The Blue DiamondIt’s been a long time since I’ve been skiing. My last run on the planks was a hair-raising pinball run down the main lift chute at Mount Baldy, in full blizzard conditions. That was six or seven years ago. I was so on my game for that run, bellowing laughter at every near miss of a chairlift tower, performing perfect parallel jump turns. Thought I was Superman, I did.
So, with this fond memory in mind, I was all on board when my brother said he had a plan to ski a big chute on Mount Baden-Powell. The plan sounded challenging – that is, it was fatally flawed, but that’s never stopped us before. Neither of us has ski boots, but we do have skis and poles. The … um … challenge in the plan was to ski directly from the summit using our leather mountaineering boots.
Off we went. We headed out of the Vincent Gap parking lot at 7:30 AM on Saturday, March 14. A short walk down the Bighorn Mine road lead us to the bottom of the huge, more-or-less continuous chute that drops nearly 2600 feet from a point just north of the Wally Waldron tree. We donned the crampons and would not remove them until 300 vertical feet later when I realized mine were maladjusted. A little tool-work fixed them right up, and they stayed on for the rest of the adventure.
Slogging and slogging. Forever uphill. We followed the winding chute, stopping for a good rest twice. The snow was mostly in great shape, with a good layer of powder in most places. When conditions got a bit slushier, we started to follow a snow-board track, where there was a crusty layer that prevented balling. As we neared the top, my ‘pons were balling badly, and even my brother’s, with their plates, were getting quite gummed up.
The weather was perfect all day – nice and sunny, with a good breeze at times. We hung out on the summit for a couple hours, shooting the shite. We were quite surprised that we appeared to be the only folks on the summit today. We saw no fresh tracks the whole way up the chute, though we knew other people had gone up the Pacific Crest Highway and more had gone cross-country to the southeast of the big chute. When we finally geared up to descend, we saw one guy near the summit monument, but he wasn’t social, and split as we passed by.
It was about this time we both began to have doubts about the plan. Sean had the advantage, with much shorter skis - 170cm - and newer, stiffer boots. I was fearing for my life, trying to work my way down on much bigger boards – 200cm. Also, my boots had a few more seasons on them. We quickly found that the main problem was the backward flexibility of the boots. It was much too easy to weight the tails of the skis, causing that dreadful acceleration! When we reached the entrance to the chute, we were both doing a modified side-slip.
Thusly we descended. Sideways was slow but safe. Actually, I was probably skiing backwards as much as forwards. I tried in a couple places to do a kick-turn, but found that skiing to my left was trickier than skiing to my right. Also, the act of kick-turning on 200cm boards with soft boots and a 20 pound pack scared the bejeebus out of me on 35-40 degree slopes. Onward we slid, pushing piles of lovely spring corn and powder ahead of us.
At about the 7600 foot level, we reached a point where the chute makes a steep ‘S’ turn, with a slope of about 45 degrees. We agreed to take off the skis and walk this stretch, and it’s a good thing we did. Just as he was taking off the skis, Sean’s binding malfunctioned. Yeah, I forgot to mention… we were both riding ‘classic’ (vintage?) boards. His were a pair of 25-year-old Rossi’s and mine a pair of 20-year-old Olin’s. He mistakenly thought his were dad’s old skis, but I remember the summer trip to the big ski show in the Los Angeles Sports Arena when they were purchased for me. Also, I remember my first big ski trip with those old boards – a charter tour to Park City, Utah, back when the first stop light was just a gleam in the mayor’s eye, and the Silver King Coalition Mine building still stood proudly in the center of town.
Back on the ‘pons, we slowly walked out the rest of the chute. We made it back to the parking lot at about 6:30, making this a very long day on an otherwise easy walk-up mountain. Though we got shot down by poor equipment choices, we vowed to remedy the situation and try again some time. With the right boards, that chute would be a very sweet run!