The last time I sat down to write an article for you all I was talking fish and tying flies. Well, the way my fishing season ended I was happy to see it go. Yep, the prodigious snowfall left no doubt that the proper place for my fishing gear was in the closet. For all the trout that didn’t make it into the net this year: I know where you live. That being said, winter is on and I’m not looking back.
The November snow event that we’re digging out of left the Sierra primed for a nice, long ski season. I try to remain calm at the onset of winter. I try to hold off riding the new boards until the terrain really fills in. I try to make conservative turns on moderate slopes and maintain slower speeds. And, I try to cool it when my legs fatigue early in the afternoon. I try, but this year I failed. Things didn’t just look skiable out there, they looked good.
The early snow made for some pretty exciting opening days at Tahoe’s resorts as riders lined-up to tear into the deep, fresh powder. Cheers broke out as the lifts began to load. After sliding down the hill, giddy, snow covered mountain folk made gestures of delight and awe. All the chatter in the lift lines seemed to be: “can you believe this?” or “this is ridiculous!” and so with similar tones of surprise. It was truly a frenzy.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the glitz and show of skiing the resorts. Yet, at the end of the day all that social skiing had me wondering what the backcountry looked like. I wanted to lay down my own lines unencroached upon by others. I wanted wide open spaces. For me, that is the hard core of skiing.
I talked to a few friends and figured we should check out some terrain new to us. Most of my Tahoe backcountry experience has been on the south and west shore or in the Carson Range, so the obvious place to look was to the north. One friend brought up the Sierra Club’s Bradley hut. “I bet no one figured to book it this early,” he said. The plans were set for the following weekend one phone call later.
Bradley hut sits at the headwaters of Pole Creek, which is the next drainage north of Squaw Valley. Directly out the front door of the hut are two large, east facing bowls that wrap around to prominent Silver Peak on the southern flank. On the map, the features looked perfect for early season turns: low angle, treed and protected from the prevailing winds.
I’ll admit, the plans were hastily made, so I wasn’t surprised when I was skinning up Forest Road 8 all by myself. It was the day after Thanksgiving, I enjoyed the company from the day before and looked forward to the friends that would be meeting me the next day. I plugged in the headphones and made my way up the gradually rising 1,500 ft to the hut.
I reached the A-frame – with its deluxe two story outhouse – after three. I dropped my pack. There, in the angling pre-solstice twilight, I took in tomorrow’s terrain peaked below the feathery clouds white with the western sun. After dinner, sleep came easy.
The wind blew in 6 to 8 fresh from the Pacific and didn’t let up the following day. I played it safe in shallow tree lines and savored the breaks of blues in the dark clouds. The hut has a stout wood stove and ample wood to burn. It was like my own private ski lodge to break between laps.
As it turned out, no one made it up to meet me. Yet, I enjoyed the experience all the more for it. I stayed another night and skied blue skis the next day before heading out. I pushed myself pretty hard for my first backcountry days of the season, but I felt refreshed, rewarded and eager for more. God I love winter!