Several months ago in Janaury, I lost my ski on Grouse Mountain, a little ski hill on the North Shore mountains, better known for it's tourist attractions than quality skiing. Most of my friends were baffled when I tried to explain to them how I could possibly lose a ski on Grouse. Parting from a ski in an avalanche, or in deep powder in the backcountry sounded more plausible. Somehow with my luck, I lost it on a fifteen degree slope halfway down the Cut, a green run most popular with beginner snowboarders and skiers.
First, I'll have to explain why I was skiing on Grouse. For most of January and February, I had been volunteering with the Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports organization up at Grouse. This is a great group of extremely enthusiastic skiers and boarders, who volunteer a few or many hours during the ski season to assist disabled skiers and snowboarders on either Cypress, Grouse, or Seymour. If you're a skier, have some extra time in the evenings and want to help somebody learn to ski, you should consider volunteering next season. I helped others learn to ski and this turned in a great way to break up the somewhat repetitive nature of my winter. It probably be summarized as, think about skiing, watch the weather, work, watch the weather, think about skiing, look for ski partners, actually skiing on the weekend and repeated week after week from November to May.
One of the early season training days on Grouse Mountain.
I spent most of my time teaching at Grouse Mountain, mostly with one student, who I'll call Brian here. Brian has actually been skiing on Grouse with the adaptive program for quite a few years and the favourite part of his year were the six evenings each winter that he gets to spend on the slopes. I get a pretty big grin when I'm skiing powder in the mountains, but I don't think I could have matched Brian's smile up on the groomers at Grouse. Brian's challenge was that his right side was immobile. We got around this by using a long wooden pole with which Brian would grab onto with one arm, guided by instructor on either side for balance and support. Most of the evenings were spent on a run known as Paradise, which is barely steep enough for water to roll down, yet still poses a challenge to learning skiers with an awkward fall-line that directs skiers into the chairlift. Most evenings were spent here, making very slow and wide turns. It doesn't sound too hard, but remember that there are three different brains and three pairs of skis all loosely connected together. Falling was a common theme of every evening. But a few evenings in, Brian was starting to feel more confident and we were ready to go and ski down the Cut.
After a few warm up laps on Paradise, we were impressed that Brian was doing everything he should be to ski well, such as pivoting his skis, maintaining a good balanced stance and edging with his good leg. Despite the fact that it was actually snowing quite hard (yes, the North Shore does get it's powder evenings), we all felt good about the challenge of skiing down the Cut. Most of my blog readers are probably excellent skiers and it might be hard for them to imagine the difficulties on such a benign ski run. The problem isn't that this 1000ft run contains a few sections as steep as fifteen degrees, but the fact that this is the next step up in ski run from Paradise, which has maybe 50ft of vertical descent and I think that might be generous. To go from a flat slope to a slope with a consistent pitch is a big step up in the ski learning curve. And then there's the crowds plus the lack of leg endurance that comes from only skiing a very short run like Paradise.
We shuffled our way over to the top of the Cut, Brian in the middle, the two other instructors on the other side, while I observed from behind. I watched the group make the first turns, hands firmly gripped on the wooden pole, with synchronized leg movements. We were doing it, Brian was smiling, the snow was soft and everything felt in control. I watched as the group negotiated the first crux of the Cut, a short "steep" pitch by traversing most of the slope.
After a few more turns, the inevitable happened. Another challenge of the Cut is the numerous snowboarders who line the slope. The stopping power of Brian and the instructors wasn't fast enough as they mowed over a snowboarder, who probably wasn't doing anything other than just sitting on the slope. A yard sale ensued, with skis everywhere. I rushed over to Brian to give him a hand getting up. Brian's a big guy and I'm a bit of a weakling, so I had to take off my skis to get into a good stance to lift him onto his feet. The other instructors were helping too. In the midst of all of this, one my skis was kicked from it's flat position, and went flying down the Cut. One of the problems with my telemark skis are the lack of ski brakes. I didn't get it at first when somebody said, "your ski is getting away." I turned around after a brief pause of confusion and noticed that my skis were no longer a pair. I didn't even see which direction it went.
We finished getting Brian back onto his feet and skis, and then I began my futile search that evening for my ski. Where could it go? Somebody must have seen it go by, but nobody seemed to have noticed it. I walked up and down the sides of the Cut, criss-crossed the bottom of the Cut and eventually gave up and left a note with the liftie. I had a terrible feeling that the groomer would crush my ski into a million wooden splinters the next morning. I thought of going up there to look for it, but the winter storms continued. Over the next week, another metre of snow fell on top. And then it continued to snow non-stop. Within a month, the snowpack had doubled to over 475cm, at least that's what Grouse reported. I gave up any hope of finding the ski until the summer. The search for my ski would become my summer project.
A steady supply on much needed sunshine finally arrived in May, which translated to fast melting snow on south aspects in my mind. On a sunny Friday evening, I knew it was time to try to find my ski. Another pair of eyes would have been great for the search, but I don't know too many people willing to waste a sunny evening crashing through the bush and postholing through snow, when they could be relaxing on a sunny patio somewhere. I hiked up the BCMC trail to the Grouse Chalet and then began my search. I knew I had lost my ski at Chair 7, roughly halfway down the Cut. I was mostly alone in my search as I began to traverse the cut, trying to jog my brain on the last sighted location of my ski. My strategy was to start on one side, hike down through the trees and then run back up on the snow to check the other side afterwards. It was easier to bushwack downhill and then run up the snow than the other way around. I must have been getting strange looks from the couple who were sitting on the grass. In addition to the city views, they also got to watch my strange and erratic search pattern.
Fresh corduroy on the Cut, perfect for running downhill.
Numerous demoralizing moments came and went as I scrapped my legs against fallen trees, only to find many empty beer cans, a delaminated Kazama topsheet, a few broken ski poles, a couple broken cellphones and another old defunct alpine ski. I was just about to give up for the evening. There were three likely possibilities, my skis were still somewhere in the forest, the skis were past the bottom of the Cut, or somebody found them. Those thoughts cycled through my head numerous times. And then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted my ski. It was sitting topside up at the bottom of the Cut, barely blemished and some rust on the edges as the only sign of a wet coastal winter. It was just lying there, next to broken blackberry. I couldn't believe my luck.
My business on the Cut was done for the season. I thought I would be coming up here more than a few days, making intricate searches in the woods and long sweeps along the Cut. If there's an ideal place to lose a ski, that place might just be here, on a south facing low elevation ski run close to home.
Am I happy? You bet!