We skied some amazing backcountry today. I was a bit tired from running the Race to Robie Creek the day before. We met at Don Jeffery’s house at 6:00 in the morning for an early start to make sure the snow didn’t get too warm and turn to slush before we got there. A woman named Anne met us at Don’s house too, and we drove her up to meet some of our other friends that were going to run the South Fork of the Payette today. We dropped her off at our friend’s house on the banks of the South Fork. When we arrived, JT More was wearing shorts and river sandals and standing around a raging fire. We visited for a while and then headed up the road to Banner Summit. We were on the snow by about 9:45, but even then the rays of the sun were very intense and the temperature was rising quickly. The snow crust we were skinning across soon turned to slush and we worked our way up a ridge south of Lola Creek.
From the top of the ridge we had an excellent view of the Sawtooth Range. Copper Mountain, where we had considered skiing was also in view and we could see many chutes on the north side of the mountain.
We soon gained a small knoll with some exposed granite rock and sat down and enjoyed some lunch.
After finishing our lunch we skied down to a saddle to check out some chutes. Brad Hatch and Tom Dolliver had skied the chutes a couple weeks before.
We decided that we might need a warm-up run and the south facing slopes were developing into a nice creamy consistency with a solid base underneath. We continued up the ridge until we gained the next summit. The view from this summit revealed even higher peaks beyond to the west with some incredible potential for backcountry skiing. We were feeling the effects of altitude and fatigue and decided to take our skins off there.
We got some nice rounded turns on perfect spring condition snow on fairly gradual terrain and then cut hard to skier left to make it back to the saddle. Upon getting to the saddle, I eased my way down between two chutes and stomped down some snow to try to get one of the chutes to release. Brad had brought a climbing rope with him, so I roped up and he belayed me into the throat of the chute. While attached to the rope, I jumped up and down and released the top three to four inches of sluff. It slowly meandered down the center of the chute like slow moving molasses.
After the sluff had cleared the center of the chute I unroped and made my first turns. More sluff started to move down the mountain and I increased my speed to keep up with the small river of moving slush around me. As it picked up speed I made a ski cut to the left side of the chute and let the sluff continue down the chute before jumping back into the center. As I rounded a corner in the chute I could see another chute merging into my ski path. This chute had released previously and a great deal of debris and ice was deposited in front of me. I cut over to the right side of the chute and began linking turns down the fall line. I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye and I looked over my left shoulder to see a snowball about two feet in diameter whiz by me about ten feet to my left. I was thinking what it would be like to be hit in the back of the legs with a hundred pound snow ball.
As the chute opened up the slope began to decrease and it became possible to more easily link turns and develop a rhythm. My thighs were burning from making turns in the heavy snow and as the snow became heavier it caught the tip of my ski while in a telemark turn. Over the handle bars! I was down and I was actually a bit relieved to finally stop to take a rest. I took a break to catch my breath and then picked myself up and skied down to an area of safety. I radioed up to Brad to let him know I was clear.
The next skier was Tom and he decided to ski the chute to skier’s right. I radioed up to Brad when I had sight of Tom. Tom made some nice telemark turns in the chute and when he got down to me he said he had taken a fall at the top of the chute and lost his glove. The glove slid about half way down the chute and Tom wasn’t able to retrieve it. As Tom neared the bottom of the slope the slushy snow grabbed his ski and oops!...Over the handlebars!
Don skied the chute next and just after getting the radio call that he was in the chute we got a call from Brad saying, “Don just kicked something off”. We ask if he had a visual on Don and he said, “Yes!” and that Don was okay.
Just after the call we saw the sluff making its way down the chute. It was picking up speed and getting wider. It developed into a good sized slide and scoured the center of the chute still picking up speed. As the chute opened up the slide began to fan out and lose some of its momentum. It began to slow and come to a halt with a deposition zone about three to four feet deep.
We radioed up that the slide had stopped. We figured that for sure Tom’s glove was irrecoverable now and most likely swept away by the slide. Don continued down the mountain in the path of the slide and skied out and around the deposition zone. Don continued to ski down to us using alpine turns and just as he got into the slushy snow he went down too! That was three for three that had crashed in the soft sticky slush.
Jay was next and he chose the same chute that I did on skier’s left. He was on a snowboard and floated on top of the snow better than the skiers. He carved his board from one side of the chute to the other. Still, he went down when he hit the slushy snow at the bottom.
Brad was the last to go and he also chose the chute to skier’s left. He was carrying more speed than the rest of us did and he caught the edge of the deposition zone on his descent and then rocketed out into the slushy snow. It grabbed his tip and his momentum carried him head over heels across the snow. He got up quick and continued down to us where just before reaching the rest of the group he did another aerial somersault. The soft slush had pulled the rug out from each and every one of us!
We had a good laugh about all of our follies in the slush and ran through our runs together.
We traversed down into the Lola Creek drainage and out to the cars. It was a great day of backcountry skiing in the Idaho sunshine!