“The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it he knows too little” – Mark Twain
A few years back I decided that I wanted to ski all year long. Living near San Diego this might seem like a really stupid wish (no, water skiing doesn’t count), but fortunately the Sierra Nevada is not really that far away if you don’t mind racking up the miles on your car. Of course the real question is “if you live in San Diego County, why do you want to ski all year long?” Shouldn’t I be out surfing and scarfing down post-wave fish tacos with my brahs? Hmmm maybe I should move away from the palm trees and move closer to the mountains.
Regardless of the philosophical questions, thanks to a few good snow years (and some lift-served turns during the winter) I was able to get a nice string going for a while. It took a little bit of effort but I was able to link together 15 consecutive months of skiing. Of course I only dipped my toe into the snowmelt – I know there are numerous people that have been skiing year round for many, many years (lucky bastards). But for me that was a pretty good string and I have some good memories from my quest. That’s all I ask for from life: good memories and the prospect of creating more.
Sure if I was forced to rank it some of the skiing really sucked. But on the other hand some it was incredible. During my string I hiked, biked and even boated to ski. The journey was sublime. Suncups sprouted like fields of Matterhorns in my dreams as I plotted my path to snow all summer long.
I’m not the world’s greatest skier so my lines may not be outrageous, but linking your first turns in August on a chute with a fall line that pushes you toward the rocks makes you feel like Glen Plake in The Blizzard of Ahhhh’s. Yes, I’m that old.
See that distant patch of snow in the wake of the Saddlebag Lake’s Water Taxi? That’s one of your best bets to get September turns in California. Yes, September is the worst month as the snowpack is at its minimum and if you don’t time it correctly whatever’s left in the chutes is more like ice climbing.
The good news is that by the end of October there’s snow in them thar hills, and the approaches get even longer when they shut down the passes (that’s Tioga Pass in the background). Yes, it’s good news because now you get to ride your fat bike 15 miles before you hike for turns.
All that effort is worthwhile, of course. Winter may come later to the mountains during this time of global warming, but at least it still comes.
Even along the Angeles Crest Highway outside of Los Angeles you can find turns in midwinter once you poke your head out of the fog. Well, most winters you can. Last year during our Winter of Discontent the local mountains were dry as a bone. As the motto at Mt Waterman states: “Praying for snow for 40 years”. Time to find a god that listens.
In a good year even in May San Gorgonio can fill the need like catching raindrops on your tongue in the driest of deserts (an apt metaphor for sure as one can see the desert from the peak). Sure, you have to hike a ways to get to it, but that only keeps the crowds at bay.
The way I see it, there are 2 types of people in this world: pessimists and optimists. Southern Californian skiers are optimists. Being optimists, they pack their gear into their cars giddy with the hope of getting a few potentially crappy turns on rotten, suncupped snow in over the weekend. They drive for hours, then bike or hike far into the hills in search of a patch of snow to call their own. They link a few turns then head back home and dream of miracles while checking the latest weather forecast. While mountain biking through the bottomless moondust that covers their trails during what may be the worst drought in 500 years they dream of the next El Nino . They remember the good times with smiles on their faces, not because they dwell in the past but because facing the future with a smile is the only way forward.
As for pessimists, you’re on your own for a definition of those people. I’m a skier that lives in Southern California. I don’t know a damn thing about them.