A second attempt at cross country skiing


Saturday, 15-Jan-2022

The last attempt at cross country skiing had a bit of a rough middle part, right?

I mean… getting stuck in a deep snowdrift, near a river, with skis that seem intent on sliding every way except where I wanted to go… not so great.

This time, I stuck to groomed trailed. Safer, you know?

I wasn’t quite sure if the skis needed “breaking in”, if they were just worn out, or if the folks at REI had done something ill-advised to them. At the end of the day, I’m an engineer – so how do we find out what’s wrong when something doesn’t work? We take more data.

I headed to the mountain, and took the skis out for another day or adventure. Results?
Yup. Skis are borked. “Needing breaking in” can officially be eliminated from the possible issues.

Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Hello, dear readers! I went to Mt. Hood to go Cross Country Skiing! I ended up not using said skis, but thankfully I have a lovely backpack with ski mounts, the day was gorgeous, and I wasn’t about to be stopped by some partially defective equipment.

Instead of skiing, I had a lovely walk. The sun was shining, the snow was deep, and there wasn’t another soul in sight. And, just to note, when I say the snow was deep? I mean seriously deep… check out the pictures of the trail markers. We’re talking ~4ft of packed snow, here.

Now, aside from all of that there’s not much to talk about, really… with one exception: I nearly fell through a snow-bridge, into a glacial river. That’s underneath the snow. Technically, it was a bergschrund – where the snow pulls back from a rock face.

Now, I know that sounds bad, but hear me out – it was also terrifying.

Thankfully, that’s not something that’s unthinkable, and part of hiking in the snow is being prepared for it… Now, it was unexpected, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t completely out of the blue. I had been paying attention to the terrain, and I knew that this was a risk area.

I know that not many people will end up in this situation themselves, or if they do they’ll have already had training on what to do… but just in case, here’s a quick walkthrough of my thought process and actions:

  • I immediately stopped moving.

    As soon as you break through the snow, in any situation, you always stop moving and spread out your arms. Think quicksand – you know, that stuff we were all absolutely convinced would trap us, when we were young? Yeah, it’s just like that.
  • Slow down and think.

    Once I had settled, I held my position and made sure I wasn’t sinking further. I stayed calm, and started taking stock of everything.
  • I took stock of myself, and my surroundings.

    I’d only fallen three or four feet, and my arms and head were easily above the ground level. I wasn’t wet, though I didn’t have particularly good footing. My skis and backpack were bundled up around my shoulders, but weren’t holding any weight from what I could tell.
  • Now that I knew what I was, and what I had around me, I started calmly getting out.

    My backpack wasn’t helping me, and my poles were in the way. I threw them to the side, keeping the skis in a position to help keep me from falling further. I risked my poles and pack sliding into the river… but that’s fine. I can buy new ones if I lose them.
  • I levered myself up, out of the hole, and walked slowly back the way I’d came.

    I spread my jacket out, and levered myself up ’till I was sitting on it – then scooched backward keeping my weight spread out on the edge of the hole. Sliding exactly where I knew was stable, I slid my gear ahead of myself without risking slipping to pick it up. I kept my gear between myself and the river, so I could easily catch myself if I slipped or broke through again.

    Once I was definitely on stable snow, I stood up and put my gear back on.

And then, I was out. Back on the main trail, and heading to my car no worse for wear… though maybe with a little bit more adrenaline in my system than I’d expected.

After I burned off the excess energy by walking a few minutes, I stopped and had a snack and some water. Let my body continue calming down, and rewarding it for a successful “fight or flight” activation.

Then I drove home and went to a BBQ house for baby back ribs. Pretty sure I earned them, yeah?

Yeah. The world agreed, with excellent mountain views and a beautiful sunset!

2 responses »

  1. I did NOT know – about snowbridge escapes, but remaining calm and increasing exposed surface area makes very good sense. Great description, Ben !!!
    I recommend a pair of snowshoes for deep snow. I think I would trade that set of X-C skis for a set that actually works for your “Explorer Ben” applications…
    Hugs from Dad

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