Or Not to Ski

It Went Bad Last Time, So How about Next Winter?

By Michael Stubbs

When I backpacked thirty miles through the rough and rocky Sawtooth Range in July 2013, I met many people, from England, Oregon, Connecticut, and elsewhere. Last February, when I dragged the same backpack on a sled over a snowpack eight feet deep, I saw none of these people.

I didn’t even see the mountains. They were veiled in cloud. The only person I saw was my friend Will, whom I had convinced that skiing to Idaho’s Imogene Lake via the Hell Roaring Creek trail in winter was a good idea. Will had shared my summer view of this coldwater lake, which reflects the crumbling granite of the serrated Sawtooth peaks reaching all around to ten thousand feet. I had convinced both of us that the quiet beauty and isolation of the high mountain valley could be even better experienced in winter­­­—and maybe we would even see wolves. But that wasn’t how it worked out.

Perhaps we just picked the wrong weekend. The weather worked against us. The larger Sawtooth Valley, so reliably cold through most of the winter, was experiencing a warm spell. The snow that had fallen for two days before we arrived was slushy, thanks to the weather phenomenon known as the Pineapple Express. Our skis sank eight to ten inches with each forward kick. The lead skier carved a deep trough for the man who followed. Neither breaking trail nor following was easy. I had to shorten my ski poles to match the new difference in height between the trough that I stood in and the snow at my sides. And when I stepped out of my skis to adjust my gear, I sank past my waist and floundered desperately in wet snow.

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