Jaded Rejects #4: Notes from a dying hard drive

By The Jaded Local

Ominous grinding sounds. A flickering screen. The Jaded Laptop is on its last legs. So this week’s Content Upload is going to be the first of several random glimpses from this past winter of weirdness before the damn thing dies entirely.

Part I: Sierra Slitherings with Nate

It was an absurdly huge winter in Mammoth—669 inches starting with the first real storm on Nov. 8 and running almost continuously through the last real powder day on June 6. I spent the a lot of the season traveling, and every time I came home from somewhere cold, desperately hoping for California sun and flip-flops, it would be snowing, just dumping sideways. The ski hill was in insane shape all winter, right up to closing day on the 4th of July, and the big peak descents of the Sierra went from zero to fully stacked during a couple of weeks of non-stop snowfall at Christmas.

According to Mammoth ski patrol, that cycle went a little something like this:

• Dec 18: 31.5 inches
• Dec 19: 31.5″
• Dec 20: 28.5″
• Dec 21: 21″
• Dec 22-29: 39.5″

And of course, thanks to the prevailing winds that accompany every Sierra storm, you can pretty much double those numbers for the deposition zones. There were times when it was snowing so frickin’ hard you could feel it pressing you down.

Needless to say, the Christmas holiday was just a tinch chaotic. Anything that wasn’t dug out continuously was quickly buried; cars, condos, even lift-towers were all easily misplaced overnight. A buddy who’s a tire chain installer made $20,000 that week in the breakdown lane. The roof-alanche hazard was off the charts, and intricate cornice systems overhung road-cut berms. Town became a little maze of white channels, and the street signs vanished.

But the skiing was all time; it was almost comical how every day huge deep drifts of powder would be buried by more huge deep drifts of powder before we could even track them out properly. Big cliffs got smaller and smaller and then disappeared. Chutes became bowls and then turned into weird bulging drifts.

The patrollers put in a characteristically valiant effort—the holiday tourists never had the slightest idea of the life-and-death battle that was raging every morning to knock down the day’s avalanches and keep the lifts spinning. As far as they knew, it was just a normal ski vacation, but behind the scenes it must have been relentless. I sincerely hope that every patroller and lift maintenance staffer took a nice beachy vacation this summer.

Sometime Chamoniard, occasional Powder correspondent, and old-school Mammoth local Nathan Wallace was in town for the early season. We spent the storm cycle skinning the Sherwins, the local frontcountry zone next to my house, laughing our way down lap after lap of ridiculously deep and stable snow.

When people think of skiing here (if they even think of it), they probably think of the park. Or maybe the peaks, the couloirs, and long descents that run all the way out to the desert floor. But Mammoth has got to be the most overlooked powder-skiing zone in the world—when the machine is on, it’s on, and the miracle of maritime snow allows you to ski in what would amount to skull-and-crossbones conditions in a more continental pack. Every day we’d take a couple of blower laps on Chair 22 in the morning, and then skin up from the house and basically go heli-skiing in the backyard.

Nathan and I have both had the good fortune to travel all over and ski some of the world’s great places. We’re both jaded as hell. But as far as I can tell, being able to skin 2,000 feet of over-the-head wind-sheltered northy old-growth out the door is as good as anything the ski world has to offer. You might not be able to afford to go heli-skiing, but you can fly to Mammoth now (from LA, SF, San Diego, and the PNW) and Sherwins laps don’t cost a thing. Skiers will be frantically gangbanging roadside pitches in Little Cottonwood and battling for parking spots on Teton Pass while Mammoth’s equivalent just sits there getting deeper.

The storm cleared out on Jan. 3, and the stability was almost freaky; how 150 inches of snow had somehow neatly bonded and settled in that way I still haven’t gotten used to after 15 years here. So under the first blue skies in what seemed like a month, we headed down Highway 395 to recon the alpine snowpack in the Convict Lake area, just south of town, and see if the big lines had filled in or flushed out or what.

Convict is basically the big-mountain version of the Sherwins, with two main peaks offering a number of ultra-classic 4,000-plus foot frontcountry lines that start from the car with minimal approaches. Description just can’t do the terrain justice (Dolomitesque couloirs, huge hanging bowls, spined-out technical faces…), but the area would hold its own if you stuck it in the middle of any range in the Lower 48. And, unlike every other trailhead on the East Side, there’s a really nice bar at the base.

That day we skinned up to the top of a sub-peak of Mount Morrison (arrow above) and congratulated ourselves for being such Bold Ski Mountaineers, the only ones up there on the first sunny day after the huge cycle. Everything was filled in from the storm, and even the usually stripped out, windward-facing lines were brimming.

About a minute after taking this shot I realized that there was a party dropping into the Mendenhall Couloir, the big face directly below the summit of the peak in the background. We found out later it was locals Christian Pondella and Dan Molnar, along with Tahoe peak skiing machine John Morrison. Our perch was the ultimate Barbie-spot vantage point—watching Morrison dispatch the upper pitch of the massive (4,000 vertical foot) line like it was an Alaska heli-drop was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Morrison’s POV of that run:

Seeing this live was like the big-mountain equivalent of watching jibbers do tricks that were unthinkable just a few years ago. This is what you (or at least John Morrison) can do with modern AT gear before lunchtime, and this is the Current Level for casual BC laps. To be fair, Morrison is an animal, but still…

Within a week or two I was in Silverton, blowing every penny I had on a heli-fueled frenzy, and Wallace was back in France skiing the gnar with the Oakley/Seth Morrison show. But when we spoke on the phone the subject always seemed to come back to just how good those laps on the Sherwins were… Wallace’s rather caffeinated, black metal soundtracked POV of that week can be found here.