Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mammoth and June Powder Daze - February 2019

2/2/19 - Saturday

Storms are forecast to drop 7-10' of snow on Mammoth by Tuesday (2/5).  As I'm planting (or more precisely digging a hole through rocks) a dwarf orange tree in my backyard, this thought will not leave my brain.  Lately, I've been trying to act on my thoughts, rather than ignore them.  A few minutes later, I was on Expedia. Friday/Saturday nights were sold out. Thursday/Friday was not.  Luckily, my work was cooperating and my schedule was clear.  I booked Shilo Inn, which sits right at the base of the town on Main Street.  It's a bit beat-up in typical ski town fashion, but perfect for the ski bum who doesn't have a van, plus it's got a hot tub and covered parking. I returned to battling crushed granite, tuned my skis and then on Sunday, spent the day in the office, paying it forward.

2/6/19 - Thursday

I worked 10-14 hour days Monday through Wednesday, and departed Carlsbad at 2:20 a.m. on Thursday, with 3 hours of sleep in hand.  The drive at this time of night is super-easy and mellow, taking Route 78, I-15, I-215, I-15 and US 395 (parts of which are fantastically beautiful).  I keep it at 74 mph, use radar and obey posted limits in Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and Bishop.  Without snow, it takes about 5 hours and 40 minutes.

This time, "chains" (or snow tires with 4WD), which for the MDX means cables, were required about 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. It is always a fun experience to stick one's head under a SUV to attach the inner portion of the cabling on the side of the road in 11 degrees.  I suited up in my ski pants and waterproof shell, and managed the whole process in about 10 minutes.  Then back to driving, but at no more than 35 mph with the cables.  WOMP BA BUMP BUMP.  WOMP BA BUMP BUMP.

Chair 2 Parking
I pulled into the Mill parking lot around 8:45 a.m., and spots were still available - I was surprised, I thought none would be left.  Parking at the Mill, or Chair 2 as it is called, is a priority for me, as it means a short walk to the lift, and the ability to easily come back to the car as needed, which serves as my ski locker.

The day was perfect.  Fresh, untouched swaths of powder were everywhere. I waited on Chair 9 for a minute or two once or twice, but that was it.  I skied to closing, did 26 lifts and 50 miles and 24,000' all told on Strava. I called it All Time.


Friday was essentially a repeat of Thursday, but colder and the snow a day older.  I was wearing a base layer, a Smartwool sweater, an Arcteryx mid-weight jacket, a Marmot down jacket and an Arcteryx wind-proof shell.  23 lifts, 53 miles and 26,000'.

View from Wazoo looking towards Ricochet (aka Tarantula)


Decision time.  It was five in the morning on Saturday. Manchester United was playing Fulham at Craven Cottage on NBC.  MU won 3-0.  June Mountain or Mammoth?  My internal debate raged on.  It had been snowing all night.  Mammoth got 2'+.  I figured June probably got about the same due to the nature of the storm.  But, the drive to June would require chains, which means slow going, but that might keep the crowds away, as June sits about 20 miles past Mammoth.  At the same time, I was guessing predicted high winds at Mammoth would keep the upper lifts closed, and I knew with all the lodging being sold out it would be crowded.

I had just skied two perfect days at Mammoth, I was not going to sour on it by waiting in lift lines.  If June was crowded, I'd call it and head back home.  I drove to June through mainly un-plowed 395 with a foot of snow on it.

CA-158 to June Lake
The parking lot was mostly empty at June, and I parked close to the ticket office.  At June the J1 chair opens at 8:00 a.m., which takes one up to the real base area, where there is a lodge.  The other chairs open at 8:30 a.m.  Not thinking, I took my time getting ready and realized too late I could have been skiing the Face off of J1 for 30 minutes.  In the scheme of things, I didn't mind, as my legs were fried and I planned by leaving by 2:00 p.m, as I was also concerned that more snow and high winds were coming (whiteout conditions), and that 395 between June and Mammoth might be shut down - it was some time after I left.   
June Mountain parking lot
The day was my 19th on a mountain this season, at it was by far, the best.  I only managed 30 miles and 18,000', not counting a few runs missed due to a paused watch.  However, those were runs with 2-4'+ of powder and my already fatigued lines were being put to the test. The mountain was empty and I waited no more than 60 seconds to get a chair, besides at J1.  Contrast Mammoth, where a friend Facebooked me that five lifts were open and it was so crowded, he was giving up for the day.
View from J2
At the top of J7, which is the June Mountain Summit, I saw a crew cut the rope and go outside the ski boundary.  I didn't see the point.  June was covered in powder.  It was everywhere.  There was no need to search it out.  I found myself laughing as I skied fresh tracks through powder up to my waist.  The tree skiing was ridiculous.  I was catching crazy air and landing in soft powder.  On the chair, I fist bumped a dude I never met, and then we slapped our gloves at one another in childish glee.  It was the best powder day of the season, and we were in the midst of it.

For my one foible of the day, I cut through two half-buried trees on a vertical portion of Davos Drop under J7 and my right ski went under a buried branch.  I had to clumsily stop against one of the trees, and narrowly avoided slamming my crotch into the trunk.  I fell onto my back, my head pointing downhill, still clipped-in, and my right ski buried past the boot.  I managed to unclip my left boot and then dug out my right ski down to the binding with a ski pole, before popping the binding.  At 10,000', and almost upside down, it was exhausting, and reminded me how easy it is on a big powder day to get buried.
View from Carson

Spike Camp Trail

I bailed at 1:40 p.m., my legs destroyed.  I went home via 395 to CA-14 to I-5 through Los Angeles, which is mostly two lanes or more each way, rather than take the stress inducing one-lane portion of 395 for 80 miles.  It took me 20 extra minutes, but was much more chill.

I can't walk very well today.  My whole body is sore.  I want to sell my house, buy a van and travel around the West skiing.  My wife said no. 

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