Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of The Odds Are Good, a semi-regular column by Heather Hansman about real life stories in the ski world and things like beards, living in shacks, and getting adopted by a ski town.
From my bathroom window in Seattle, when the sky is clear, you can see Mount Rainier looming. I spend a lot of time on the toilet staring at that mountain. Around here, the cloud ceiling tends to lift in June and the hulking cone of Rainier hangs in the distance, just past downtown, better looking than anything else around it. Storms swirl around it and you can see it holding snow.
Sometimes, after a good long ski season, I can wait till August or maybe even longer before I start to get restless. I can be content with sunshine and bike rides. But this year, after a categorically disappointing winter, the jones, that antsy feeling that you should be skiing right now, came back early. Staring at the snowfields every morning didn’t help. Eventually, a crew of us decided we should go ski the volcano staring us in the face.
Pulling skis out of the garage in flip-flops, it can be kind of hard to remember what to pack: which layers, how many beers. On Friday we loaded the truck with coolers, boots, and camping gear and headed south and west. We camped below the snowfield, still in sandals and T-shirts, although the temperature dropped at night.
We pulled in to the Paradise parking lot early Saturday, but we were far from the only ones there. The lot was packed with summertime pilgrims. Not just skiers, but climbers with ropes strapped around their packs and tourist families milled about the trailhead. Ranger Scotty Barrier said that he’d been on some kind of rescue every day for the last eight days. He looked tired and skinny.
From Paradise, we skinned up the Muir Snowfield, peeling layers as we went, feeling the familiar ache of tight hip flexors. We were trying to time the corn cycle, to ski down somewhere between refrozen crud and thigh-deep mashed potatoes. Down low, the snow was pockmarked with yesterday’s dirt-rimmed sun cups. It had been a while since it had snowed. For the first mile or so we had to dodge climbers, and in some places the sun has already burned through to dirt. Our route climbed 5,000 feet over nine miles, and it felt hotter as we climbed higher
At the top lip of the snowfield, we stripped skins, re-layered, and cracked Rainiers—couldn’t not. To the south, we could see the snow-skimmed peaks of Adams and Hood, objectives for another jonesy day. Like any good addiction, knowing where your next hit is coming from gives you peace of mind. We put our shells back on, built and hit a smushy kicker in the quickly-softening snow, and skied down. The first few hundred feet felt like hero skiing: corned up, perfectly soft, perfectly smooth, steep enough that you could let your skis run. We traced the edge of the Paradise glacier, skiing fast, then turned back toward the parking lot, making our way through the sticky lower elevation slop, knees beat by the time we hit the car. Going into the day, I thought it’d be a fix to cure my jones until the fall. But I was wrong. Like any scratched itch, the urge to ski flamed up more. By the time we rolled out of the park gates we were starting to plan our next trip.