Get it while the gettin’s good. That’s the motto with snow in any mountain town, but especially if you’re in Arizona. We get snow every year but how many storms we will get or if we get much of a base is always up for debate. What this means is that when it does snow and there is enough snow, you’d better do your best to get after it.
This was the first chance this year for me to get out and have a day of backcountry skiing (touring). After a series of good storms have blanketed our Arizona mountains with a solid coating of the fluffy white stuff it was an opportune weekend. Plus it’s darn lucky to be able to get out of the ski area in the first weekend of December, especially on a day that had the promise of good snow!
A cold clear morning at my house turned out to be a slightly warmer and cloudier start to the day up above the inversion on the mountain. With perfect temperatures and relatively calms winds it was looking like a good day. The big drawback was visibility, after cresting the summit of Agassiz we were socked into a grey blanket of soup-like clouds. White snow on the ground and thick white fog in the air can be disorienting when all you can see is white above and below you.
By around noon the gray wall had become a less gray wall you could make out the ground and we decided we’d better ski before we lost our window. After a few snow study pits dug, we determined the snow stable enough to ski with some caution. The snow was great as we descended one by one into the fog! It was a little on the heavy-mashed-potato side of fresh snow but glorious as long as the pitch was steep enough! On our skin track out we passed through the remnants of a large natural avalanche which left a crown around 30-40″ high and stretched a few hundred feet around the cirque. It was another reminder of the reason we had proceeded so cautiously in the earlier parts of the day.
With enough time for two runs we were able to ski some great terrain and make it back to the truck with an hour lead on the sun setting. It is always beautiful to be able to get back into some spots that are quite a challenge to access any other time of the year. What you can cover on skis in 7 hours would likely take the better part of 14 hours plus on a day with no snow on the ground. Obstacles like logs and rocks are reduced to flat ground and smooth sailing. 1,000 feet of downhill can be covered in a few fun filled moments and the uphills are easy with skis keeping you high in the snow.
A great start to the year and hoping for a few more storms and a few more days in the Arizona backcountry.