One Weird Ski Season

One Weird Ski Season

From JAPOW to rain, closed resorts to powder skiing, the last two weeks have been emblematic of this crazy, weird, maddening La Niña winter

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From JAPOW to rain, closed resorts to powder skiing, the last two weeks have been emblematic of this crazy, weird, maddening La Niña winter

By Rodney J. Auth

The wind howled––gusting to over 60 mph and closing Tazawako Ski Resort in Semboku, Akita, Japan. Our guide for the week, Patric, a native New Zealander, gathered the group in the lobby of the lodge and grimaced as the wind did its best to rip the roof off the building.

“Boys,” he said, “La Niña is a little bitch. We’re going to outsmart her and move to a different resort––one that faces west and, hopefully, out of the wind.”

With nothing else to do but agree, we nodded and followed him to the van. Our first day in Japan was off to a good start. We loaded up and drove down the mountain, heavy snow turning to sideways rain, wind pushing the van consistently across the center line and making those in the back carsick.

The van rounded a corner, and suddenly the wind died––blocked by a different mountain range. As we neared Shizukuishi Ski Resort––number two for the day––we climbed in elevation. The rain turned to sleet and then to big, fluffy flakes.

In a flash, the whole group was out of the van and in the lodge, quickly dressing for day one on the slopes. And, what a day one it turned out to be––soft, fluffy powder in the trees, long, low-angle slopes, and lots of giggles. It was awesome. The storm that closed Tazawako stayed with us all week, eventually serving up waist-deep pow shots and endless, soft turns through nicely spaced beech trees as we moved from resort to resort, chasing untracked lines and good times.

Returning to McCall, I drove up the mountain, watching my windshield wipers “beat time to the song on the radio” and marveling at how I left face shots for rain gear. It wasn’t ideal. The next few days, I worked through my jet lag and tried not to get depressed by the weather. On Thursday, I headed up to Brundage for my patrol shift––it rained. Hard. All day.

The next night, I headed to Little Ski Hill for another patrol shift. The only part of the mountain open was the walk-up terrain park. I talked with other patrollers and the folks at Little Ski Hill. Conditions were so bad, they had decided to move the afterschool program to Brundage for the week while they hoped and prayed for new snow, even going as far as throwing a “pray for snow” party where they burned La Niña in effigy. It might have worked.

That night, it started to snow. I joined the family for a day at Tamarack, skiing off the Summit Chair and enjoying the fresh coating of the soft, white stuff. The next day was even better. I joined my daughter and her boyfriend for a day skiing with Payette Powder Guides up at Lick Creek Summit. We drove snowmobiles up Lick Creek Road and toured from the yurts using their day-trip package. The snow was soft and deep—well, not JAPOW deep, but boot-top depth with a firm surface underneath, perfect for easy, cheater powder turns through the high alpine scrub. We returned to the yurt for a quick shot of whiskey in celebration of a day well-played.

Since then, the weather has been trying to play nice––snow gently falling most days and making my weekday Nordic sessions with my wife very pleasant. The snow is also getting me excited for my next round of patrolling and skiing in the mountains. I hope you’re excited, too, because, really, why be any other way. If you get a chance, get out this weekend and play around in the snow––there’s some out there and, I believe, there’s more on the way.

Till next week….

Rodney J. Auth