Falling in Love with Winter



Two inches of snow fell last night. It's sitting on another 10 that's accumulated from the last few days. The temperatures have stayed below 25 degrees in the interim creating a nice crispy snow pack. Everything outside is covered in white. The day is just getting started as I contemplate the options.

Every day is a puzzle. What to do? Ride, hike, skin, kite? The pond down the road has fresh snow sitting on ten inches of ice. The wind forecast looks promising with a 15-20mph north breeze building throughout the day. Finding the right conditions for snow kiting can be tricky. You need to have the right surface conditions with thick ice and lots of wind. When those days line up, it's hard to pass up another day of kiting. Today looks like another one of those days.

The skinning has also been really good. Plenty of snow in the woods with only a few tracks. With it snowing each night, older lines are filling in setting up for more untracked possibilities. Corona has really invigorated the skinning scene. With limited numbers allowed at the resorts and everyone's new appreciation for the outdoors, backcountry access has become much more appealing. The biggest challenge may be finding a split board or skins from the currently challenged global supply chain of outdoor equipment manufacturers. So many backcountry trails and lines to explore. I have a good group to follow who really know their way around the woods. Each session reveals a new hike, and new trail, a new descent. So many hidden little stashes. You could spend all winter exploring them all and never repeat the same line.

Then there's the dog. He could use a walk or a run through the woods. Although he's still a little exhausted from chasing me on the kite yesterday. Still, he needs to get some energy out, so he's gotta be part of my plan. But he's only a puppy so skinning is probably not an option.

The water on the burner has come to boil, the french press is packed, and the aroma has me wired even before I've had my first sip. Coffee just tastes better in the winter. Hot drinks on a cold day are a perfect pair. Plus I do my best thinking after a couple extra dark, extra bold cups are pulsing through my veins. I pop open the back door and step outside to get a sense of the early morning temperatures. The air hits my face first and the hairs in my nose crystalize instantly. It's brisk out there, but the dense cold air pushes the remaining traces of slumber out of my head and now I'm awake. The branches on the trees have more sway in the wind from the extra ballast of snow on the limbs. That north wind has been blowing all night and is expected to build throughout the day. Snow kiting is certainly on my mind after a few consecutive days of epic little sessions have left me wanting more.

My phone starts buzzing with messages from the various crews who are all trying to answer the same question. I step off the back deck and feel the snow compress under my foot. There's a unique sound to the snow's compression. It's not a squeak, but more of a crunch with a higher pitch. Differences in air temperature combined with various forms of snow pack create a wide range of boot pack sounds. Some days the crunch is a slightly higher pitch than other days. It all depends on how cold it is and what the snow is like. Walking across a lawn, through the woods, up a hill, or across a parking lot creates a range of sounds that tune you into the type of day you can expect. The more time you spend on snow, the more in tune you become to the variety of conditions.

The vote is to skin and ride the backcountry. The call comes in from my fellow boot packers who have the details of our adventure. Meet at the Park and Ride, jump into one car, and make the drive to Morrisville. The car ride gives us all a chance to get the chatter going and catch up with one another. Tales of other recent hikes along other local ridge-lines fill the transit time while keeping us all excited and engaged in the hike we're about to make. Gear talk is often also included in the conversations as each of us chime in with our latest opinions on binding hardware, split board designs, layering strategies, and anything else related to back country pursuits.

The cars lined up near the trailhead all have similar characteristics. Lots of outdoor stickers on the back windows, some sort of roof rack - most with the box as well. There's a DIY wooden cab on the back of the pickup truck parked in front of us - a clear indicator of the do-it-yourself outdoor purist. These are the telltale signs of fellow winter adventurers. No doubt we were in the right place and clearly we weren't the only ones to hatch this plan today. The timing from car to skinning is critical. You need to start moving soon after exiting the vehicle in order to get your body temperature going before the cold air steals it away. Skins are already in place on the bottoms of our skis and split boards knowing that we'll be hiking before descending.

