Funneled and Flushed.

About 15 years ago, I was heli-skiing in Thompson Pass, just north of Valdez. I was in my EXTREME! skiing phase, before I realized that I possessed neither the skill, physique, or mindset required for such endeavors. I had gotten an incredible deal on a heli-skiing package, and a friend and I drove my should-have-been-junked-because-it-had-been-t-boned-and-passenger's-side-door-was-permanently-sealed-with-RTV 1986 Jeep Cherokee from Anchorage to Valdez in the middle of a snowstorm. We were stoked. Our ignorance was showing, because we didn't realize that when it snows, it blows, meaning no flying.
We had exactly two days slated for our little adventure. Other guys that were skiing at the time had been waiting a week for the weather to clear, but luck smiled on the simple minded this time around. Just as we arrived, the winds died and the visibility improved. The exposed ridgelines were wind-affected slabs of ice and hard-packed snow, but the gullies and chutes were stuffed with powder.
The first day we were conservative, as the snowpack was somewhat unstable. Kicking off my first small slide in a no-fall zone made me reconsider my recreation choices. I was feeling less than EXTREME! and more like a scared little kid as I gazed at the terrain. The glades of fluffy, neck-deep powder I had envisioned were nowhere to be found. The pitches were steeper than anything I had ever experienced. The surface could change from ice to breakable crust to powder within the course of a turn, and if you lost a ski you'd be 500 feet down the hill before you could arrest and start climbing back up to it. I tried very hard not to fall or lose anything, because I was in no shape to make that hike.
My reaction to the environment meant that I was constantly tense, therefore less efficient. I was beat up after the first run, and the guides were starting to talk in hushed tones while
gesturing in my direction. I was in over my head, but I was too stubborn to admit it.
By the second day I was starting to get somewhat used to it, and I might have made a decent turn. We had landed on a cornice barely wider than the helicopter's skis, which required the pilot to use the engine to plant us on our perch while the guides unloaded the skis from the basket. To get around the helicopter, he had to grab a series of handles on the bubble. Otherwise, he would have likely fallen off the 500 foot cliff immediately in front of us. Once we were able to get out, we laid on the snow as the helicopter took off straight up above us, the grabbed our gear and hiked across the cornice to a wide chute packed with fluffy snow. This was intermediate-level stuff, and we attacked it as best we could with legs hammered by the previous day. It was glorious for a while.
From there, a long traverse led to a couple-thousand feet of uninterrupted descent. Halfway down I was cooked, and I started making a series of bad choices that narrowed my options considerably. While the rest of the group had plenty of room to maneuver, I was faced with a steep, narrowing chute to finish the final 800 feet to the bottom.
Once in the cute, I could initially kick turn to control my speed, but eventually I had to point them straight down and hope for the best. The group, already safely at the bottom, watched in horror as I rapidly gained speed. I tried not to notice the burry granite walls to either side of me, and instead focused on the opening that hopefully would lead me safely to the end of this adventure. The closer the rock walls got, the tighter I drew my body in, and the faster I went. I was hauling.

The fading light obscured the gully running perpendicular to the bottom of the chute, the far wall of which launched me a considerable distance into the air. I almost cleared the second gully. Almost. My rubber legs collapsed underneath me, and I tumbled head over heels into the third, and deepest gully of the series.
It was only sheer dumb luck that this gully was loaded with snow instead of jagged rocks. I landed flat on my back, driving my backpack (loaded with all of the required safety gear) through my spine and through my chest like something out of a Ridley Scott film. I'm not sure if the air rapidly exiting my lungs was louder than the impact itself, but I'm sure both noises were impressive. The resulting crater rivaled the one made by the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. At ground zero of the impact site, I paused to reflect on the last two days and emit low whimpers.
When the guide finally reached me, he confessed his admiration for my impressive act of stupidity. "Almost stuck it". He was kind enough to leave off the implied "dumbass", and was tipped well for his restraint.
With our grand adventure complete and brimming with the newfound knowledge that often comes from brushes with mortality, I resolved that I would immediately confine my future on-snow activities to ones that didn't require a helicopter or the phrase "no fall zone". That I am still around to blog about sports I suck at indicates I have so far kept my promise.

I may be a douchebag, but I am by no means EXTREME!


Popular posts from this blog

New Cheapness.

Reality Check.

Not Pretty.