Alpental Ski Area: The Original Little Area that Rocks

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So, finals week is here at the University of Washington. Neck-deep in financial analyses, marketing case studies, and management papers. I thought I could handle it all…until it started dumping. It had been sunny for weeks, and the copious amounts of snow the Cascades were blessed with at the beginning of the quarter were becoming a distant memory. We were even getting excited about waterskiing and the possibility of corn snow and park sessions in hoodies and tees. But when it drops over a foot of blower pow at a resort that’s only an hour from your classroom, you have real second thoughts about sitting in that classroom.

Our first final was Friday. The big dump was Friday. I buttonholed Mike Buckley in the hall next to his locker to see what his plans were. He’s a walking barometer, and he gave me the low-down on all the freezing level and snowfall predicted for Steven’s Pass, Baker, Crystal, and Alpental. They were all getting blessed, but the accessibility of Alpental finally won out. Early Friday morning we headed out for the pass, quizzing each other on our notes in the car, and completely intent on making it back in time for the final. When we got up there and saw that the backcountry gate was open, our good intentions wavered…

We headed straight for chair 2, the upper lift, also known as Edelweiss. That lift makes you feel like you have truly been transported to the Alps — not that I’ve ever had the chance to actually ski the Alps. The lift took us up along the rocky ridge on the East side of a large bowl with chutes and cliffs everywhere. It was still dumping. People who had made it up just before us were now bombing it right under the lift, choking on chest-deep drifts. It was a line that was NEVER untracked, but this morning it was — if for only a few minutes.

Two-thirds of the way up the lift there was some noise and yells, and all of a sudden a crazy pinhead with monster speed dropped a 40-foot air straight to his butt, right under the lift. The yells echoed like Austrian yodels, and the whole place degenerated into a “hero cliff huck” session. Soft landings and pretty good vis (considering that it was DUMPING) made you not even care where you landed. Except for Buckley almost swiping some boo that was stuck in his landing zone, everyone came out okay.

Luckily we met up with Buckley’s buddies, Tom and Matty, after two runs. We weren’t about to wait for anyone. We beelined it out the bc gate and took the Great Scott Traverse for about 10 minutes before stopping (see http://www.alpental.com/2-h.htm). About halfway between Chip’s and Corey’s Couliors we dropped down above Knoll 2. Tom and Matty hit the gully between Knolls 2 and 3, but Mike and I rode the skier’s-left ridge of 2 until Billington’s Ramp.

It was incredible. The report had said 6 inches of fresh, but on the ridge we were sometimes hitting it up to our chests. The snow was completely blower and there wasn’t anyone else in sight. We finally hopped over a small drop to get down into the gully and were just beaming from ear-to-ear! It was one of those days when everywhere is good. We rode the trees until the exit traverse, then hopped back on the lift for more. By the time we got back up to the top the storm had filled in our previous tracks, and we had fresh all over again.

We managed to get in 3 or 4 backcountry runs like that before we finally convinced ourselves we had to leave to take the final. We didn’t know if we would actually make it in time, but we figured we had to give it the ol’ college try. We barely walked in just as Zaki (our well-dressed, silver-haired, 80-something professor) was handing out the final. As usual, the old European man was dressed to the teeth in Italian leathers and expensive slacks. We had helmet-head, snow clogs and hoodies on. He grinned that wide, toothy grin that won him the nickname “The Eagle.” He knew where we had been. He was a kid, once…during World War II. The Eagle was proud and we aced the test. Talk about good karma. I think I’m starting to like finals week.

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