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What is the scariest thing you've ever experienced while skiing?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
This is the unofficial sequel to last year's hit thread "What's the most offensive thing you've ever seen while skiing?" As before, I'll start:

January 30th 2016

After a chat with Aspen Highlands ski patrol and his assurance that the Highland Bowl was in great shape despite the pre-storm warm temperatures that had plagued the Roaring Fork Valley for the previous few days, my good friend Ryan and I decided to make the hike. As we waited by the snow cat pick up, the wind began to howl, driving tiny chunks of ice into the exposed no-man's land of face between where our goggles ended and our beards began. We exchanged uneasy glances largely obscured by the tint of our goggles and stepped aboard the cat along with the rest of the throng who had gathered in the insatiable pursuit of fresh lines.

The hike went well. In fact, this particular hike stood out to me more than the previous times we had hiked the bowl, for no other reason than the expediancy of our ascent. The wind blew, but only mildly and without the gusto or violence which it had seemed so intent on delivering at the cat dock. We made steady progress and passed the rock gate without incident. Ryan began to lag slightly behind, but not unexpectedly as I am 10 years his younger and pride myself on my cardiovascular endurance. I was lost in my own thoughts, mostly consisting of deciding my line down the bowl, when the wind arrived. The first we heard of it was like a hurricane coming over the ridge, bringing with it the fury of the storm God himself, and demanding recompense for our blasphemous trespass upon his holy mountain.

For as long as I could stand, I trekked. One boot after another, digging my poles in with all my strength and praying silently to any God who would hear my pathetic pleas, that the wind would abate, and that I would not be cast headlong as an icy sacrifice into the depths of the frozen abyss. My prayers went unanswered and the ferocity of the wind would not be culled. By my best estimate the top was some 300 yds further up when my desire to fight the wind utterly ceased to exist, I had just finished summitting one of the final uplifts, and having been utterly battered by the storm, I threw myself down in a crumpled heap in front of a 4x4 ski patrol post, upon which hung a rope store. The path along the ridge had long since ceased to be anything but an icy slick; unfit and indeed unsafe to even be upright upon in such a tempest.

Within a few moments, Ryan appeared and narrowly escaping being blown off the false summit's crest, he struggled across the trail and collapsed beside me. "We've got to drop in!" I brayed over the roar of the wind. "Let's wait it out!" came the strained reply. We sat with our thoughts for what seemed like hours, desperately waiting for a break in the wind. Below us on a lower section of the trail some 500 yds back, a large group of skiers, seemingly a group lesson, sat huddled in a dense mass also waiting for the furious wind to subside.

The wind didn't break. On the contrary. Where once there were only small balls of ice no bigger than a dozen grains of sand being driven across the ridge, intermittently there began to appear larger chunks of frozen snow. We were at an impasse. As a coffee cup sized ball of snow smashed into the pole behind us, I made a choice. If I could inch my way across the icy trail and into the bowl a few yards, it might be possible that being off the ridge would offer enough reprieve from the squall to clip in and drop into the steep, but relatively sheltered safety of the bowl. "I'm going for it."I screamed above the gale. "What if we get cliffed out?" Ryan yelled back. "We'll fuckin' deal with it! We can't stay up here." Ryan nodded, and I gave him a thumbs-up.

I left our huddle and crawled, prone before the glory of the storm, into the Highland Bowl. The few yards of shelter that climbing down provided me was enough to get my skis off my back and onto my boots. A hundred yards later found me in knee deep powder making turn after glorious turn. When I reached the bottom there was no wind, but there was also no Ryan. I stood staring up into Ullr's holy temple and waited on my friend. Within a few minutes the tiny form of a snowboarder could be seen traversing across the bowl toward the trees across from where I made my descent. It was Ryan. A few minutes later my friend carved to a stop above me. His beard was more iceberg than hair and I imagined I fared no better. We hugged. "Holy fucking shit, dude." He said, happy to have survived. I looked up at him: "That was foolish. We can't tell our wives."
post #2 of 16

  Nicely written !

post #3 of 16

1st Place: Finding myself about 40 or more feet above a hard icy frozen surface in the middle of a half pipe, instead of at the wall.  Yeah I got there all by myself with nobody else to blame, should have known better, but I was dumb.

 

Runner up: Going over a rise doing about 60 mph and coming face to face with a groomer on the way up.  Fortunately I landed in time to turn.

post #4 of 16

Watching my 10 year old son rag doll down a slope and disappear into a tree well from a chair lift that still had 8 minutes to get to the top.  Nothing else comes close.

post #5 of 16

Sizable shooting cracks and collapsing on near flat pitches. 

