wax and leave it rough to break the snow’s suction.
When skis run over snow, the friction of the ski passing melts the snow crystals. In cold snow, powder, the effect is minimal. As the snow becomes denser and the ratio of water content and air evens out, or becomes weighted toward the water, the effect of the ski passing is more pronounced.
Wax is designed to run on this thin layer of water without resistance from the snow. That’s why there are waxes for different temperatures. The snow is different and the water content is different. The skis run different.
In the spring, more than any other time of the year, ski waxing helps your skiing by allowing your skis to run free. Try it. Take your skis into your favorite shop. Tell them you want a “Wax of the Day” not the usual universal wax. If it’s a good shop, they will oblige. If not, find another shop.
You will be amazed at the difference. Like changing the oil in your car, everything runs a little bit smoother.
Then look for that perfect east-facing bowl. Take the early morning hike and start the day out right.
The huevos taste so much better.