Backcountry Skiing Snoqualmie Pass, Pleasant Surprises in Big Terrain
It’s my first time in the Cascade Mountains on skis, and the forecast is for rain. Or more specifically, the forecast was for the morning’s snowfall to turn into rain mid-day. As we skin past Source Lake, the group of locals keeps nervously talking about how the snow may turn into rain any minute. Their anxiety is contagious and I start to look up for any sign of rain too. Unlike these guys, I’m not used to this ritual of watching the thermometer dance around the “zero celcius line” like a roulette ball bouncing around your chosen number.
I’m from the mountains of Colorado, where during the winter, we have two types of winter weather: sunny, or snowy. More specifically, I’m from Gunnison, where we have two types of winter temperatures: cold, or really really cold. So, even in the era of climate change, we still don’t look nervously up to a snowstorm for signs of rain.
But as we strip skins and debate between the Cache Couloir, Middle Child, or a simple Snow Lake descent, a cold wind picks up and kisses our faces. The snow intensifies and we all look up at each other. Matt Schonwald slowly grinning, says: “there won’t be any rain today my friends” and then he laughs a deep triumphant laugh. Schonwald and I became friends a year before this day when our mutual friend Tom Murphy, co-founder of AIARE, introduced us. I was launching a publishing company based on my ski atlas for the Crested Butte zone and Matt was looking for a publisher for the atlas he’d been dreaming of for the Snoqualmie Pass zone. Hundreds of hours and a dozen drafts later, we’d created a “first of it’s kind” atlas. And after a full year of drooling over the hundreds of aerial photos of thousands of ski lines, I took the first excuse I could muster up to fly out and ski with Schonwald and friends.
We begin crossing the aptly named Snow Lake in a total blizzard, and the snow intensifies to a rate I have never experienced in my life. The flip side of living in sunny, cold Colorado, is that we rarely see rates of more than one inch per hour, and even more rarely see a single storm produce more than twenty inches. Though Matt was not an official mountain guide for the day, I can tell his decision making and wisdom do not waiver from his hundreds of days as a guide. We begin to question our plans. What had started as a mission to maybe check out the Holy Diver or Oyster Couloir effortlessly morps into a tree mission. Though our group is big, the decision is swift: It’s dumping, conditions are changing rapidly, and the tree skiing will be all time deep! Enough said, we choose Moe Trees, and if the day would never end, I could do laps here for the rest of my life.
When we finally admit that the light is fading, we head back across Snow Lake, wet, tired and delirious over what we just experienced. Our friend Truc knowingly asks me “So Andy, what do you think of the Cascades?” Laughing, I reply “well, the secret is out: your rain is incredibly white and fluffy!”