The Old Man of the Mountain is telling you to get out! 

post #6 of 16

Not skiing but the original post reminded me--ice climbing in Huntington Ravine on Mt Washington (see avatar for what I looked like on the trip). High winds coming down the steeper gullies so we headed over to Damnation--which is long, relatively easy, and sheltered. As we headed up there was just enough ice on each pitch that we felt we needed to rope up and climb one at a time, even though a lot of the climbing was moderate snow. Although it was cold, under the ice bulges there was still running water, which spurted out the holes left by our ice tools (kind of like a Quentin Tarantino movie) and soaked us. As we neared the top my partner was leading. He topped out but I couldn't hear him over the increasingly loud roar of the wind so I couldn't tell if he was off belay; but as the pull on the rope got stronger and stronger I figured I had better start climbing. As I came over the lip of the gully he was lying flat on the ground because of the wind. I joined him and we tried to figure out what to do. By this time it was late afternoon and starting to get dark. The first thing we figured out was that the rope was frozen into a pipe from the water under the ice and couldn't be coiled so we left it. The trail down was about a mile across the Alpine Garden--the level, ice covered plateau a short distance below the summit and well above timberline. We started trying to walk across the flat ice but the wind picked me up and threw me 15 feet through the air completely clear of the ground. We realized we weren't going to make it to the trail, so we headed in the other direction towards the enclosing ridge nearby on the cirque's right side where we thought we might be able to descend into the trees and bivouac. After a short time however, we encountered a large, overhanging and somewhat enclosing boulder--the only large boulder we could see in any direction, and were able to get behind it out of the wind. By this time my pants were frozen stiff. We put on our down parkas and I had some down booties; when I took off my boots my socks were frozen to the soles of the boots. We stuck our feet into our packs, hugged each other for warmth, and waited. The worst part was after a few hours we realized we would survive and would have to wait out the cold all night. However early in the morning, while it was still dark, the wind died. We booted and cramponed up and walked across the Alpine Garden as easily as a walk in the park. By the time we got down to the bottom of the trail and headed to the hut it was a beautiful sunny morning and we were in our t shirts. We walked in the door of the hut just as the climbers there were heading out to look for our bodies. We also found the weather report for the previous day and night--High --10F, low -30F, wind 100mph, with gusts to 140. We headed home the next day. Although I had promised myself all night that my climbing days were over, as we passed EMS in Boston we stopped and I bought a new rope. 

post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
"Although I had promised myself all night that my climbing days were over, as we passed EMS in Boston we stopped and I bought a new rope."

Totally. I'll never stop skiing, or hiking for lines. Shit happens, you learn and adapt. After the Highland Bowl incident, I took one more top to bottom run at Highlands, called it a day, then got up and skied Snowmass the next day and Ajax the day after. There are worse ways to die than doing what you love.
post #8 of 16

I had blocked this out or just forgotten about it. 5th week skiing this time at the French resort of Avoriaz. It was snowing all day so piste conditions were great with about a foot for fresh snow. I decided to do one last run. Half way down I skied into a total white out, Now in Avoriaz all the runs are very well marked with poles at the side of the piste, which is pretty usual in Europe. The poles are about 60 ft apart. I stopped but could not see any poles, I could not see any tracks in the snow, I could not see my own skis, at this point I fell over as I had lost all references. Now I have done some winter climbing in Scotland and attended an avalanche survival course but had never experienced such a total white out.

 

I decided to try and find a pole by walking back up my own tracks. I found a pole. for the next 90 minutes I worked my way from pole to pole sometimes back tracking several times. 

 

I eventually got to the bottom and found the drag lift which was still running. I had been up this drag before and knew it was very long very steep in places and went through terrain that was well above my skill level even in perfect conditions. I decided that if I fell off I was going to die on the mountain. I enquirer about the possibility of a ride up in a snow cat and just got a Gallic shrug " tout le monde est perdue "

 

That was the longest toughest drag of my life in total sensory deprivation all the way up. 

post #9 of 16


Well written.

 

Couple clarifications though.  You seemingly blame the patroller for "advice" when you can clearly see a storm rolling in (the storm of the century mind you).  Yeah conditions are going to change up there, fast.

 

Notice how all the patrollers/grizzled highlands old timers have a frostbite patch on their right cheek?  Locals call this the bowl tattoo as the prevailing wind comes from the right the whole hike up the ridge.  It gets windy up there pretty consistently.

 

Anyways.  Glad you are ok.

 

Hope you guys got to enjoy some of the best storm skiing we have seen here in awhile over the next few days after your harrowing experience. 

 

 

PM me next time you are up here and I will be happy to show you around.

 

B

post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 
Nah, not blaming patrol. He definitely did say the possibilty for wind was certainly there. And I'll definitely plan on getting ahold of you next time Im in the area. I've got a job interview in Glenwood next week, so the wife and I are pursuing the possibility of making RFV our home.
post #11 of 16

Related thread you might find interesting...

 

http://www.epicski.com/t/144700/pushing-your-limits-and-scaring-yourself

post #12 of 16
3 years ago - skiing The Big Couloir for the very first time, in a complete whiteout. It wasn't pretty.
post #13 of 16
Oops
post #14 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by carvemeister View Post

3 years ago - skiing The Big Couloir for the very first time, in a complete whiteout. It wasn't pretty.

Wow. Just say no
post #15 of 16

It was pretty scary when the Forest Service raided the Taos parking lot a couple of years ago wearing vests and with M-16's and dogs.

Never burned the evidence faster in my life.

Pigs are scarier than snow snakes!

post #16 of 16

Skiing the cat track back to the village at the end of the day on a holiday weekend.

Gives me terrifying nightmares for weeks...

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