More sunshine, warmer temps, and storms with more rain than snow confirm that our season has come to a close. The snowbunnies and ski bums are digging out bikes and rollerblades while varied thrushes sing in the morning and the saw-whet owls fill the night with music. Migration season is upon us.
Patrollers are semi-migratory. Mature members of the species stick close to their home range, trading the ski gear for mountain bikes. They still carry packs filled with items and tools to deal with whatever they come across as they roam up and down their mountainous terrain.
Many juveniles stay within Alaska, chasing Rainbow Trout, digging ditches or traversing mountain ranges. Others travel great distances to peer over the rim of the Grand Canyon or ride across China. Most of the juveniles will return in the fall. Inevitably, some will become lost, injured, or sidetracked.
We didn’t get as much snow as we are accustomed to this season. In fact, we came pretty close to setting a record for lowest snowfall in March. But that’s how we get averages, for every deep year there’s a dry one coming. Even though we didn’t have a lot of snow, we did have some significant weather-related events. A Gun 2 triggered avalanche on the right wall of Glacier Bowl flowed up and into our weather station at the top of Chair Six and rolled into Christmas Chute where it initiated a sizeable Class 2 avalanche. That’s one of many sound reasons not to do routes and gun missions at the same time.
Then we got a few weeks of high pressure with a small snowstorm and an impressive wind event. We recorded triple digits at the top, Valdez felt winds in the nineties in town. The wind affected snowpacks statewide, leaving behind incredible sastrugi except where it had stripped the snow down to the November rain crust.
Our groomers did a great job of smoothing more and more of the mountain during the dry spell. The snow got firmer in between the corduroy. We have roughly 700 acres of ungroomable terrain on the North Face. Each day on the North became more challenging than the last.
Patrollers ski deliberately. We have heavy packs on our backs, we ski more than a hundred days a year, and we want to do it for lots of years. As we move about the mountain, we access snow conditions. When it’s dumping, we move snow before it builds up enough to take any of all ya’ all for a ride. When it’s arid, we evaluate whether we can safely get sleds in and out for rescue purposes.
During one of the dry periods this year we had a significant incident on the North Face. The phones and radios went off at the same time, so we knew that it was something serious. Two of us were dispatched to find the accident while others stood by with medical gear at the ready. It’s no fun to show up on scene and recognize the bystanders. Odds are that you will know the injured party.
Our patrol started a new relationship with a group of medical professionals from Anchorage last fall. Dr. Bill Mills was among the Docs that gave us some preseason training. We were looking forward to getting to know him better, both professionally and personally.
Dr. Mills sustained injuries that turned out to be incompatible with life. We provided CPR throughout the rescue and as a result, Dr. Mills was eligible for organ donation. So in death as in life, Dr. Mills is making a substantial contribution to the medical community.
Sliding down a mountain with waxed objects attached to one’s feet has inherent risks. We acknowledge them and push forth because we love the exhilaration that comes from arcing turns across mountain faces. Enjoy what ever it is that you do to get that buzz off the snow. Wear sunscreen, wack lots of skeeters, catch fish, and we’ll see you when the snow flies.