Why We Ski the North West| Ode to Rain, and Bottomless Pow, and Spring Skiing

Chaz Diamond |

IMG_4825e (1)Trees, trees, minigolf, and more trees.

North America has endless terrain options. Except for the Mississippi River Valley you can ski coast to coast. From the weathered Southern Rockies to the rugged Northern Rockies, West past Utah all the way to California, East and North to the tip of Maine, even South Carolina.

After sampling the goods in various corners of the U.S., including 4 years in Colorado, and as far abroad as New Zealand, the slow pull of the North West always brings me back. The root of this attraction runs deep, and is due in part to learning to ski here. In middle school the Saturday ski bus carried us out of the city to Summit-at-Snoqualmie in rain, snow, or (rarely) shine, with traffic blazing down I-90 a snowball’s throw away.

IMG_4799Nuking. 1 foot of heavy snow skis bottomless!

It’s deeper than that though. Part of it is the weather; winter in the North West is wet. The sky is a passive aggressive tv-static grey for weeks on end in the city, but in the mountains the sky opens up and storm totals regularly break 10 feet. While the snow can be heavy and storms can turn to rain, it is reliable. Rain events are not season ruiners, but can be part of the regular pow cycle where storms come in hot then the temperatures drop as arctic air moves in. In February this year skiing in Washington and Oregon went from July conditions to full-on winter in a matter of days. There’s nothing quite like North West snow, hot pow. The snow in the region is denser than what falls further inland but has its perks. With the denser powder (not slush) one foot of snow can ski bottomless turning what could be dust on crust into a playground.

rockmountaintournov7Early season can transform from rocks to powder in a matter of days. Early November touring.

The terrain in the North West is just different enough. While skiing in Colorado, A-Basin was hands down my favorite place, because the steeper terrain, wide open bowls, and gladed trees lower down felt like home. Most of the skiing in the PNW is below treeline, and when touring the term ‘green out’ replaces ‘white out’ for when you lose your way slogging through miles of forest.¬†Whatever the snow falls onto, it sticks, turning rock faces into pillow lines and mini spines and transforming evergreens into rounded monuments paying tribute to the snow.

stevenspassoldgrowthOld growth, new pow. Near Stevens Pass, WA.

Above treeline and on volcanoes the terrain is shaped by rockslides and glaciers, leaving steep open bowls that end in tree runs. Not trees so tight you can’t turn, but open glades that transition to tall timber that is open underneath. On volcanic peaks 360 degrees of wind sculpt windlips and natural hits onto open faces making features that stretch the imagination.

rainierfixedOn the approach to Camp Muir on Rainier, around 8,500′

When winter turns to spring and skiers nationwide are getting some last turns before summer, Volcano touring season is just getting started. Volcano touring is some of the most fun you can have on skis; yes the walk up is long, but the view from the top is fantastic, and 5,000 feet of spring corn is never a bad time. With a long line of volcanic peaks, ranging from Shasta in the South to Mt. Baker in the North, there are enough options for years of weekend adventures without a repeat. Beyond touring, you can ride chairlifts well into june and ski corn snow to your heart’s content while drinking cheap Mexican beer. Skiing is only forgotten about between the months of August and October.

In a region that is a part of both snowboarding and ski history the attitude and mutual respect skiers and snowboarders share is inspiring. In other places there is a division between skiers and boarders, but those boundaries are blurred over shared stoke and tall cans of PBR in the PNW. No, we don’t claim to be the raddest, biggest or have the gnarliest terrain, but we have enough options to challenge expert skiers and the attitude to say ‘fuck it’ and have a good time, even when its raining. Whether you stand sideways or ride two hippy sticks you are part of a tribe that will keep skiing when the pow turns to rain, when the clouds lift and the sun is blinding, or when the snow piles up eyeballs deep in the middle of a storm cycle.

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