By Bart Haggin
Christmas Eve 2015 was to be a choice day on Mt. Spokane. Several inches of fresh snow from an overnight storm, on top of the accumulation from days of snowy weather, promised top-of-the-line conditions. Yet in spite of our excitement, it turned out that the road to the mountain had been closed by the DOT because of downed trees and dropped power lines. We had to drive to the signs to prove it to ourselves though. Surely they could open up the road to the mountain post haste. No! And the line of cars waiting to go up was a sight to behold. Our hopes were dashed and it was “iffy” for the next day.
On Christmas morning we called the mountain and checked the website early. Things didn’t look good. My wife Lindell decided to take our dog, Nina, out for a three mile walk about 7:30, and I stayed home and read the paper and kept calling the mountain. Eventually I switched to the website, frustrated by phoning. It turned out the road would be opened at 9:15! Lindell was back now, and I shouted the good news to her.
After a rushed breakfast we jumped into the car and drove as fast as prudently possible out onto the slick roads to go SKIING! One catch. Others had the same idea. The long lineup of cars was barely moving when we got there. We inched ahead, seldom going over 20 mph in our slowest ascent to the ski area we’d ever had. The minutes dragged on, but in spite of our worry that going up the steep sections that slowly might be chancy, we got there with blue sky and sunshine. Only a few wispy clouds drifted across the trackless terrain!
We charged up to the lodge from the parking lot and jerked our skis out of the locker. The boots had never seemed to take so long to get on our feet before! After a quick “pit stop” we were on chair 3 and on our way to the day of dreams. We jumped off the chair and went straight to work. I was a bit too enthusiastic about the deep snow and “spun out” quite quickly. I am a very aggressive skier and follow the rule “No falls, no balls” so I got right up, and we were on our way.
It is hard to describe the feeling that you get from being knee deep in untracked powder snow to a “civilian.” Others have done that much better than I am capable of doing, but it is a sensation like no other. The resistance is different than what you find at lesser depths or on a packed slope. The feeling of almost weightlessness settles you into a world of wonder and drives you to try to experience it with all the speed you can handle. To say you float along is a gross understatement!
Most of the time I ski on the cutting edge of control because it is such an exciting place to be. When you know you are cheating gravity and obstacles, you know that this is your time and place. This is what joy is made of. This is the time to savor and breath in the moment for the next turn into skier heaven. Then you realize that this is not an endless sensation. Your legs tell you!
Skiing in powder is not a relaxed walk in the park. Even at slower speeds it is demanding of strength and endurance. Maybe the young and the restless are able to make it from top to bottom without stopping under these conditions, but more mature devotees enjoy respites to stop and drink in what has been done and gather courage for the next “thrust” into the beckoning downhill. The drive is to get down so you can start over while the untracked snow is still available. The chairlift takes you up all too slowly!
Now it really helps to enjoy all this better if you don’t ski alone. You enjoy it so much more when you are able to express joyful feelings as you experience slightly different slices of the same pie. Stopping and looking down those steep runs is always a bonding experience that never grows old. I am so fortunate to have all that in my life partner.
When Lindell and I first got together one of the first questions she asked me was, “Will you teach me to ski”? Indeed I would! It was a real labor of love and she took to it like the proverbial duck. The first time getting off the chairlift at 49 Degrees North was almost a disaster, but she is a “gamer” and a marvelous and graceful powder skier in her 70s.
That Christmas Day she glided down the steepest terrain on Mt. Spokane with as much élan as the best of the younger set but maybe not quite as fast. However, when we ski together in deep snow, whenever I stop she is, usually, at my elbow, just uphill from me. And that is how it was on run after run that day.
We dashed over to Chair 2 from our start on the Nastar run and were well on our way for the “perfect day.” The run down the chair line is somewhat rolling with two pretty steep pitches. Without very much traffic we were able to find all consuming, mostly untracked paths for several laps. Christmas day helped make this possible because, in spite of the magnetic attraction of the current conditions, the day has built in limitations for a big crowd. While Mt. Spokane can get tracked up fairly quickly, there were fewer skiers to do it that day.
We almost wore ourselves out under Chair 2, but the lift had mechanical problems. Rather than wait for them to fix it we rushed over to Chair 3 and then scooted over to 1 on the lower cat track. Chair 1 is our preferred area on a day like that day. We figured by then it would be mostly tracked up but we still found some good stuff left. The legs were calling to us now though. We stayed for two more runs before it was time to bail. And it was a relief to go back on Rulon Run which was well groomed.
It was a day of days for the two of us, and we never had a more enjoyable and exciting time with our clothes on! It truly was one of best days of my life. I call it a perfect day.
At age 84, Bart Haggin still runs an average of 1,400 miles per year and skis 30-plus days each season. He has been a certified ski instructor with the Professional Ski Instructors of America for over 60 years. He emailed right before we went to print, with the March-April 2021 issue, with this exuberant report on his latest epic ski day: “Number 1 has never been better! Like an Olympic downhill run! Got up to 58 mph on the first run and 48 mph on a later run… Great day! Gorgeous!”