The hike through the trees is peaceful and quiet. The only sounds coming from the exhales in the group. The trees are covered in 10 inches of fluffy good stuff dampening any sounds and blanketing the area in a deaf silence. We make our way through the switchbacks in single file stopping periodically to shed a layer, a hat, gloves, and anything else at risk of getting wet with sweat. The slight change in temperature and the added light between the trees tells me we're approaching the top of the ridge. We reach the summit and find the look out that gives us the panorama across the valley to the resort on the opposite side. Plenty of skiers and riders over there doing it the other way.

The breeze is kicking in and I can feel the perspiration starting to freeze on my exposed base layer. Time to reach into the pack and pull out my shell. We start peeling off the skins and going through our transition from ascent to descent. The excitement is starting to brew as the anticipation of the ride down reminds us of why we put in the work to get here. I look up to get a sense of where the rest of the group stands in their readiness to head down. No one looks familiar anymore. Everyone is wearing a different outer layer and the hats and sunglasses have been swapped for helmets and goggles. Who are these people? Oh right, this is my crew!

We shimmy over to the entrance of the run and give a quick smirk and a fist pump to one another before dropping in one at a time. I can hear the calls from below as the crew makes their first few turns. The snow is perfect. Light, deep, fast, and cold. I'm finding my line through the trees intersecting with the tracks from the crew below me constantly looking for a few untouched clean areas to float through. The trees are tight, but the negative space between them is what I'm focused on. Hyper alert planning each turn in advance as I keep my gaze down the fall line two turns in advance. I'm finding my rhythm from heel to toe bouncing through the variations in snow depth.

The group stops for a regroup about half way down. Smiles and snow covered faces fill my view. "Well that was pretty epic, huh?!". We plan out the lines for the final pitch reminding those on snowboards to keep their speed through the flats on the way to the parking lot. The bottom half of the run is a little more tracked and the pitch is slightly lower. Creek beds and caverns are the hazards to avoid. I'm following the crew a little closer knowing that the riders in front of me have been through these woods far more times than me. Our lines convene into the exit track -- a well worn path through the powder that speeds us toward the car. I take the time to look behind me to get a glimpse of where we started and the size of the vertical we just completed. An hour hike to the top and a fraction of that time to get down. The nods from the heads of the crew are all unanimously acknowledging that another lap is certainly in order. It's a no-work day so the plan is to break out the skins and circuit these woods until we run out of daylight.

The seasonal transition to winter can be hard for a lot of us. Let's face it, summer is a tough act to follow. The winter months have less daylight, more gray skies, and frigid cold temperatures -- I get it. But the beauty is there every day and the opportunity to play is relatively short lived before spring swings around the corner. Plenty of you are already die-hard winter enthusiasts who can't get enough of the winter months. For those of us who love to get outside during these months, take the time to spread the vibe by bringing a few newcomers with you for the ride. Find someone that could use some help finding the beauty of winter and share the essence and experiences that made you the snow lover you are today. You'll no doubt brighten that person's day and remind them of the value and place that winter months have on our psyche and well being.

The love of winter was the inspiration for our See Change Session climate summit taking shape on March 24th & 25th. What better way to protect our winters than to focus on the very things that threaten their future. This event will be the first in a series of thought-provoking summits focused on complex issues that threaten our environment. We have a stacked list of partners including Signal Kitchen, 1% for the Planet, Parley for the Oceans, Protect Our Winters (POW), Burton Snowboards, Beta Technologies, Bank of the West, Sierra Nevada Brewing and others. Our keynote speakers include Yvon Chouinard - founder of Patagonia, Donna Carpenter - owner of Burton Snowboards, Kate Williams - CEO of 1% for the Planet, and our home town hero Kyle Clark of Beta Technologies. This first session will take place virtually, but I look forward to the day that we can all meet up again in person at Hula to further forge relationships and strategies to protect the places, spaces, and lifestyles we've come to love. I hope you'll all take a moment to visit the See Change website to learn more about the event and ways you can contribute toward a more sustainable future.

There's another snow storm in the forecast. New snow is expected again tonight. I'm headed to bed with a comfortable feeling of exhaustion but a slight twinge of excitement as I start working to solve the puzzle that tomorrow's morning will bring.

Enjoy,
Russ